There is no denying that the internet plays an integral role in our everyday life, we rely on it for every email, every tweet and every image we post. Its rapid growth is mainly down to the many benefits it brings to our life; this includes better communication, increased convenience and a reduction in paper waste. However, unlike materialistic goods, the by-product of using the internet can’t be seen and it becomes easy for many of us to adopt the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality and become oblivious to its impact on our environment.
It doesn’t occur to a lot of us that irresponsible internet use causes the negatives to outweigh its benefits. Currently, the internet (or ICT) accounts for 6-10% of the world’s energy consumption and these contribute to 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions. This figure will, however, continue to increase by 5-7% each year if we don’t start being mindful of the emissions indirectly caused by internet usage and further contributing to global warming.
The Internet Is Not Invisible
Whether it is a Youtube video or a Whatsapp message, you require the internet to store and transmit data for you to read or watch on your device. Unfortunately, companies have coined terms like ‘the cloud’ to create the impression that our data is stored in a weightless, harmless formation. However, this is far from the truth.
We have to understand that using the internet involves more than just our devices and the energy required to power them, but instead, this process requires the storing and transmission of data to and from data centres.
Data centres have many technical components to them, such as routers, switches, security devices, storage systems, servers and more. These not only require a lot of energy to manufacture, power and maintain, accumulating high amounts of emissions, they also generate a lot of excess heat which require additional cooling systems.
The Electricity Source
Many of these data centres and its components are powered by non-renewable energy. This means that the electricity is created by burning fossil fuels, like coal, natural gas and oil. Burning fossil fuels emits a number of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which cause global warming.
Luckily, global companies like Facebook and Amazon are working towards data centre solutions. These companies aim to have energy efficient data centres that are powered by 100% renewable energy as soon as 2020 to help reduce the carbon impact internet usage imposes on the environment.
There Are a Lot of Internet Users
Each person’s internet usage actually only emits a small amount of carbon.
For example, according to Viessmann’s campaign #TheCoalTruth, each email sent emits approximately 0.004 kg of CO2, which does not seem to be a huge amount. However, with 150,000,000 emails being sent around the world in 1 minute, it emits a staggering amount of 60,000 kg of CO2.
That is as if we are burning 232,258 kg of coal in one go.
With 57.3% of the world’s population having access and using the internet, if we continue to use the internet irresponsibly we are indirectly causing detrimental damages to the environment.
Internet usage is inevitable, but we don’t have to sacrifice our planet in order to keep using it.