Video Streaming’s Surprising Environmental Impact

Your online video binge-watching habit is hurting the environment. (Yup, even this video.) Digital technologies could account for 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions — the current share of car emissions — by 2025.

Impact of everyday digital life has on the planet

The carbon footprint from video streaming is ballooning to rival the emissions from an entire Western nation. 306 million tons of CO2 — i.e. nearly 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions —come from online videos: 34% Video on demand (such as Netflix) 27% Pornography, 21% Tubes (such as YouTube), 18% Others (such as Instagram) according to data from The Shift Project from a 2018 study. Everything a computer, tablet or smartphone does requires electricity. And, to generate that electricity, the world still predominantly uses fossil fuels — which produce carbon dioxide and contribute to heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

A 2018 report by The Shift Project — a think tank dedicated to a low-carbon future — stated online video viewing generated as much greenhouse gas emissions as Spain. To supply terminals, networks, and electricity (involving CO2 emissions), data centers account for about 2% of global emissions — a similar carbon footprint to the aviation industry. According to a projection by IT giant Cisco, by 2022 around 60% of the world's population will be online, with video making up more than 80 percent of all internet traffic. Maxime Efoui-Hess, an energy and environmental expert at The Shift Project and author of the study, said we need to urgently reconsider the future of internet use and think about cutting back.

To raise awareness of the impact everyday digital life has on the climate, The Shift Project has developed a CO2 calculator browser add-on that measures the emissions generated by internet activity. Nevertheless, the NGO doesn't place the responsibility solely on the end user; it believes the issue should be an important part of the political agenda. But so far, neither governments nor international institutions have recognized the problem, let alone made any efforts to bring about change. Some solutions for digital sobriety include: Removing auto-play features and using renewable energy to power data centers. A browser extension called Carbonalyser helps users gauge their computer’s emissions. Since the beginning of this video, you have created TK carbon emission.