The carbon cost of our digital habits #COP26

tha carbon cost of our digital habits

13 Nov The carbon cost of our digital habits #COP26

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As the 26th annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) draws to a close we’ve been thinking about how every area of our lives has a carbon footprint – and how that applies to our digital habits too. So we’ve been on a mission to find out if we can quantify the carbon cost of our digital habits. Here’s what we found out:

Calculating the carbon cost

  1. The carbon footprint of the internet is responsible for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions annually, equal to the aviation industry.
  2. It is on course to consume as much as 20% of the world’s electricity by 2030.
  3. Each global user of the internet is responsible for 414kg of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year.
  4. One Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2.
  5. Each user of Facebook is responsible for 12 grams of CO2 annually.
  6. Using your mobile phone for an hour a day costs 63kg CO2e a year.
  7. Every UK adult sending just one email a day costs 16,433 tonnes of carbon a year (equivalent to 81,152 flights from the UK to Madrid).
  8. Streaming an hour of video a week on a tablet or smartphone uses the same amount of electricity as two new domestic fridges.
  9. One iPhone creates 79kg of CO2 in its lifetime (80% before it’s left the factory) equal to burning 9 gallons of petrol.

‘We don’t think about it because we can’t see the smoke coming out of our computers, but the carbon footprint of IT is huge and growing’

Professor Mike Berners-Lee

It became clear to us as we were researching this piece that all the bags for life and recycling in the world isn’t going to help the planet if we carry on upgrading our phones and sending emails the way we all are at the moment. It may be unpalatable, but our digital habits have a huge carbon impact. Streaming video and music accounts for the biggest big chunk of the world’s internet traffic and it’s a usage that’s exploding.

The five billion plays clocked up by just one music video – the hit 2017 song Despacito – consumed as much electricity as Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic combined in a single year. Total emissions for streaming just that song are over 250,000 tonnes of CO2.

Rabih Bashroush, EU Eureca project 

So, here are some relatively simple fixes if you want to reduce the carbon cost of your own digital habits.

Cutting the carbon cost of your digital habits

  • Watch your streaming – turn off autoplay next, avoid video when you could use audio.
  • Switch to TV – terrestrial broadcast TV is a lot more energy efficient than current streaming technologies for popular programmes.
  • Cut down on emails – limit ‘reply all’, stop sending ‘thanks’ or ‘appreciated’ one or two-word emails, talk in person.
  • Shut down laptops and desktops when you’re away for more than two hours.
  • Choose green suppliers – store your data on a green cloud provider which only runs on renewable sources and choose a green search engine like Ecosia which plants a tree for every 45 searches it performs.
  • Don’t upgrade – don’t opt for automatic upgrades of your phone, choose a reconditioned model when you do, and learn how to fix your device to extend its lifetime.
`My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open' Tanya Goodin

For more ideas on how to fix your digital habits to improve your health and wellbeing – and the planet’s, pick up a copy of our new book: ‘My Brain Has Too Many Tabs Open’.

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