Never before have we been so connected. But does it come at a cost? Is it killing the planet?
We live in an age where we can speak to anyone on earth, from anywhere on earth. But are our online habits killing the planet?
Over the last year, there has been a huge increase in online activity. It is fair to say that most people wouldn’t consider their online usage to have any significant environmental impact. But you may be shocked to know, it has a huge impact.
A 40% increase in global internet traffic between February and April 2020 was recorded, during lockdown.
Here in the UK, 91% of us are now online. That’s a staggering 62 million just on one small island.
But why would it matter that so many people are using the internet?
What's your relationship like with tech? Check out your screen time usage on your phone...
On average, we spend 3 and a half hours logged onto the Cloud.
For those who don’t know what the cloud is, we can tell you it isn’t something white and fluffy in the sky.
“The cloud” is a number of servers that are accessed over the Internet, and the software and databases that run on those servers.
Cloud servers are located in data centres all over the world. In 2012 there were 500,000 data centres globally; by the end of 2019 there were an estimated 8 million.
Servers provide functionality or the home pages where we select our goods.
The hard drives store that data.
The user devices (your phones, laptops etc) connect all of that data to the web.
In a nutshell, it’s the place where big tech stores your data.
All of your photos, undeleted emails, and bills are sitting in a giant computer somewhere, using electricity.
How much electricity though?
In a data centre, one rack requires the same amount of electricity as boiling fifteen kettles of water continuously for one day. Data centres can have anything from a hundred, to thousands of racks.
Remember, there’s 8 million data centres globally!
Here in the UK data centres are hooked up to the grid, meaning less than 50% of their power comes from renewable energy.
Have a look at your phone. How many photos and videos are on there?
Unless you are super organised and highly efficient, it’s probably in the thousands? All of those photo’s that didn’t come out as you’d hoped…
Every one of those photos, and videos stored on the cloud uses energy.
But storing the photos on our phones isn’t the only thing we do with our pictures these days.
Sharing on social.
Everyone who uses social media has at some point, shared a pic or two. Surely that can’t harm the planet, right…
Let’s use an example. If someone you follow on Instagram has 240 million followers, and they were to post one photo, the energy used to post that one picture out to 240 million followers, is the same as the amount of energy used to power 10 UK homes attached to the grid for one year.
90% of that energy is used when the data centre sends that image to our devices.
But photos only take up 5% of the total traffic on the internet.
Video streaming is responsible for almost 60% of all traffic on the internet.
Most of us probably thought that businesses conducting meetings using video calls during lockdown were reducing their carbon footprint. But we may be wrong.
In just four months from April to January, 13million people downloaded Zoom, which is up from 650,000.
Number of attendees (could be over a hundred thousand for cooperate calls), location (London to Australia), if the video is HD, are all examples of what has to be factored in when calculating energy usage when using a platform such as Zoom. It isn’t just the data centres alone. You have your home device, the wires to connect those devices (we already know 90% of the energy used is for you to receive anything).
The estimate for a one hour, HD video call, between two people, in London on PC’s over wifi could cost the same as it would to travel 2km by car, or 10km by train. What if your meeting lasted longer and had more attendees…
Do you know who owns 'the cloud'?
Most of us assume that Amazon is just an online store. But Amazon also own nearly half of the overall public-cloud infrastructure market (47.8%), leading by a wide margin. Microsoft (15.5%), Alibaba (7.7%), Google (4%), and IBM (1.8%).
One third of Amazons profits come from amazon.com, where as two thirds come from its Cloud service.
AWS (Amazon Web Service) hosts services such as Netflix, Deliveroo, Airbnb and Channel 4 and more. Many of the stores we use, use AWS.
In June 2020 Amazon announced they were 42% powered by renewable energy, that’s including AWS.
Amazon is currently building a 1 billion euro Hyper Centre in Dublin, that will use the same amount of energy used to power the entire city of Dublin.
Data centres in Ireland could be using 41% of the Irish grids electricity within the next 9 years.
A report by the Irish Academy of Engineering estimated that 9 billion euros is needed by 2027 to meet the increased demand for power to support data centres in Ireland.
But what can we do?
Don’t stream using 4G or 5G, wifi is a lot less energy thirsty.
Lower the resolution on photos taken using your phone.
Take photos and make videos using a camera rather than your phone.
Use the internet less where ever you can.
Turn your tech off when you aren’t using it.
Fun fact, and something for you to think about.
According to a study performed by McAfee, 78% of emails are ‘spam’. 62 trillion spam messages are sent each year, and use 33bn kilowatt hours of electricity, causing 20 million tonnes of CO2 per year.
That’s enough electricity to power 8 million, 918 thousand 919 UK homes for an entire year!
Do you think our online habits are killing the planet?
At present information and communication technology already accounts for the same amount of greenhouse gases as aviation at 2%, this is a pre lockdown statistic.
- Channel 4 Dispatches
- Irish Academy of Engineering