Internet carbon footprint

15 February 2021
Image credit: wallpaperflare.com

by Helen

When we bought our house in the summer of 2018, the island of Great Bernera was one of the few places in the UK which didn’t have cable internet connection. We made the decision to buy the house anyway, figuring that living offline was not actually a bad thing, considering our aim was to leave our old lives behind.

We moved into our house in May 2019. Six months later, as part of a government pledge to connect every household in the UK to the web, British Telecom arrived to fit a fibre cable direct to our home, which means that we now have one of the fastest internet connections in the British Isles.

Six months after that the world was in lockdown, online interaction had exploded and we were extremely grateful that we had the technology to be able to take part in the new world order. However, as with everything, it came with a price.

I’ve wanted to find out more about internet carbon footprint for some time; little did I realise how complex this whole area is. For this reason, the purpose of this post is simply to raise awareness of the issue. Perhaps I’ll explore some of its intricacies in a future post.

Below are some of the links I used in my research, should you wish to look into this topic further. In the meantime, these are some brief findings:

  • By 2025, the internet is predicted to account for 3.5% of global CO2 emissions, rising to 14% by 2040.
  • By 2025, data centres will be among the largest users of electrical power on the planet and have a bigger carbon footprint than the entire aviation industry.
  • After March 2020 (the start of lockdown for many countries), internet traffic increased by 20%, with huge amounts of energy required to support that surge.
  • Video streaming drives approximately 80% of global internet traffic.
  • Buying a new smartphone accounts for as much energy as using an existing phone for a decade.

The irony of this post is that I’m using the same technology and power to warn about the adverse effects of doing that exact thing. On the other hand, in my research for this post, I discovered that our own website is not hosted by a green provider, so we’re taking action to remedy that.

What steps can you take now?
As well as the quick and easy actions mentioned in this infographic, here are some other steps you can take right now:

  • Be mindful of the amount of data you’re streaming and the resources it’s consuming.
  • Limit the amount of time you spend online, or limit your data usage per day.
  • Value your electronic devices and avoid replacing them too often.

Sources

4 thoughts on “Internet carbon footprint”

  1. Well done, Helen, for raising this issue! Too few people are aware of it. I can still remember how shocked I was when I first found out the huge amount of energy the internet and electronic communication uses. Just a few days ago I was even more horrified when I heard on Radio 4 that Bitcoin (a totally useless commodity in my opinion) uses more electricity in a year than the whole of Argentina, see here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-56012952

    1. Thanks for your reply, Gill, and for the link to the Bitcoin article. That’s very interesting. In researching this short post, I realised that this area is HUGE and we should be aware of it at this early stage, otherwise we’ll undo all the work we’re doing to reduce carbon emissions by other means. Another formidable area is self-driving cars – the energy needed to power ‘smart’ cars communicating with each other and with satellites is going to be immense!

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