While the abrupt halting of human activities last spring led to a record drop in global CO2 emissions, the carbon footprint of the digital world has on the contrary increased over the same period, in the face of the rise of teleworking and the mass use of streaming worldwide. But the consequences for the environment are worrying, a new study shows.
Conducted by researchers at Purdue University, Yale University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, this new study evaluates the global carbon footprint of our lockdown activities and provides estimates for 2021, based on these digital consumption trends.
Scientists calculated the carbon, water and land footprints associated with each gigabyte of data used on platforms such as YouTube, Zoom, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. The data cited in this research concerns several countries around the world (Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Japan, Mexico, Pakistan, Russia, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States).
According to the study, one hour of videoconferencing with the camera on or streaming emits 150 to 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide and requires 2 to 12 liters of water. Such a rate of consumption could, if it continues until the end of 2021, alone require the size of a forest of about 71,600 square kilometers to capture the carbon emitted.
The additional water needed for data processing and transmission could fill more than 300,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
Tips for more eco-friendly home working
But the good news is that adopting simple eco-friendly digital practices could help significantly reduce the impact. For instance, choosing not to turn on the camera in Zoom meetings can reduce the carbon footprint of that activity by as much as 96% or giving up high definition while streaming videos can lower the impact by 86%, according to the authors of the work.
But the Covid-19 health crisis is not the only thing responsible for this gargantuan digital carbon footprint. Before the arrival of the pandemic, Internet traffic accounted for about 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Based on publicly available data for each platform and each country, these estimates remain approximate, however, as they correspond to data made available by service providers and third parties.
However, the researchers believe that this information, the most accurate that can be obtained in terms of available data, is sufficient to give a precise indicator of the policies and attitudes to be adopted in each country to move towards greater digital sobriety. – AFP Relaxnews
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