The Hidden Impact of the Internet on Our Environment

The Hidden Impact of the Internet on Our Environment

As conversation topics go, how to live more sustainably is something many of us seem to be discussing. Embracing ‘the 3 Rs’: reduce, reuse, recycle is, quite rightly, becoming a way of living that more and more of us are committed to. But how much do we know about the impact our use of technology has on the environment?

Internet pollution, or the impact of the Internet on the environment, is pollution caused by the operation of the Internet. To quantify this, every second someone browses a simple website, roughly 20 milligrams of CO2 are generated. What’s more, complex websites can be responsible for up to 300 milligrams per second. For many, the Internet is synonymous with dematerialization. However, the information you’re searching for on the internet is not just kept in the “virtual world.” Simply put, each single search is sent to thousands of servers, found in huge data-centre buildings, and these use a lot of electricity. The more data processed through these servers, the more electricity we use, and the more emissions are generated. For example, in 2005 the U.S. had 10.3 million data centres, collectively they consumed enough energy within one year to power the entire United Kingdom for two months.

Sending an email, using search engines, storing data all pollute: today, the web generates two percent of the CO2 emissions of the planet. And this is just the beginning of this new form of pollution. Indeed, within four years, digital pollution will represent 3 to 4% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Crucially, we need to highlight how we can reduce our internet generated CO2

production. So read ahead to see what steps you can take to help.

  • Emails sent as spam waste a lot of energy. According to a study in 2018, about 14.5 billion spam emails were sent every day. These emails generate enough energy to power millions of homes and vehicles on the road. Simple steps such as changing your emailing habits by limiting “reply all” messages and unsubscribing from newsletters you don’t need, will make a difference.
  • Unwanted emails have to be stored somewhere, and this storage requires energy. By deleting emails, we reduce the demand on the generators storing the information. Deleting 30 emails is equivalent to saving 24 hours of consumption of a light bulb. This is the kind of information that we need to share.
  • While we have discussed various environmental issues due to internet usage, Cloud services could in fact play a constructive role in solving the problem. According to Google, cloud services, such as Drive and Gmail, can help in reducing the carbon footprints. Organizations can reduce 87% of their energy by using cloud technology.
  • Turn off your computer if you know you will be away from it for more than an hour. If shutting down your computer isn’t an option, setting it to snooze after a certain period of inactivity reduces the number of watts consumed by over a half.
  • For quick searches and non-work-related tasks, choose to use your smartphone or tablet over your laptop or desktop. They require far less energy to charge and use than larger devices.
  • Unplug your laptop from its power supply when it is not in use. Leaving it plugged in will only consume unnecessary energy.
  • Finally, there are a whole host of websites with ads dedicated to raising money for the environment, including our donate page at Agent of Change. So, if you have to use the internet today, pay it back, and give money to one of the many causes trying to support the planet.


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