Greener Wikimedia Foundation?

Been reading Philip José Farmer’s Dayworld series and found myself thinking about that dang ol’ environment. In the Dayworld universe, a future society “solves” pollution and resource shortages by keeping 1/6 of the world’s population in suspended animation at any given time. Perhaps an extreme solution… :)

Someone once suggested Wikimedia could get into the carbon credits market… which sounds like a lovely scam we should avoid at all costs. ;) But what can we really do to be greener? What is WMF’s actual footprint…?

  • The servers
    We run a few hundred computers 24/7; they and their air conditioning suck up electricity. Could we be more efficient about our power usage? Do our newer 2x quad-core boxes pump more page views per kilowatt than our older machines, and if so should we retire the older ones? Should we investigate blade servers or Sun’s “CoolThreads” systems again?

  • The office
    The main office houses a handful of employees; it’s no BigCo but every bit helps, right? There’s lights, computers, air conditioning, and of course the impact of a few people commuting every day. Moving to San Francisco will make most of those commutes practical by public transportation instead of automobiles, and the more moderate climate could save on electricity spent running the AC.

  • Jet-setting
    We run an international conference every year, as well as smaller meetings and individual speaking engagements. What’s the impact of several hundred people taking transcontinental or intercontinental flights? Can we or should we reduce the amount of travel?

8 thoughts on “Greener Wikimedia Foundation?”

  1. CPU load on the web servers is indeed 1/3 to 1/2 less at low points than it is at peak. Hypothetically it would be possible to power down some fraction of them during part of the way, then power them back on later. Whether it’s feasible, and how much money it might save is indeed something to think about. :)

  2. About the conferences… I think that Wikimedia should start to function as a network, not as a hierarchical organization which is trying to be a network. This will save a lot of money for international trips. If one air ticket for crossing Atlantic is $1000 and one ticket for going from one part of continent to the opposite is $100 (OK, exceptions are Asia and Africa, but this means that they should be split onto some logical partitions), we may have ten continental (or regional) conferences per year instead of having only one global.

    I am not saying that Wikimania is not a good event. But, we may have them in four years cycles. Also, it will be much bigger event if it is not every year.

    The most of job may be done at the local and regional level. Personally, I would like to see a real network behavior: Wikimedians from Serbia are talking once per year with Wikimedians from Hungary, Wikimedians from Hungary are talking once per year with Wikimedians from Austria and so on. Maybe every WM chapter should organize meeting once per year with the accent on regional matters?

    Such organization would make much better communication between people as well as it would make much better predispositions for spreading free knowledge.

    And, of course, it will be more green :)

  3. The international travel is probably the big one, once you disregard all the hot air produced on our mailing lists. ;) If we get our act together and have really solid video/audio broadcasting of Wikimania activities then it would be more feasible to feel like a participant without attending. So far we are still failing on the basics.

    I guess you have to say once Wikimania is more junket-y than useful, you should do it purely web-based. But I think that is a few years away yet, especially as more and more people outside western Europe and north America get involved.

  4. Yes, I knew that I wanted to say something more and that Brion is the right person to think about it :) Thanks, Brianna!

    What do you think about making teleconference meetings? For example, instead of expensive Wikimania every year, we would have a number of regional meetings at the same time with video links between all places?

    It is not so easy to organize, but it is not impossible :) And, of course, it is green :)

  5. Let’s be honest here. The environment (e.g., CO2 emissions, global warming) was screwed by the 70s when we finally realized there was a problem in the first place. International agreements, protocols, etc… don’t have much of a chance. You can turn the servers off during off-peak hours, but there is nothing you can do to stop 3.5 billion people from being born over the next 50 years. One of the best things we can do is increase our ability to predict the results of climate change, and invest in research as to how human beings can live in a warmer climate. Tim Starling used to run SETI@Home on Wikimedia’s spare cycles. I’m just as interested in finding ET as the next alien, but if we are really interested in “helping” the environment, APS@Home may be a better goal. I agree that carbon offsets are probably a scam.

  6. In terms of the servers, having energy efficient power supplies can give ~80% efficiency (e.g. Seasonic S12, not sure if they make an efficient PSU for racks, hopefully someone does). Running recent versions of Linux (with tickless behaviour) and tweaking with ‘powertop’ can reduce power usage somewhat.

    In terms of the office, buy a few devices like this and measure a base-line electricity load for the office, determine who is responsible for what, and put it into a public spreadsheet to show who uses what in then office (name and shame!). Then buy power boards with switches on each socket, or timer switches to turn things off automatically, unplug everything you don’t need, replace items with more energy efficient versions where the ROI is paid off in 5 years (i.e. where the annual savings in power bills will pay for 20% of the replacement item), use energy efficient light bulbs (I’m still waiting for LED mains light bulbs to appear and become affordable, as it is the most efficent light-generating method, dunno if they’re available in the US yet, but if not use the fluoro ones), use solar hot water heating, use tinting on windows to reduce cooling and/or open a window, etc, and generally challenge everyone to decrease their footprint. Then measure power use again once you’ve done it all for a few weeks, and publish the spreadsheet again. Then consider perhaps buying green power (e.g. made from 100% renewable electricity built post-1997) for what remains (typically costs 10-15% extra here, dunno about in the US).

    For the air travel for Wikimania, well that’s a location optimization problem (to get the most people to Wikimania and back with the lowest cost and carbon output). Strictly speaking, for the environment you want least total carbon output (so hold it in Antarctica, 5 people attending = very low carbon output!). Practically speaking, what you’re really optimizing for is lowest total cost to attend, least carbon output, most attendees, and widest pool of attendees over a few years. So for each possible location that’s bidding, you take the location of each person who would like to attend Wikimania in general, the maximum total amount that they will pay to attend, and you crunch the travel cost of getting everyone there (based on cost of airline tickets from a single travel site), and add the cost of their accommodation and registration. That gives you a total for and a bell curve for cost of attending, a total for and a bell curve for carbon output (which will be quite similar to the cost of attending, since the cost of most air tickets correlates generally to the amount fuel required), the number of people that will attend, and an idea of how many people will attend who normally would not go. Based on this map and this map, the results can probably be guestimated: The optimal pattern is probably to hold it on a 4 year cycle, with Europe one year (in a central and accessible location like Holland or Germany or the UK or France or Italy, near an airport and major rail station), somewhere else one year (e.g. South America, Asia – especially Japan, middle east, etc), hold it in North America for one year (e.g. Atlanta, Chicago, etc, anywhere with great transport links that’s semi-central), hold it somewhere else for one year (e.g. South America, Asia – especially Japan, middle east, etc – but different from the one before), and then repeat (but in different locations each year so as to increase attendance). Actually a 3-year cycle could even be more optimal (Europe, North America, other, repeat) – someone would have to run the numbers and see, although it depends on the weight assigned to the different factors. Oh, and of course, great video links for people who cannot attend. And encourage regional conferences. That’s probably about the best that can be done (both from an environmental perspective, and for potential attendees), short of stopping/changing Wikimania and/or jumping onto the carbon offsets wagon.

Comments are closed.