Climate change: The internet generates large amounts of carbon emissions, but it doesn’t have to be – Shane Herath
But the premature appearance of these annual trends should concern us all, especially as the world struggles more vigorously than ever to balance our growing energy needs with the need to reduce emissions.
Add to that a war started by one of the world’s major oil producers, and the problem becomes even more acute.
The solutions to this are often talked about: reducing the number of plane trips, switching from oil, gas and coal to renewable energy, and planting more trees to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Some of them are easier to pursue than others, and none can happen particularly quickly. But one area that is rarely talked about is the role of the Internet.
Perhaps because we can’t see the emissions caused by the web, we don’t take it seriously as a contributor to global warming.
There is no smoke from keyboards or chimneys attached to major data centers.
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In truth, however, the internet is responsible for using 10% of the world’s electricity, much of which comes from fossil fuels.
And as the world, especially the gigantic developing countries of Africa and Asia, increase their access to the internet, that number will only grow, with some predicting it will double in the next few years.
Most people are shocked to find that the energy consumed by the internet is more than the maligned aviation sector.
When you think about the scale of internet activity, from tablets in the home and PCs in the office to the power used by data centers and transmission networks, the result is enormous – and we all play a part in it. .
The average website produces around 100 kg of carbon dioxide every year, based on just 4,739 page views per month. What does that mean? That’s the equivalent of 483 km in a traditional fossil-fuel car.
Some websites receive many more page views than this, sometimes half a million per month, resulting in the emission of a whopping ten tons of CO2 per year.
So what can we all do about it? Luckily for ordinary citizens, the blame largely lies with those who own the world’s 1.9 billion websites.
The Scientific Advisory Board of the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance (EFWA) has determined that a green website will emit no more than one gram of CO2 per page view.
This is simple for most websites and can be achieved by reducing bloat, using lower resolution images, and not automatically playing videos when someone logs in. And they can go further.
When choosing a hosting provider, businesses and organizations can opt for ones that match 100% of their electricity consumption with renewable energy purchases.
Website owners, depending on their own site’s broadcasts, can take responsibility by supporting tree planting, reseeding, or regenerative agriculture, among others.
This can actually result in a climate positive website. If ten million websites around the world did this, it would prevent 500,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.
It may seem like a small portion for an individual website, but a business or organization that receives a lot of traffic could make noticeable environmental differences by reducing the electricity used with each click.
Local authorities are an example of interest. A study by EFWA found that around half of councils in Scotland, England and Wales run websites that exceed the recommended gram per page view.
These are organizations that have declared climate emergencies and repeatedly affirm their commitment to improving the environment.
By making a few simple changes to optimizing their websites, they could all make their pages more eco-friendly, and some would say they have a duty to do so.
Governments across the country are already doing this – another finding from our analysis was that the UK, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments all had websites that scored below the one-gram threshold.
This is important not only to send the right message to the public, but also given the millions of visits these websites receive for everything from information about traveling abroad to paying taxes and receiving benefits.
It is quite easy for organizations to discover their own estimated production per pageview. Our calculator isn’t the only one available that tells you how far you need to go to reduce energy consumption on your own page.
There is more to this argument than ethics and morality. When companies show they are doing their part to clean up the planet, consumers tend to respond positively.
The United Nations has even committed to reducing the waste generated by the digital ecosystem which promotes “conscious and responsible consumption”.
Reducing the energy consumed by Internet use may not have the bells and whistles of other environmental goals. But the truth is that our global Internet structure is a mess.
It grew and grew without any control over sustainability, unlike almost every other modern day growing area. Yet it continues to rise, with talk of the metaverse and 5G technology.
Even in our own lives, barely a week goes by without an upgrade of one form or another, whether it’s a cell phone or an undermining TV package. Internet, is not offered to us.
All of this requires more electricity, and our lives are simply not designed to reduce our reliance on the internet. However, it is essential that we make the Internet a more efficient and carbon-neutral resource.
Realizing this will mean that while the premature cherry blossom images themselves may still be of concern to climate scientists, the energy used to share them widely on social media and the internet will not.
Shane Herath is President of the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance