How much they pollute a cloud video or Facebook post

by | Oct 5, 2020 | Information and content

Home 9 Information and content 9 How much they pollute a cloud video or Facebook post

A photo and video uploaded to the cloud or Instagram, a Facebook post an online article, or a Whatsapp message are polluting. By reducing paper consumption we have undoubtedly safeguarded large forests, but with the Internet we produce another kind of pollution. Every packet of data that travels online puts the giant data centers of large IT companies to work. These data centers produce a lot of heat, and lowering the temperature requires the use of an enormous amount of energy.

Thepollution of a single Facebook post or article is relatively low, but it is still a very small part of a much larger scenario. I pondered this issue when I read the news about the data centers built by Microsoft at the bottom of the sea. I wondered how much I consume everything I write on the Internet and how damaging fake news sharing is, even to the environment.

How much does one bit of data consume

Every piece of data sent through social media, apps on your smartphone, your car’s navigation system or a tracking device used for sports produces CO2 emissions because it puts data centers to work. According to a report by The Shift Project, today’s data traffic consumes more energy than the output of the devices we use: 55 percent compared to the total for the entire digital industry. We are talking about the share of CO2 emissions in OECD countries rising from 2.5 percent in 2013 to 3.7 percent in 2019 and continuing to rise.

Videos are the main culprits, so social media such as YouTube, Facebook or Instagram or movie and TV series streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Now Tv. The report estimates that in 2018 video views generated 1 percent of global CO2 emissions, the same amount of greenhouse gases produced by Spain as a whole. By 2025 it is expected to increase to 7 percent of the total, the same amount of CO2 emitted by cars today.

Microsoft’s undersea data centers

Aware of the impact on the environment of data traffic, in 2018 Microsoft placed a data center of 864 servers at a depth of about 35 meters off the Orkney Islands In Scotland. This is Project Natick, an experiment to assess the feasibility of using undersea data centers. The capsule, built by the Naval Group company, was filled with nitrogen, a gas less corrosive than oxygen. Power was provided by 100% clean energy, both wind and solar.

Two years later, the results have been positive, and the data center has demonstrated 8 times more reliability than those above ground. In addition, the environmental impact was reduced due to the waters of the North Sea contributing to the cooling of the servers. When we consider that more than half of the population lives within 200 km of the coast, we can expect to use this technology more often in the future.

Google and the goal of zero impact

All large IT companies have initiated green washing projects or sustainable development plans at a time when we are all realizing how some past choices have huge repercussions in the present. Between pledges to achieve zero emissions or actions to limit nonessential data traffic or reduce server energy demands, we are now seeing various sustainability initiatives even in the face of increased public awareness and demands on national governments.

We have seen with Microsoft that data stored in the cloud are actually stored in large physical facilities. This is how the other major player in this sector, Google, reached an important milestone: since 2017 it has purchased enough renewable energy to meet its annual energy needs. Ceo Sundar Pichai also made an ambitious promise: by 2030 he is committed to achieving zero carbon emissions 24/7 for all Google data centers and offices worldwide.

What we can do to save the planet

Today almost everything is connected and polluting. The same argument applies to every action taken online: by writing this article I am polluting, by reading it you are polluting, by sharing it on social you will pollute. Does this mean we have to turn off our PCs and smartphones to stop polluting?

Absolutely not! A lot has changed today, and we don’t have to give up our achievements, but we can do a lot to improve the world we live in. First, we need to use the Internet consciously and understand, for example, that it is not necessary to watch a movie on Netflix in HD if I am using a tablet screen. This is the same reasoning why we choose not to take the car to go buy bread 500 meters from home.

Then, before we share some absurd fake news on Facebook, let us reflect on how valuable the opportunity to express our thoughts is. In our own small way, with conscious use of the Internet we can keep our planet clean both environmentally and culturally.

Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).

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Luigi Nervo

Luigi Nervo

Digital Marketing Manager

Marketing, Seo and content expert (read the bio).