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5 Ways to Make Your Internet Surfing Sessions More Eco-friendly

Opinion

December 21, 2023

According to the BBC, the internet and the systems supporting it account for nearly 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, which is comparable to the aviation industry. Our generation constitutes the majority of the user base of the internet; consequently, it is our responsibility to take action. The media and policymakers have undermined this issue; hence, this article contains practices that can help decrease our digital carbon footprint.

Photo from Pexels

But before delving into the solutions, it is essential to understand:

What is Digital Carbon Footprint?

As of October 2023, more than 65% (5.7 billion people) of the global population has access to the internet. Every day more than 294 billion emails are sent and received, above 4 million gigabytes worth of data is shared on Facebook (Meta), and 26 billion+ text messages are sent; although this seems like a massive amount of data, this represents a diminutive chunk of the entire data generated on the internet. These 120 zettabytes of data aren't stored in some nebulous, pollution-free space but on massive server farms built by multibillion-dollar corporations like Microsoft, Meta, and Google.

These server farms use substantial amounts of electricity to function, consequently releasing carbon into the atmosphere. Our daily inconsiderate usage of the internet is a significant cause of this; let's take an example: we teens spend a considerable amount of our time-consuming media on OTT platforms like Netflix, but did you know that Netflix servers alone in 2020 generated well over 1.1 million metric tonnes of CO2.

Our digital carbon footprint is all the carbon and greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere due to our use of the internet and digital systems, including our devices like mobile phones and laptops, and E-waste.

Photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash

E-waste is also a major cause of the problem, and it is essential to understand it:

What is E-waste, and Why is it harmful?

Photo by Mark Stosberg on Unsplash

E-waste is one of the world's most rapidly growing forms of solid waste. It causes huge problems as many electronics contain toxic substances, especially for women and children, since they form the major waste segregation and scrap collection workforce. Hazardous elements from e-waste can leak into the groundwater and contaminate it when it is disposed of in landfills, which can poison water supplies.

We should strive to recycle e-waste to the greatest extent possible, as most of its components can be recycled to create cheaper electronics, and manufacturing electronic devices requires a significant amount of energy. When e-waste is not recycled, the energy invested in producing these devices is lost. E-waste especially impacts third-world countries and countries that lack appropriate e-waste disposal systems. This can pose a major challenge to future generations and increase the burden on governments.

1. Using Alternative Search Engines

Photo by: Ecosia planta su árbol 100 millones – Cool FM

Photo from Ecosia

We can try to use alternative search engines like Ecosia or OceanHero that contribute some part of their revenue to nullify their environmental impact. Ecosia is a very popular example, which contributes towards planting trees in less-developed countries. We can identify the cause we want to contribute to and accordingly use the search engine, for example, if you want to raise money to help clean the oceans, OceanHero would be a great choice.

2. Decrease the video quality on streaming platforms

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We love watching movies on Netflix and Hulu, and they are working to improve video streaming quality, but this is very harmful as higher-definition videos require more resources, thereby increasing greenhouse gas emissions. According to a British Consultancy, ultra-high-Definition video consumes 7GB of Data per hour, while high-definition and standard-definition videos consume 3GB and 0.7GB, respectively. Instead of constantly watching movies/videos in 4k, we can sometimes manually set it to 1080p or 720p to reduce our greenhouse emissions.

3. Optimize Search Queries

Photo by Philipp Katzenberger on Unsplash

According to a recent study, a single Google search releases between 7g to 15g of carbon emission. This might not seem like much but considering that hundreds of millions of search queries are made each day, it is essential to try to keep our carbon emission on the lower end of the aforementioned range. This can be achieved by making precise search queries, instead of searching by using unrelated information, try using keywords, for example, “best books” will release more carbon as compared to “best science fiction book of 2023”.

4. Optimizing device energy efficiency

Photo by israel palacio on Unsplash

We can use modes like power saving and limit background processes to ensure that our devices use minimal energy. Several internet browsers like Bing offer built-in power saving mode, too. Some of us also tend to leave our devices turned on even when not in use; instead, they should be left in "sleep" mode to prevent wastage of energy.

Cooling systems in electronic devices, such as computers and data centers, can consume significant energy. Optimizing cooling solutions to ensure they operate efficiently and considering using energy-efficient cooling methods or technologies for personal computers can also improve CPU speeds and performance. If possible, we should enable dynamic voltage and frequency scaling, which adjusts the voltage supplied and frequency according to the workload.

5. Download and Upload Cautiously

Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Download and Upload files cautiously since large files take a lot of resources to be transmitted across the internet. We should delete any file we deem to be unnecessary and not upload useless media on social media platforms and cloud computing services.

Bonus Tip:

The best and easiest way to contribute to helping save the environment is to spread awareness and publicly advocate about the issue of digital carbon footprint since most of us aren't aware of the issue. Conclusively, we are responsible for doing our part and making a big impact.

Sources:

  1. Internet and social media users in the world 2023 | Statista
  2. Just how much data do we produce - and where is it stored? | World Economic Forum (weforum.org)
  3. Calculating The Carbon Footprint Of A Google Search (searchengineland.com)
  4. How Much Data Does Streaming Video Use? (makeuseof.com)

Krishiv Garg
1,000+ pageviews

Writer since Dec, 2023 · 4 published articles

I'm a public policy and STEM enthusiast working to make an impact on the world.

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