What You Should Know About Digital Pollution

March 29, 201910:17 am5394 views

“The web generates 2 percent of CO2 emissions of the planet. In one hour, more than 12 billion emails are sent, representing more than 4,000 tons of oil. If 50,000 people delete 1,000 emails each; 300 tons of CO2 are avoided. Which is the equivalent of 300 return flights London – New York”

Jojo March

Internet is often seen as something abstract. However, technology that supports the internet is based on physical infrastructure, with a whole network of cables, servers, and so on. Jennifer Gabrys in her study commented that electronics and all plug into technology are energy intensive. An increasing amount of energy is required to power everything from sending and receiving emails, using search engines, as well as storing the data. These varying estimates place quantity of energy consumed to power digital devices and network around 1.5 to 2 percent worldwide between 2008 and 2011. The quantity is roughly similar to aviation industry, and is expected to grow to 3 percent of total world energy use by 2020.

Nonetheless, living without internet is almost impossible in today’s world. Judy Estrin and Sam Gill as in Washington mentioned, “We seem to be caught in an almost daily reckoning with the role of internet in our society.” For example, marketing nowadays relies highly on the internet such as the use of social media. Many media companies have also turned to digital news and are actively seeking more subscribers to the channel. As a result, company can improve their branding and get more clients or consumers for their products or services.   

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From the aforementioned statements, internet has become a crucial part of modern life. However, from the internet also, we are hurting the planet. Estrin and Gill mentioned that we are now grappling with effects of ‘digital pollution’ that have become so potentially large that they implicate our collective well-being. Digital pollution is a big contributor to climate change and not a single person on the planet is not contributing to it. One of the main forms of digital pollution is called ‘dormant pollution’ – it is due to storage of emails. All emails stored in a mailbox make many servers run uninterruptedly in data centres. Felix Hürlimann at Squirro wrote, “the best-known representative is email spam. The percentage of spam in email traffic was up 3.1 percentage points from November and averaged 66 percent.” However, email spam is not the only contributor, new ways of digital pollution spreading are through social networks or push messages to smartphone. “And in near future it potentially will also reach your fridge, your watch or even your clothes. And, albeit digital pollution is not poisonous like environmental pollution, it can still be harmful for health of economy,” added Hürlimann.

Furthermore, data centres of email receiving and sending are very intensive and need to be permanently air conditioned to be cooled. Marina at Cleanfox stated, “Internet uses data processing servers, data centres, which consume a lot of energy. A data centre consumes on average 30,000 European inhabitants a day. It uses energy to power servers, cool them and ensure continuous operation in event of a failure. This energy causes large release of CO2.” Thus, all internet-related materials could be harmful for society and economy in the future.

What can we do to prevent digital pollution?

Marina said that daily action is a great contributor to reduce the impacts of digital pollution on our environment. Therefore, adopt these actions in order to help environment clean from digital pollution:

  1. Clean your inbox and unsubscribe from polluting newsletters that you don’t read.
  2. Limit receivers copied in your emails.
  3. Stop useless queries when searching via search engine. You can directly access required website by saving them in your favourites, instead.
  4. Use URL bar. By using accurate key words, you can help reduce internet’s CO2 emissions by 5kg per year.
  5. Send lighter emails – for big data, you can use USB drivers or external hard drives.
  6. Limit usage of Cloud to maximum
  7. Prioritize television over streaming because online videos represent more than 60 percent of traffic and watching an HD streaming emits as much CO2 as manufacturing, transporting, and playing a DVD.
  8. Learn and recognise your labels. You can contribute to decrease digital pollution by buying less polluting informatics material which favours energy savings.

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