Whether it’s work or leisure, avoiding the internet is impossible. Sending emails, streaming videos, and browsing the web generates a larger carbon footprint than you may think.
What’s the harm in playing Club Penguin for an hour, streaming a 2-hour Joe Rogan podcast, or sending the folks a charming e-card?
It’s definitely worse than you’d think. Perhaps it’s because the internet plays such a huge part in both our work routines and downtime, but you rarely hear conversations about the sizable carbon footprint our online habits have when totted up.
Even the ‘wokest’ among us aren’t losing much sleep over the few grams of carbon our Google searches account for, or the energy required to power our devices. They’re essentials, after all.
It’s when you consider that 53.6% of the global population is now online – that’s around 4.1 billion people – that you begin to understand how each of our little indiscretions can lead to a wider issue.
Recent reports state that the carbon footprint from our gadgets, the internet, and the systems supporting them likely account for 3.7% of all global emissions. Almost identical to that emitted by the airline industry, experts have estimated our internet toll of 1.7 billion tons will double by 2025.
How is this possible then whilst leaders like Joe Biden are pushing renewable energy and centralised data centres? Like most environmental issues, it comes down to technology and infrastructure disparities between wealthy and developing nations.
In the US, internet data centres now make up just 2% of electricity usage. A lack of investment in developing regions has led to a continued reliance on fossil fuels to power their services. Many of these providers instead turn to carbon offsetting to reduce their own impact, controversial as the topic remains in sustainable circles.
The three biggest Cloud corporates, Google, Microsoft, and Amazon, have pledged to fully decarbonise their data in the coming years, though none have yet ditched the use of fossil fuels entirely.
While that transition is underway, it’s worth knowing which online habits are the most energy demanding and understanding which behaviours are the biggest offenders.