How is the Internet Killing our Environment?
Here’s the common myth we all honestly believe in.
12:35 04 November 2019
We use the Internet for every-day life needs because it’s efficient and convenient but also… super eco-friendly and it helps us save our world from the climate catastrophe. As much as we’d love it to be true, only a small part of this statement is true. How, in reality, does the use of the Internet affect our planet?
Before we start criticising our human dependency and the irresponsible use of technology, we should first admit that the Internet, indeed, does bring the good to the world. We can think of a thousand and one cases where it makes things extremely easier for us. Making money transfers doesn’t require bank visits as it takes only a few button taps on our mobile app. Sending a letter to your cousin living across the world doesn’t mean you have to buy paper, an envelope and a stamp to then make it all travel around the globe on a ship, plane and whoever knows what else. Even access to entertainment is easier than ever before - you can now play casino games with live dealers at £5 deposit casinos - something we couldn’t have even imagined a few decades ago. Then, if everything is all milk and honey, why is it the Internet to take the blame on the destruction of Mother Earth?
The Internet that’s not green at all
The environmental impact of the Internet is probably more horrendous than many of us imagine. Most probably, the reason behind is that we can’t see the big picture of the problem. We think in the category of “I”, rather than “we”. How can “my” use of the Internet cause any harm to the world, one might wonder? Well, your own activities in the online world won’t do much of a difference but, now, add 3.5 billion other users of the web and their use of the Internet. This number surely changes things.
Let’s look back at one of the examples we mentioned previously. Sending a simple letter via traditional post requires incredibly advanced logistics and, what follows, a number of stakeholders that produce different types of environmental damage. From paper over-use to the pollution produced by all sorts of means of transportation, post services leave a heavy mark on our planet. In the UK only, in the 2017-18 year Royal Mail delivered around 14.4 billion letters - it should give you the sense of the problem scale. Is sending an email an alternative, then?
Sending a virtual mail costs us not more than making 2 or 3 clicks on our phones. But it costs our planet more, though. An email generated on average 4g of CO2E (carbon dioxide equivalent). An average office worker sends emails that in total generate as much as 0.6 tonnes of CO2E yearly. To put this into perspective, the average yearly total carbon footprint of a person living in India leaves is 1.5 tonnes CO2E. The simple calculation shows us the real impact of our not-so-green Internet - it takes 3 office workers send emails regularly to produce as much CO2 as a person does throughout the year.
What makes the Internet a danger to our planet?
Granted, our example concerned email only and there are hundreds of other ways of the Internet use we could outline here but that’s not the case. We should rather focus on where the pollution actually comes from when using the Internet in general. The amount of carbon dioxide needed to generate power that can keep the network infrastructure running is sky-rocketing these days.
Tablets, mobiles, computers, routers…. the list goes on and on. All these devices require electricity. Do you think they leave a small footprint, though? Not if we add the operations of data centres (host web pages, clouds and other storage options) and all the power chords and antennas that carry data. The servers, found in massive buildings around the worlds, process the information we generate online and use enormous amounts of electricity. For example, back in 2005, data centres in the U.S. generated enough energy in one year to power the entire UK for two months!
Fortunately, the tech giants like Google and Apple have already implemented in their operations programs to lower their carbon emissions, but it’s a difficult and complex task. In order for them to bring a real change, it will require years to start working. Apple already announced that 100% of all the company’s offices, retail stores, and data centres all over the world were moved to 100% renewable power. It hasn’t erased its carbon footprint yet, but it clearly is a step taken in the right direction. Similarly, Google, too, claims to be using 100% renewable power but, just like Apple, it’s still far from the elimination of carbon emission completely.
Is there any bright future ahead of us?
It’s still impossible to clearly state how much environmental impact the Internet has. The Guardian estimates it releases 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year, while according to The New York Times’ research, about 30 billion watts of electricity was produced in 2011, which is an equivalent to what 30 nuclear power plants would produce.
What’s the solution? Does one even exist? Well, we surely can take extreme steps and eliminate the use of the Internet for good but we all know it’s simply impossible and neither one of us would probably even want it. Instead, we should rather honestly look into our habits and change those that don’t help but only add to the global damage.
As simple as it sounds, we can reduce the impact of this technological impact by taking small steps, such as switching off out laptops after we finish using them or unplugging our devices from electricity, when not in use. Clean up your email inbox and unsubscribe from all unwanted newsletters - it’s like killing two birds with one stone. You get rid of the spam and you help the environment at the same time. Sounds silly? Maybe. But, all in all, it’s one step for a man and one giant leap for mankind… and our planet!