Documented By: Daniel Faro
We interact with digital technology, the internet and the cloud all the time, storing photos, messages, emails and all the information we access on the web. Initially it appears to be an environmentalist’s dream: no paper piles, transport trucks and energy hungry warehouses. “The cloud” sounds ethereal, natural and clean. But the reality is most of us don’t even really know what or where it actually is. Let alone consider its energy consumption.
In short, cloud computing is information stored on internet servers instead of on individual computer hard drives. This process frees up your device’s storage, while still granting you on-demand access to photos, emails, files and information. It’s a life-changing marvel, but sadly one that doesn’t quite live up to our fantasies of a techno-environmental utopia.
Digital content might feel invisible, but it takes up very real space. Companies, like Facebook or Google, externally store users’ information to help them save room on their own devices. Doing this also allows you to access said data anywhere, anytime. That picture of you at the beach you posted on Facebook three years ago. It’s probably stored in Alexandria, Sydney.
The hidden threads of information being exchanged on the internet are stored on hard drives in data centres all around the world. These contain rows upon rows of circuit boards forming long windowless corridors in warehouses bigger than Boeing 747s. All that hardware requires constant cooling to avoid overheating, which is responsible for almost half the total energy consumption of these centres. Global data centres use up 1 per cent of global energy annually. The total carbon emissions produced by our devices, the internet and its accompanying infrastructure make up 3.7 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions – equal to the entire aviation industry.
Thankfully, there are things you can do to help that figure lower. Here are four ways you can reduce internet pollution without chucking your device in the trash.
Sixty per cent of the world’s internet traffic is streaming videos, producing 300 million tonnes of CO₂ annually. Videos on the cloud must be stored somewhere (those energy-intensive data storage centres) and accessing them from your device also causes emissions.
If you plan on watching something multiple times, download the video, thus accessing the data just once instead of repeatedly streaming it. That applies to music too. Store your favourite playlists on your device and you can enjoy your most-loved tunes with the added bonus of knowing you’re reducing your own carbon footprint.
Reduce the resolution of videos you’re watching on your phone. Sure, James Cameron didn’t create Avatar to be watched in low-res, but he also didn’t plan on people watching on their phones from bed at 10pm. Low-res will do – trust us.
Be more conscious about what the content you consume and only stream essential things.
Documented By: Daniel faro
It’s often the first thing you check in the morning, and the last thing you see each night. On average, we spend two hours on social media every day. While images and text aren’t as environmentally detrimental as videos, they still have a carbon footprint.
Stop the mindless scrolling and reduce time online. Subconsciously reaching for your phone when you’re bored, waiting in line for a coffee or queuing at a bus stop does come at a cost. Challenge yourself to stop the bottomless browse.
Block video autoplay. We’ve all been there, clicking on a link and watching a 40-second clip…only to find ourselves still glued to the phone hours later. With features like autoplay embedded into many services like YouTube and Facebook, this is an easy trap to fall into. Turning it off prevents unwanted videos from being downloaded unnecessarily. It might even save you some time (and celebrity knowledge you didn’t really need).
One hundred and fifty million emails are sent every minute, producing as much CO₂ as 200 car trips around the whole of Australia.
Change your email provider. The main source of carbon emissions from your emails is your provider storing your inbox in a data storage centre powered by dirty fossil fuel electricity. But there are renewable energy alternatives. For as little as 15 euro per year, providers such as Runbox will store your data in a hydropower centre.
Stop sending polite “thank you” emails. If every adult in Britain stopped sending courteous emails, it could cut 16,433 tonnes of carbon annually. Tell your colleagues you’re not trying to be rude; you’re just trying to save the planet. They’ll understand.
Regularly delete old emails from your inbox. Remember that email you flagged for follow-up from 2016? Yeah, we think you probably aren’t going to read that again. Deleting old emails reduces the amount of storage your inbox requires in the cloud.
The average user receives 2,850 unwanted subscription emails per year, creating 28 kilograms of CO₂. Signing up in a moment of passion is fun but wears off over time. Only give your email to newsletters you really care about and will read.
Reduce the size of emails by including links to documents or compressing email attachments and minimising recipients.
Browsing the internet is so commonplace that “google” became a verb. It’s essential for winning debates with friends and tracing the latest fashion trends, and in 2021 it has become the primary way to safely peruse shops. But those searches build up; Google processes 63,000 searches per second. Each search emits an estimated 1.45 grams of CO₂.
Reduce open tabs. Each tab in your browser window is connected to the internet to load content every single time you open the browser. By closing unnecessary tabs, and – because you have great intentions to go back and read that article – creating a to-read list of hyperlinks in a note, you can reduce the information your device is accessing from the internet.
Change your search engine. Providers such as Ecosia plant trees with the profit from every 45 searches users perform. So far it’s planted 130 million trees.