Networking in the Long Emergency



“If I had my finger on the switch, I’d keep the juice flowing to the Internet even if I had to turn off everything else…The Net is the one solvent we can still afford; jet travel can’t be our salvation in an age of climate shock and dwindling oil, so the kind of trip you can take with the click of a mouse will have to substitute.” And thus eminent science journalist Bill McKibben sums up his sobering survey of our current energy and climate predicament and identifies the importance of the Internet to our future [29]. We think he’s right, and present in this paper a challenge to the research community that may be among the hardest we have faced.
Computer networking is rightly a linchpin of modern society— it has given us the ability to exchange information at a speed and scale that is unprecedented in human history. However, networking is the product of an energy-intensive economy and industrial system, and if that economic system faces a sudden and permanent energy shock, then networking must change to adapt. If we wish to preserve the benefits of the Internet, then a crucial opportunity emerges for networking researchers to reevaluate the overall research agenda to address the needs of an energy-deprived society. Due to the near-term depletion of oil this scenario is not hypothetical; it marks the beginning of an era of contraction. Oil is the foundation of our industrial system—its energy enables the creation and transportation of goods and services that were unimaginable a century ago. Unfortunately, we face worldwide oil depletion—an era when oil production declines. Although it is unknown precisely when this era will begin, recent studies suggest it will be underway soon, as we survey later. A study commissioned in 2005 by the U.S. Department of Energy on the peaking of world oil production found the following

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