Sending dozens of emails a day, making a quick call on WhatsApp, uploading some photos to the cloud, watching a short viral clip on YouTube: It's all part of the digital daily life around the world. For the individual, it may be "just one photo" or "just a few minutes of video," but, taken together, our collective internet traffic contributes enormously to climate change.
"Limited Energy Resources"<p><br>The calculations include both the energy costs of creating IT infrastructure and the actual use of that infrastructure — with the latter consuming 10 percentage points more electricity than the production of all equipment and technology combined.</p><p><a href="https://newsroom.cisco.com/press-release-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1955935" target="_blank">According to a projection by IT giant Cisco</a>, by 2022 around 60% of the world's population will be online, with video making up more than 80 percent of all internet traffic. Maxime Efoui-Hess, an energy and environmental expert at The Shift Project and author of the study, said we need to urgently reconsider the future of internet use and think about cutting back.</p><p>"We have limited energy resources," he said, pointing out that even if we make the shift to renewables now, "the internet is a worldwide thing, so it would require every country in the world to be powered by renewable energy." But he said that goal remains impossible in such a short time, meaning we can't let internet usage grow as rapidly as it has to this point.<br></p><p>The largest share of that growth is now video traffic: 80% of all data transferred online is video data, with nearly 60% of that being online video, meaning streaming videos stored on a server and viewed remotely, via sites like Netflix, YouTube or Vimeo.</p><p>The problem: transferring videos online is data-intensive. In 2018, online video traffic was responsible for more than 300 million tons of CO2, equivalent to what a country the size of Spain releases in a year — for all sectors combined. The higher a video's resolution, the more data that's required. Ten hours of high-definition film consumes more bits and bytes than all the English-language articles in Wikipedia put together, according to The Shift Project.</p><p>The way we consume videos and movies has also changed radically. In the past, films told a story with moving pictures and music; today, online videos are primarily used to hook a person's attention for as long as possible. "It moves, and there's sound, and that's attractive to our brain," said Efoui-Hess. "But it can lead to addictive behavior."</p><p>Platforms like YouTube, Facebook and Netflix have increasingly exploited this biological preference, he said. The autoplay function lets videos start automatically, without sound and with subtitles, making information even easier to consume. "That's just the way to make you watch the whole video — and it works."</p>
Last Mile is Crucial<p><br>Can this growing hunger for videos be satisfied, in a way that spares the climate? Or do we have to go without our favorite streaming TV series and films? Efoui-Hess points out that it would indeed be better to watch something on a standard TV broadcast — analogue broadcasting also consumes electricity, but the data is only transmitted over a limited geographical area, rather than halfway around the world, as is the case with streaming video.</p><p>Lutz Stobbe, who researches the environmental impact of information and telecommunications technology at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration in Berlin, said when it comes to data transfer, the last mile is crucial — as in, what specific technology is used to bring the data to the consumer.</p>
Exhausted Tech<p>Stobbe said those hoping for next-generation devices and processes to be more energy-efficient will be disappointed. When it comes to technology, energy efficiency hasn't improved significantly in the last decade. That's why it's best to use your older devices as long as possible, he said.</p><p>What remains are small tweaks to our daily routine. "This is what's called digital hygiene," said Stobbe. "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."</p><p>Efoui-Hess is also an advocate of small changes. "Use Wi-Fi, not mobile networks, watch on the smallest screen you can — and high-definition video on a smartphone aren't really necessary," he said, pointing out that watching high-definition videos on a smartphone over a mobile network uses the most electricity, and consequently is the worst for the climate.<br></p><p>To raise awareness of the impact everyday digital life has on the climate, The Shift Project has developed a CO2 calculator browser add-on that measures the emissions generated by internet activity. Nevertheless, the NGO doesn't place the responsibility solely on the end user; it believes the issue should be an important part of the political agenda. But so far, neither governments nor international institutions have recognized the problem, let alone made any efforts to bring about change.</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Katherine Wei
We all love to eat. And increasingly, our cultural conversation centers around food—the cultivation of refined taste buds, the methods of concocting the most delectable blends of flavors, the ways in which it can influence our health and longevity, and the countless TV shows and books that are borne of people's foodie fascinations. However, there's one aspect we as consumers pay perhaps too little heed: the production of food before it reaches markets and grocery store shelves. We don't directly experience this aspect of food, and as a result, it's shrouded in mystery, and often, confusion.
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A new Greenpeace report, Clicking Clean: Who is Winning the Race to Build a Green Internet?, finds that Apple, Google, Facebook and newcomer Switch are leading the charge to build a renewably powered internet. These companies are coupling transitions of their data centers to clean energy with strong advocacy for access to renewable options.
With a rough 2016 officially behind us, and a foreboding 2017 ahead, maybe we all need a good dose of 1990's nostalgia. This Spring, Bill Nye will make his long-awaited return to our screens with his new Netflix show, Bill Nye Saves the World.
The Science Guy and his band of correspondents—model Karlie Kloss, Xploration Outer Space host Emily Calandrelli, comedians Joanna Hausmannm and Nazeem Hussain, and Veritasium host Derek Muller—will explore some of the most complex scientific topics of the day, from climate change, vaccines and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
While Netflix first announced the show in late August, Nye's comeback seems all the more fitting with Donald Trump's presidential inauguration this Jan. 20.
"Each episode will tackle a topic from a scientific point of view, dispelling myths, and refuting anti-scientific claims that may be espoused by politicians, religious leaders or titans of industry," Netflix stated in a press release.
Trump, as any EcoWatch reader knows, is just about as anti-science as it gets. The president-elect has plans to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, undo President Obama's signature Clean Power Plan and other environmental initiatives, and has nominated an entire cabinet of fossil fuel "puppets" and executives.
'Shockingly Stupid': Trump to Eliminate NASA Climate Research https://t.co/6lqKg19UWr @tcktcktck @OneWorld_News— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1480042818.0
Nye came to fame in the 1990s as the host and creator of Bill Nye the Science Guy. The bowtie-wearing educator taught his young audience about the joys and importance of science and engineering.
We doubt that Trump will be streaming the new show, but Nye does intend to appeal to a wide audience.
"Since the start of the Science Guy show, I've been on a mission to change the world by getting people everywhere excited about the fundamental ideas in science," he said in the press release.
"Today, I'm excited to be working with Netflix on a new show, where we'll discuss the complex scientific issues facing us today, with episodes on vaccinations, genetically modified foods and climate change," he added. "With the right science and good writing, we'll do our best to enlighten and entertain our audience. And, perhaps we'll change the world a little."
Give me clean, beautiful and healthy air - not the same old climate change (global warming) bullshit! I am tired of hearing this nonsense.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2014
Since Science Guy came off the air in 1998 after five seasons, Nye has made numerous appearances on television shows and online videos as a science commentator and outspoken environmental advocate.
Earlier this year, the educational icon famously bet climate change denier Marc Morano $20,000 that 2016 will be among the hottest on record and that this decade will be record hot. Morano turned down the bet, claiming that it's "obvious" that scientific data will show warming, implying that the data would be doctored.
2016, of course, is officially the hottest year ever recorded, scientists have determined.
Top Climate Denier Turns Down $20k Bet From Bill Nye https://t.co/yp6aqrQwYk @climate_rev @BraveNewClimate
— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch) April 13, 2016
In an interview with Huffington Post Live, Nye explained that "GMOs are not inherently bad. We are able to feed 7.2 billion people, which a century and a half ago you could barely feed 1.5 billion people and [it's] largely because of the success of modern farming."
However, Nye cautioned that introducing new organisms into the ecosystem can have "unintended consequences."
"My take on it now is genetically modified food is actually, in general—genetically modified plants, in general—are not only not harmful, they're actually a great benefit. However, you can't just go planting enormous monocultures and killing everything and expect the ecosystems to take it," he said.