Internet emits C02: the air we breathe is increasingly polluted

Tech

The web produces carbon dioxide

The Coronavirus pandemic has provided definitive confirmation of how crucial the Internet is to our existence.

It has allowed each of us to stay in touch with friends and family, and most importantly, it has limited by far the damage done to most businesses that have managed to continue working remotely. We have all heard of smartworking, video conferencing, distance learning, webinars and online events.

The virus then, has simply accelerated what was already a marked path.

But while the Web has helped us ”normalize” our lives, there is the flip side of the coin: CO2 emissions in the air we breathe.

 

How much do our devices consume?

Smartphones consume 2 kWh per year.

Tablets and smart speakers consume about 60 kWh per year.

Although smartphones and tablets are two very similar smart devices, the reason for the high difference in power consumption lies largely in the size of the tablet’s screen and how it is used: tablets are often used to watch streaming video or play games, two of the activities that put the most pressure on batteries.

Televisions consume 100 to 150 kWh per year.

As for household appliances, the refrigerator, when compared to other appliances, does not consume excessively.

A refrigerator consumes on average 160 kWh per year, as much as a 65-inch LED TV, which, however, on average is turned on four hours a day.

These consumptions, quantified in the bill, seem to give us an idea of how much and how we use our smart appliances.

The problem is that digital devices connected to the Internet produce consumption beyond our electric meter.

Ultra-definition video for smart-tv, security cameras, home automation, digital video calling, online services, and instant messaging are constantly expanding and evolving.

All the traffic that travels over the Internet is data that is captured, stored and processed, which consumes enormous amounts of electricity and contributes to pollution. 

 

Electronic devices pollute our home and work environment

When we surf the Web we often tend to imagine it as a purely virtual and intangible world.

We are not inclined to think about the entire physical infrastructure that allows us to view digital content on the screens of our devices. To keep the network alive and manage the exchange of data, entire apparatuses of servers and data centers must be in constant operation. And a great deal of energy is required to make these apparatuses work.

Digitization makes it possible to limit some polluting actions, such as reducing travel or the consumption of natural resources, but on the other hand, the use of the Internet results in the production of new pollutant emissions.

According to Carbonfootprint, a parameter used to estimate greenhouse gas emissions expressed in CO2, a Google search can cause from 1 g to 10 g of CO2 emissions.

In front of these numbers we have to consider that Google processes about 47,000 searches per second or 3,5 billion per day.

To date, the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) sector is responsible for 3,7% of total gas emissions and is always increasing, so much so that by 2040 it could reach 14%.

Large digital companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft are seeking a solution to this by increasing the percentage of renewable energy used in the operation of data centers.

 

Smartphones and CO2

Recent smartphone models result in the production of about 82kg of C02 each. As smartphones become more complex, the manufacturing process requires more and more energy.

The emissions are mainly due to all the substances and materials contained within smartphones including steel, aluminum, magnesium, copper, silver, gold, graphite, lithium, and silicon.

To date, the smartphone is the most widely used device, and considering that with a life cycle of 2 years, the production of the smartphone is responsible for about 90% of the CO2 emissions caused by the device, the first solution to curb the pollution problem could be to keep it for as long as possible before replacing it with a new model or to buy a refurbished smartphone and take care of it so that it is used as much as possible.

Only 1 percent of smartphones in the world are recycled. Those who buy a refurbished product give it a second life and in doing so support a regenerative economy model by reducing the amount of e-waste produced.

 

Watch out for Streaming

Streaming video has become the new pastime within the walls of the home, and its use is set to play an increasingly dominant role in the digital content landscape declined in countless categories.

According to estimates by Cisco System, a long-established multinational networking equipment company, by 2022 video is covering more than 82 percent of total Internet traffic, 15 times higher than it was in 2017.

The good news is that we can take action: if we watch content in standard definition instead of high definition while using apps like Netflix, we can bring CO2 emissions down by 86 percent.

Similar studies have been done by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in which they found that watching 10 minutes of streaming video consumes 150 times more electricity than charging a smartphone battery.

Estimates are made on data from individual users and specific cases of combinations: device type, content resolution, and connection.

Although there is no global data based on measurements of energy consumption induced by digital uses, we can say that to watch streaming video on the big screen of a high-definition TV, energy consumption is extremely high.

What can we do on an individual level?

Each of us can do something to alleviate all these issues starting with small steps.

For example, change your device a little less frequently, avoid compulsive use of sending videos and pictures, delete old e-mails, limit sharing heavy if unnecessary content, access a site directly without going through a search engine, and eliminate unnecessary Apps that are constantly updating themselves producing inordinately high traffic that we do not realize.

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