The Internet and Your Carbon Footprint

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Media by Liza Cooper

Turning on cameras during Zoom meetings can be harmful to the environment, emitting a minimum of 150 grams of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per hour. Popular apps, such as Netflix and TikTok, also contribute to the growing amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Since the beginning of school in August, each MHS student has spent a minimum of 224 hours on Zoom, emitting the equivalent amount of CO2 that almost 4 gallons of gasoline would produce.

For every hour students spend Zooming with their camera on, 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide are being released into the atmosphere, according to a recent study by Purdue University.

Renee Obringer, who participated in this study as a data researcher, said there was a need for this data to be collected.

The catalyst of the study was primarily curiosity, driven by the reports of the environmental benefits of remote work early in the pandemic,” Obringer said. “We recognized that there was definitely a benefit to having less people driving and flying, but we were curious if there was a downside to increased internet usage.”

The U.S. has the largest carbon footprint per person of any country, and a number of other nations have reported their carbon emissions are up by almost 20 percent, according to the study.

Internet use concerning video, such as videoconferencing and Netflix, produces the most carbon emissions because they need the most data, which requires more servers to consume energy.”

The internet contributes to global warming through data centers, which store servers that house all the information on the internet. 

Electricity, mainly energy produced from non-renewable sources, powers these servers. Data centers are projected to use 109 terawatt-hours (TWh) this year, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

That’s almost two times more energy than the country of Greece consumed in 2016.  

Kevin Koch, environmental science teacher, explained how the internet requires electricity. 

“And if that electricity is generated by a carbon source like fossil fuels, or even renewable carbon, greenhouse gases (GHGs) will be released into the atmosphere,” Koch said.

Greenhouse gases can be a good thing, but only to a certain extent. If the amount of GHGs emitted is greater than the amount of GHGs that are absorbed by natural processes like photosynthesis, global warming will occur, Koch said. 

We need to depend on more renewable forms of [energy], so that we can limit the burning of fossil fuels,” said sophomore Zeenia Taraporevala,  co-president of the MHS Against Climate Change (MHSACC) club.

I do believe we need to become aware of our own actions, to raise our voices for political action, and, most of all, don’t fall into despair.”

— Debora Maia Silva

Internet use concerning video, such as videoconferencing and Netflix, produces the most carbon emissions because they need the most data, which requires more servers to consume energy.

Netflix alone uses an estimated 94 TWhs a year, which is enough energy to power a small country, and then some, according to the IEA.

Even though the facts may look daunting, simple actions can reduce personal carbon emissions. 

For example, turning off cameras during Zoom meetings can reduce carbon footprints by almost 96 percent, according to the Purdue study. Streaming movies and TV shows in standard definition rather than high definition could yield an 86 percent reduction in carbon emissions. 

Spreading awareness about global warming also will help inform others about the urgency of the situation. 

Taraporevala urges people who care about the earth to join climate change clubs and advocacy groups. MHSACC’s main goal is to educate others about the importance of climate change, she said.

Debora Maia Silva, another member of the research team that worked on the Purdue study, said the goal of the study was to bring awareness to the problem that is climate change.

“I do believe we need to become aware of our own actions, to raise our voices for political action, and, most of all, don’t fall into despair,” Silva said.