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The computer chip industry has a dirty climate secret

Daniel Nenni

Admin
Staff member
The semiconductor industry has a problem. Demand is booming for silicon chips, which are embedded in everything from smartphones and televisions to wind turbines, but it comes at a big cost: a huge carbon footprint.

The industry presents a paradox. Meeting global climate goals will, in part, rely on semiconductors. They’re integral to electric vehicles, solar arrays and wind turbines. But chip manufacturing also contributes to the climate crisis. It requires huge amounts of energy and water – a chip fabrication plant, or fab, can use millions of gallons of water a day – and creates hazardous waste.

 

Daniel Nenni

Admin
Staff member
Unfortunately that was not always the case. My beautiful wife and I landed in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s. When we decided to buy a house and have children my wife researched the area and found a high incidence of birth defects where fabs were, my place of employment included. If you really want to know why fabs left California and the US thank the EPA.

We decided to move to the East Bay where we both grew up and I made the two hour commute for 30 years. Huge sacrifice but worth it. We live at the base of a mountain just 30 minutes away from the ocean and multiple marinas. It's a pirates life for me.

Today I am told the water coming out of a fab is cleaner than what came it. Given the concentration of fabs in Taiwan being carbon neutral is key and TSMC is leading the way:

 

BlueNode

New member
I wouldn't have any reason to care about a "carbon footprint" for any arbitrary productive activity (or any non-productive activity). I'd have to have a long chain of assumptions and beliefs, including some wobbly ones, to end up in a caring place.

I also think it's weasely to use terms like "climate crisis" as though it's just a fact that there is present-tense crisis state regarding climate. That's a newish political term that seems to rest on vague beliefs that extend far beyond the claims around which climate scientists have expressed a consensus. Seeing long-term, century scale predictions of a gradual and small increase in global mean surface temperature as a "crisis" is definitely optional. It's a subjective appraisal that rests on complex empirical realities, or at least it should. ("Small" being 1-2° C from 2021, 2-3° C from pre-warming baseline. "Gradual" being 79 years, out to 2100, or maybe 29 years to see half of the 1-2° ramp.)

That said, if I came around to a seemingly neurotic concern over some modern humans possibly having to face mild and diffuse physical adversities, and I was dialed in on carbon footprints, I would need numbers. "Huge" isn't a number – it's the rhetorical flourish of dunces. I call it the Fallacy of No Numbers, where the issue really requires numbers or empirics. My threshold for carbon would likely be a percent of total human carbon emissions. It's possible the are better metrics, maybe folding in actionability. I would decide in advance what to care about. So maybe things responsible for at least 10% of total emissions. Well probably lower, say 5%. It would likely hinge on an overarching reduction strategy, and how it fits in. If it's something like 1% or less, and we're already on track to hit some overarching goal like 50% or 70% reduction, then I wouldn't care about the sub-1% potpourri like fabs.

The Guardian of course doesn't report any such numbers – there's no estimate of share of global human carbon emissions, or even a scary absolute quantity of tons of carbon for the industry (what I call the Large Number Fallacy – giving large numbers without any context, often deceptively). That makes the article essentially pointless – the critical variable is absent, and they're just going off on tangents about water use, or percent of a small country's electricity production (production which only exists because TSMC needs it, buys it...)

Environmentalism is a fairly new religion, with lots of interesting abstractions, beliefs, epistemic habits, and psychological dynamics. I wouldn't assume that it's universal among modern humans, or that there aren't substantive arguments against it, in whole or in part. There isn't going to be a symmetrically opposite ideology per se, since non-leftists have completely different frameworks that don't map to leftist structures and abstractions. Disagreement with environmentalism is more of a "no thanks" answer, from people who aren't in the market for a religion or cult, and who instinctively shy away from demonizing arbitrary entries on the periodic table.

p.s. The Guardian doesn't run corrections, by the way. At least not if it would undermine their leftist dogma or agenda. I emailed their "Reader Advocate" a few years ago with a correction of a false claim they made about a psychology study's findings. They didn't reply, and they didn't correct their error. They say that their Reader Advocate replies to all inquiries... The false claim was regarding a purported link between conspiracy theory beliefs and climate skepticism or some such. These outlets love to pathologize outsiders / non-leftists, even to the point of making false claims. It's extremely unwise to get most of one's "news" from them, as you'll end up with lots of false beliefs and biased impressions.
 

VCT

Member
Singapore recycles its sewage into drinking water and has been for a few years. I'm sure Singapore sees the potential profits, as well as self, need driving this technology forward.

Singapore do that for a different reason. Singapore water is supplied by Malaysia, which threaten to cut it off every few years.
 

Fred Chen

Moderator
Unfortunately that was not always the case. My beautiful wife and I landed in Silicon Valley in the early 1980s. When we decided to buy a house and have children my wife researched the area and found a high incidence of birth defects where fabs were, my place of employment included. If you really want to know why fabs left California and the US thank the EPA.

We decided to move to the East Bay where we both grew up and I made the two hour commute for 30 years. Huge sacrifice but worth it. We live at the base of a mountain just 30 minutes away from the ocean and multiple marinas. It's a pirates life for me.

Today I am told the water coming out of a fab is cleaner than what came it. Given the concentration of fabs in Taiwan being carbon neutral is key and TSMC is leading the way:

Water levels and power consumption are also critical in Taiwan.
 
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