Music, movies, T.V. shows, social media, instant messaging, restaurant reviews and recommendations, shopping, breaking news: The dynamics of my daily activities have one thing in common—dependency on the Internet. Not including work, I’m connected three hours a day. A majority of my recreational time includes streaming music on my commute, winding down with a Netflix binge, and constantly refreshing my Instagram feed. For years I imagined that sending messages, uploading comments on social media apps, and streaming music occurred via some imaginary gust of wind that transmitted my commands from my device to those I was trying to reach.
Delving a little deeper I discovered an intricate system of infrastructure and energy required to make these commands work. One major component is Data Centers, or Sever Farms, which are large-sized buildings that hold a certain amount of servers for designated websites—up to 10 acres for one Google site. Data Centers receive information that is processed or sent through the Internet to its host site, and then rebounds back to the Internet user. Imagine how many times that process occurs in even one minute.
Although there is certainly a move toward creating greener server farms, many companies, Apple among them, are still connected to local grids that run off of coal and other fossil fuels. Carbon emissions emitted from worldwide Internet use currently exceed those of air travel. Every search, Facebook comment, video download, or article browsed requires information to be transmitted to the data center and then returned back to our devices. It is estimated that one Google search releases from 0.2 to 7 grams of CO2 into the atmosphere. That means that the pollution contributed by one Google search is equivalent to that of driving my car anywhere from 3 inches to 52 feet.
Although Google is one of my most frequently visited sites, much of my Internet time is directed elsewhere. It is estimated that every second one person spends on the Internet will generate 20 milligrams of CO2, equivalent to 70grams of CO2 an hour. Those documentaries I stream on Netflix could be costing up to 150grams of CO2 per view. My roughly three hours a day, every day, generates 1,500 grams of CO2 by the end of the week!
As difficult as those figures may be for us to absorb, we clearly should find ways to mitigate our impact. One change requiring minimal effort is to delete old junk email accounts, or unsubscribe from email newsletters we never read. On average, each email sent and read produces 0.3-4 grams of C02. We can also stream less by watching movies using a DVD player or playing music from the iTunes library. Limiting our overall Internet use would also make a big difference—reduced greenhouse gases and improved quality of life by connecting instead back into the physical world.
Jessica Reyes is an assistant in the Los Angeles studio. Image of Facebook server hall in Sweden courtesy of Wikimedia.