Is the Internet bad for the environment?

Is the Internet bad for the environment?


This video is sponsored by Brilliant, if you
stick around until the end, I’ll give you a link to get 20% off a premium membership! The internet is used by over 4 billion people
worldwide. And Believe it or not, I’m one of those
4 billion. I not only spend large chunks of my days wading
through twitter feeds and random Subreddits but now my job relies on the video streaming
capabilities of YouTube. In other parts of my life, I try to reduce
my environmental impact. But for all the effort I put into creating
environmentally ethical daily habits, my internet usage always seems to get a pass. One of the reasons I don’t think as critically
about the Internet and the environment might have to do with the relative invisibility
of the web’s inner-workings; it’s harder to see the impact. Because of that invisibility, today I’m
going to dig into the infrastructure of the internet in order to truly understand its
environmental consequences. If the IT sector was a country it would rank
only behind the U.S. and China in terms of global energy demand. Although there are really four main areas
of the digital world that drive that massive energy use, the internet really relies heavily
on two: data centers and network communication. So first, data centers. In a sense, data centers are the new form
of factories in our digital world. They are the internet, materialized. For every website, search, or uploaded video,
information gets drawn upon and stored in the thousands of stacks of computers that
make up a data center. Essentially, the internet that we interact
with every day is just an intuitive and user-friendly way to access those servers. And for companies like Google, the amount
of information that data centers manage is massive. That we know of, Google currently runs 16
data centers that act like interconnected nodes to handle over 40,000 search queries
happening every second. To function well then, these engine-like centers
require a large amount of electricity. This is partly due to the fact that each of
those 40,000 searches requires a little bit of energy, but also because all of those computers
stacked together to generate a lot of heat, and the best way to cool them all down is
through air conditioning. A 2015 study puts data center energy usage
at around 300 TWh/year in 2012, which was roughly 2% of global demand. But as services like video streaming become
more prevalent data center energy requirements have only increased. The same study predicts that data center energy
demand could well become 13% of globes total thirst for electricity. And if all of this energy demand relies heavily
on fossil fuels, this could easily spell a large boom in greenhouse gas emissions. The second piece of the internet puzzle are
communication networks. According to a recent Greenpeace report, networks
made up 29% of the IT sector’s energy footprint in 2017. Essentially, the internet network is what
allows our computers and phones to access data centers. They are the complicated system of roads and
checkpoints that allow us to travel through the web. But in order to push data from internet servers
to our devices, we need physical wiring and receiver infrastructure, which requires energy. On top of the physical installation of communication
feeds carried out by internet service providers, routers and receivers send, in very simple
terms, electrical signals from data centers to your internet device. The total energy requirements of communication
networks can depend on how you calculate them, but one 2012 study asserts that the total
global network communications energy usage was 354 TWh per year or the equivalent energy
needed to power the 32.9 million U.S. homes for a year. At a predicted growth rate of over 10%, that
number has only grown in the last seven years. But just because the internet’s infrastructure
requires energy, doesn’t necessarily mean that the electricity has to have a high emissions
footprint attached to it. There are big tech companies like Facebook
and Google that are making long strides towards a greener internet through purchasing renewable
energy from utilities and encouraging energy efficiency. As streaming begins to take over the lion’s
share of data and energy usage associated with the internet, with estimates now claiming
video services account for 80% of internet traffic, it’s important to understand that
there are two paths forward. One that appreciates the environmental consequences
of the internet, and the other that relies on a business, as usual, fossil-fuel-reliant
model. Two video giants are treading these divergent
paths: Youtube and Netflix. Greenpeace rated both companies on a number
of different factors like transparency, energy make up, and efficiency. Netflix received a “D” in part because
it rarely makes public the composition of its energy usage, relies on Amazon Web Service’s
servers which run on non-renewable fuels, and because of its lack of advocacy and leadership
when it comes to greening data servers and ultimately the internet. YouTube, on the other hand, received an “A”
because it is owned and operated by Google, which has purchased over 2.5 Gigawatts of
renewable energy for its data servers, has implemented tools like machine-learning in
their centers to better streamline storage and recall, as well as committing to and being
transparent about a 100% renewable goal for its energy demand. Ultimately, the internet’s energy requirements
are large and are only getting larger. If we’re not careful, this energy will mean
more emissions and consumption of fossil fuels. But, the internet also has the potential to
not only be green but also, in the case of a commodity like DVDs, possibly help us do
away with some excessive material economies. Some tech companies, like Google, are working
towards making data centers and infrastructure more efficient and greener. But a lot aren’t. The internet can provide us with so much,
but it will only be a positive environmental force when the engines at its core stop running
on fuels of a past age. The internet is definitely a complicated place. It involves computers, code, and seemingly
all sorts of magic. Luckily, Brilliant has an amazing course on
the essentials of computer science that might help you better understand the world behind
the screen. Brilliant is a problem-solving website that
lets you explore the realms of math and science through storytelling, code writing, and problem-solving. Which is exactly what you’ll get when you
dive into their Computer Science essentials course. This course is awesome because you’re not
just sitting back and reading, instead Brilliant peppers in all sorts of quizzes to keep you
engaged and learning. Ultimately, if you’re like me and new to
computer science or want just want to explore topics like geometry or physics through interactive
courses, then Brilliant is the way to go. So, if you want to start learning about algorithms
and the essentials of computer science, go to brilliant dot org slash OCC, or click the
link in the description, and sign up for free. As a bonus, the first 200 people that go to
that link will get 20% off their annual premium membership. Hey everyone, Charlie here. Thanks so much for watching. This video is as always, was made possible
by people like you supporting me on patreon. They have helped make this whole Youtube dream
a reality and made my video making hobby a full-time gig. So thank you to all my patrons, and I will
see you in two weeks.

Danny Hutson

89 thoughts on “Is the Internet bad for the environment?

  1. What sites do you spend the most time on when you're using the internet? For me it's YouTube 🙂

  2. At only one minute in, I'm very impressed because I've read that air conditioning will use up all our solar and wind energy by 2050, and that solar and wind power are less than 3% of total world energy demand. My next comment may be shadow banned.

  3. Although the Internet does use an enormous amount of energy to run, on a local scale it's not bad at all. When we switch over to using sustainable energy sources completely, there will be no problem.

  4. The Internet was supposed to be free because it was crowd funded by people. Instead, we have fuck heads over charging for wifi and internet services.

  5. I would argue the internet makes good to environmental than bad. Because the internet provides free and quality education around the world which helps to drive education on environment and innovation, technological advancements which help efficiency in machines.

  6. Dude, I can’t help but think that all your videos like this – is X bad for the environment, how green is Y – are entirely focused on the wrong things. You research well, but the premises of videos like this are always flawed. Literally anything and everything can be unsustainable and bad for the environment in a fossil fuel powered economy that prioritizes private profits and ever growing consumption and exploitation. It doesn’t matter that Google or Facebook are trying to partially offset their CO2 emissions when their entire business model relies on ever growing Internet traffic and data collection, that will never be sustainable. You need to articulate that system change is the goal and collective action is the means to achieve it.

  7. I really like this channel but I think you missed a trick not talking about the more social side of the web. E.g how the internet exposes more people to adverts on a daily basis – driving a consumer culture (bad) or how it’s made global movements like xr and the schoolstrikes far easier to organise (good)

  8. siberia will be cold for a long time, just funnel that air (iirc that is already done in Norway?). Or put them underground and power the AC with solar panels and use regular electricity as a backup plan

  9. The infrastructure of the internet should be the focus of onsite renewable energy investment. This is where big tech can help reduce carbon footprint.

  10. You guys did some good work here, I reposted this video here: https://lokisrevengeblog.wordpress.com/

  11. What about the prototype of Microsofts Server Center next to Scotland? They threw it into the sea so it gets cooled by seawater. Also interesting.

  12. Hmm… In Mozilla Firefox' latest eposide of the IRL podcast, the stated that China, the U.S. AND Russia would demand more electrical energy. (see https://irlpodcast.org/season5/episode3/ )

  13. I've said it before and I say it again. Top video here, great information and the graphics are gorgeous! You've got to teach me how to do that! I'll become a patreon!

  14. The next big leap for data centres must surely be water cooling…. I reckon it would be much more efficient.

  15. I really appreciate the focus of your channel and the amount of effort you put into it, mate, there should be more like it.

    Very informational as well, I never thought about this either. The lack of a material aspect to the internet makes it feel like it's basically just air haha

  16. This may be very naive statement, but would it work to house data centers in naturally cold climates and cut down on the AC usage? Perhaps by piping in outside air? I guess venting the hot air out would negatively impact the climate of where the center was housed, but it's a thought. I understand they can get too cold as well. It's the Goldilocks Effect – got to find the sweet spot between hot, cold, and reach.

  17. dude i really love this channel, but the thing i love the most is this guy voice i swear is the most relaxing thing ever ♥

  18. In general, I agree with Musk when he says ' we shouldn't be feeling guilty about our electricity usage'. There is energy all around us to be harvested; by means of solar panels, wind turbines, and a basically unlimited source of energy from our tides. Beyond the fact that the internet allows us to use less material goods (CD's etc), it also can serve as a highly effective educational tool. Although I don't know the stats, I think it may serve as an effective counterbalance when discussing energy use of internet servers. Yes, data centers use x CO2 globally due to their energy requirement, but how many people have reduced the amount of time driving due to maps? How many people have reduced their meat consumption? How many people watch Youtube rather than TV?
    Similarly, in a more negative light, how many people now buy more stuff from Amazon, due to its speed and convenience? How much more air traffic is there due to Prime?
    All in all, I think the internet is a net benefit to the environment, but we must be mindful of how it's used.
    Great Video.

  19. There is an app called Ecosia, which is like google but uses the profits to plant trees. Searchs are also powered by %100 renewable energy and they don't use your data. I really recommend giving it a try.

  20. Wouldn't that mean that streaming at lower quality would save energy?
    Do we really need to half-watch youtube videos in the background, in HD? Same goes for all the ads really.

  21. Just shut down all social media servers, but don't tuch the ones which are only for sending mesegges.
    Plus ppl will start going outside.. which may lead into people using more cars which leads to bigger polution then social media…

  22. trying to be enviormentally friendly and reduce your CO2 emissions when just 25 companies produce 50% of it is a waste of time,we should try to make them reduce their gas emissions instead of making tiny changes in our lives hoping it will make some change

  23. Ah man, another topic I am thinking about, you're reading my mind! I think 4K is compeletly pointless, I'm more than happy with a 1080 in 60fps, and even that is data intensive.
    P.S. I just bought myself a par of Allbirds because of you! 🙂

  24. No it's not. In the end it will use more n more resources even with so called renewables have an "end of life" and are built from "LIMITED" raw minerals. So I'm afraid the TECH age will not last long. And in time we'll return to a simpler way of life.

  25. The impact of the Internet is essentially due to videos: when you post a video (or image) on the Internet, it makes a HUGE difference to post the video (and watch it) in low definition. This can divide the climate impact of a video by 10 or more. 
    It is also important to regularly delete the content that is no longer relevant and to avoid storing lots of documents in the cloud. It is a bit of an illusion to think that something is really "dematerialized"; information is always stored somewhere. Also, refurbished phones and computers are a very efficient way to reduce IT's environmental footprint.
    I'm wondering how bad will be the impact of the 5G…

  26. Can you make a video that explain which is the best for the environment between Apple, Microsoft and Samsung?

  27. now i want to know: Can we ever make internet sustainable or have no negative impact on the environment?

  28. Everyime I watch your videos I learn so much, you really deserve more subscribers!! I love to share your videos to my friends to expose them to issues relvoing sustainability – don't stop!

  29. Great editing! The cuts, the edits, the music, the script, everything fits together well. Looking forward to your next video, Charlie!
    An idea I would like to add: Websites like YouTube (e.g. your channel) can help to educate people about sustainability and climate change, thus having a positive effect in other areas as well. At least I like to think like that, I mostly use YouTube for educational purposes and music.

  30. Not only that, but many devices require the use of rare earth materials, which the unearthing of has a huge impact on the environment. I must admit, I’m on the internet more than I should, similar to you I try to live a sustainable lifestyle, and I truly am trying to cut down on internet usage for the sake of myself and the environment

  31. Hey, can you explain if ecosia is still the better choice even though google uses renewable energy for its system?

  32. Spot on! Here's more: https://www.fastcompany.com/90165365/smartphones-are-wrecking-the-planet-faster-than-anyone-expected

  33. I’d like to mention that some (very few) datacenters that run on renewables use their heat generation to heat up buildings. That’s a crazy good idea!

  34. If you guys are self conscious about the environment and the internet you should use Ecosia, it's a search engine where all the money goes to planting trees (60 million so far!)

    I sound like an ad I know but it's really cool no joke

  35. Internet is not at all sustainable. The major concern is the devices like server , storage, wires. All are made of plastic , semiconductor materials that are carsogenic. Even if we try to recycle it, the need for energy to recycle that material will be huge.

    5G which is going to be a concern for the human mental health and on the environment as well.

  36. Could we place them in coming cold places and use the excess heat to heat houses?

    I know in Copenhagen, Denmark we have a district cooling system that uses cold seawater.

  37. Hey maybe you could make a video about gardens, i think that there is much to improve how we garden but not many really know the importance.

  38. Just sent an email to Netflix stating that I want them to change how they use energy and become transparent about their energy usage. I hope others do the same. We should push companies to make better choices 🙂

  39. I love your videos so so much but you have terrible typography I say that not as an insult tho. Just a one thing that I one day hope you will try harder on. You will always have my support regardless tho 🖤

  40. Please make a video on
    1)For how many years a smartphone must be used ?
    2) Which is sustainable brand for White good Consumer electronics ( like Washing Mach, Refrigerator, etc) ?
    3) What is Planned obsolescence, list of companys & brand don't follow it?
    4)What should be Life of Products & failure rates

    Huge fan of your channel, would like more frequent uploads from you.

    Please also make videos on above given topics, which is critical & necessary for consumer awareness

  41. Definitely obvious, that energy hunger is growing worldwide. Nations need good energy sources portfolio, going 100% green is PR, I think. Germany closed all nuke plants, closing coal plants but they need “ dirty energy “ from Czech Rep. , besides power grid problems and blackouts that occur in Germany very often now.

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