All of your YouTube and TikTok videos are contributing to climate change

For all of you who are obsessed with posting cat videos on the Internet, you may want to cut back because your videos are contributing to your overall carbon footprint that is causing climate change.

The world is increasingly gaining access to the Internet and speed is in high demand. As access increases, so does the number of people who are streaming videos and posting them. And that’s putting out so many carbon emissions that digital technology has now surpassed the aerospace industry, amounting to 4 percent of all carbon emissions that cause global temperatures to rise.

It may not seem like a whole lot of energy is required to use the Internet, but the data transfer is what is most responsible for usage. Electricity is still needed for most Internet usage, and because electricity is still generated mostly by fossil fuels, every time we use the Internet we pollute the planet.

And that’s especially true of those who watch videos online.

According to EcoWatch:

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.

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.

So every video we watch on YouTube or TikTok or Netflix and other sites requires the most energy use, which produces the most carbon emissions.

Renewable energy sources are catching up, but it’s going to take time for them to completely replace fossil fuels so that videos don’t have such a large carbon footprint.

“We have limited energy resources,” energy and environmental expert Maxime Efoui-Hess said. “The Internet is a worldwide thing, so it would require every country in the world to be powered by renewable energy.”

Many Internet users around the world still rely on inefficient copper power cables.

“The power amplifiers have a low electrical efficiency, which means that about half of the energy used for data transmission is lost as heat,” Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration researchers Lutz Stobbe says. “The most efficient transmission technology is fiber-optic cables, which transmit signals by light.”

So, replacing inefficient cables with fiber optics would certainly help, but Stobbe also suggests we reduce how much we upload to the Internet.

“This is what’s called digital hygiene,” Stobbe said. “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.”

Efoui-Hess suggests people use Wi-Fi to reduce their energy usage.

“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.

The Internet is truly a revolutionary tool that has brought the world closer together than at any other point in history. But we need to use it more responsibly. Until our technology improves enough to make using it much cleaner, we should be conscious about how much data we are using and seek to use less.

Again, clean energy is replacing fossil fuels every day, but until it fully takes over, we have to do our part to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. If that means watching a few less cat videos or watching one less hour of our favorite show, so be it. At least we’ll still have a planet to live on.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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