In the old days, when you had to drive to a movie theater or go to a video store to get some entertainment, it was easy to see how your actions could have an impact on the environment. After all, you were hopping into your car, driving across town and coughing out emissions and using gas all the way.
But now that we're used to staying at home and streaming movies and miniseries, we might get a little cocky. After all, we're just picking up our phones and maybe turning on the TV. You're welcome, Mother Nature.
Not so fast, says a recent report from the French-based Shift Project, which bills itself as "the carbon transition think tank."
According to "Climate Crisis: The Unsustainable Use of Online Video," digital technologies are responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions, and that energy use is increasing by 9% a year.
"Stored in data centers, videos are transferred to our terminals (computers, smartphones, connected TVs, etc.) via networks (cables, optical fiber, modems, mobile network antennae, etc.): all these processes require electricity whose production consumes resources and usually involves CO2 emissions," the report points out.
Watching a half-hour show would lead to 3.5 pounds (1.6 kilograms) of carbon dioxide emissions, Shift Project's Maxime Efoui-Hess tells AFP. That's like driving 3.9 miles (6.28 kilometers).
In the European Union, the Eureca project found that data centers there used 25% more energy in 2017 compared to just three years earlier, reports the BBC.
Project lead scientist, Rabih Bashroush, calculated that 5 billion downloads and streams of the 2017 song "Despacito," consumed as much electricity as the countries of Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic used in a single year.
Streaming is only expected to increase as we become more enamored of our devices and the prospect of enjoying entertainment where and when we want it.
Online video use is expected to quadruple from 2017 to 2022 and account for 80% of all internet traffic by 2022, according to projections by CISCO. By then, about 60% of the world's population will be online.
What you can do
You're probably not going to give up your Netflix and other streaming services, but there are things you can do to help lessen the impact of your online use, experts say.
For example, practice good digital hygiene, Lutz Stobbe, who researches the environmental impact of information and telecommunications technology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Berlin, tells Ecowatch.
"Do you really need to upload 25 images of the same thing to the cloud? Every photo, every video is constantly backed up, for safety reasons, and that consumes energy every time. If instead you delete a few things here and there, you can save energy."
Here are some other tips:
- Disable autoplay for video through your browser and on social media.
- Stream over Wi-Fi, not mobile networks.
- Watch on the smallest screen you can. Phones tend to be more energy-efficient than TVs or laptops.
- Turn off your Wi-Fi in your home if you're not using your devices.
- Don't use high-definition video on small devices. You won't be able to tell the difference.