Your day to day on the internet pollutes as much as a car trip of more than 1,000 kilometers a year | Technology
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Santiago Velázquez, 20 years old and a resident of Seville, does not know that he alone, every year, pollutes with his private activity on the networks as much as a car trip of more than 1,000 kilometers. He has finished a Vocational Training module in programming and started working in the same company where he did his internship. Most of his life is online. “I don’t contaminate,” he says. It is a general perception. The screens are not fuming, but behind each use there is a gigantic network of servers and communications using ever-increasing resources to meet the increasing demand for speed and capacity. Mohamed Cheriet, Professor of Systems Engineering at the University of Quebec’s Higher School of Technology (Canada), calculates that the use of information technologies is “responsible for 4% of the greenhouse gases produced by human activity , slightly higher than the world aerospace industry”. Google has assessed that only in the cloud (remote servers connected to the internet to store, manage and process data, networks and programs) there are 600,000 gross kilograms of CO₂ in idle projects. They include everything from useless images, such as those automatically archived from WhatsApp messages, unnecessary documentation and outdated databases, to outdated programming. This is the day-to-day footprint of a conventional user, like the young man from Seville:
Santiago Velázquez wakes up at 7:30 a.m. to work, half the week in person and the rest from home. He is woken up by a smart speaker permanently connected to the Internet. According to Endesa, these devices spend from two watts, being inactive, to 10 with music at high volume for three hours.
The first thing he does is check WhatsApp messages, the messaging network he uses the most. Each of those communications accounts for 0.2 grams of CO₂, according to Berners-Lee, a professor at Lancaster University’s environment centre.
After breakfast, check emails. Each one accounts for between 1 and 50 grams of CO₂. If it contains an attached document of one mega, the average is 19 grams. A total of 65 emails is equivalent to a kilometer traveled by car, a usual average number of messages received and sent. Validity’s international vice president of Customer Engagement, Guy Hanson, estimates that “about 100 billion emails are sent daily, 85% of them are unsolicited spam.”
The use of information technologies is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, slightly higher than the global aerospace industry
Mohamed Cheriet, Professor of Systems Engineering at the University of Quebec School of Technology
The robot portrait made from this average user excludes his professional activity, so the polluting day continues outside of work. Compare The Market has a CO₂ footprint calculator, based on the usage time of ten of the social networks with the most users.
Santiago Velázquez spends an average of 30 minutes a day on YouTube, where he watches videos of sneakers and cars, two of his favorite hobbies, which generate 14 grams of CO₂ per day. On Facebook he does not spend more than 10 minutes because he uses it as a family network. “It’s from yayos”, ironizes him. The carbon footprint in this network is reduced to eight grams per day. However, he dedicates an hour a day to Instagram and Twitter and not continuously. They are the networks that he consults sporadically when he has free time. Between the two they add up to 50 grams of CO₂ per day.
The two platforms that occupy the most time are TikTok and Twitch. The first is the most polluting per hour, according to the calculator. Just 30 minutes of daily use generates 80 grams of CO₂. The second is used to watch programs because television is an appliance that Santiago Velázquez does not usually turn on. So he gets to spend up to two hours and generates 66 grams. In total, between all these networks, he generates almost a quarter of a kilogram of carbon dioxide a day and almost 80 kilos a year, the equivalent of a 600-kilometre car journey.
At this point in the analysis, Santiago Velázquez has begun to change his perception of his particular carbon footprint and no longer defends that it does not pollute. In this sense, Brett Mifsud, general director of Energy at Compare The Market, affirms: “Most people do not realize the impact that their social media habits are having on the planet. Like all technology, it has an environmental footprint that is much higher than people might think.”
Videos and Junk Files
Although he does not use them daily, the young Sevillian is subscribed along with other friends to three video platforms: Disney, Netflix and Amazon Video. The Carbon Trust, environmental auditor of companies, calculates that an hour of online video generates 55 grams of CO₂. The incorporation of films into the daily activities of Santiago Velázquez ends up adding an annual pollution equivalent to driving more than 1,000 kilometers.
Added to this contamination is that generated by cloud storage of useless data, from images and gifs (Graphics Interchange Format, the popular animations shared by networks) to hundreds of outdated documents. According to Google Cloud, “there are more than 600,000 gross kilograms of CO₂ in apparently inactive projects that could be eliminated or recovered, generating an impact equivalent to planting almost 10,000 trees.”
Key to all this activity is the extension of 5G, a technology with a storage capacity 10 times greater than its predecessor, 20 times faster and cheaper in the same proportion, according to the report The global economic impact of 5G from PwC Global. However, this communication system requires more power and more connection points. Each bit transmitted with 5G spends less than one carried with 4G, but, with the new technology, the amount of traffic is increased in many more connection points.
In this sense, according to Client Solutions BBVA, it is expected that, in just three years, each person will make 4,820 connections a day with any type of device. The International Energy Agency calculates that the world’s data centers require an electricity consumption similar to that of a country like Spain.