The Cost of Cartography: Mapping the Carbon Footprint of Mapping

Authors: Harrison Cole*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Cartography, Cyberinfrastructure, Anthropocene
Keywords: cartography, mapping, climate change, technology, carbon, energy
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Council Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Maps have been an invaluable tool for communicating information about climate change both to academic audiences as well as the general public. However, the tools that (digital) cartographers use are often part of carbon-intensive systems, from mining precious minerals for use in computers, to storing data on servers that collectively require the full output of dozens of coal-fired power plants. In light of the IPCC report outlining the catastrophic and imminent effects of climate change, my talk closely examines the digital and social infrastructures of mapping, including extractive industries, supply chains and logistical enterprises, energy grids and e-waste. Anticipating a future of increased commodity crises, grid instability and restricted or compulsory mobility, I call for a more holistic consideration of the mapping practices that we often take for granted, and have even staked our livelihoods on, in order to begin developing progressive forms of mapping that exist outside the growth-oriented capitalistic frameworks that technology and software industries are largely predicated upon.

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