Our digital carbon footprint

By: Monica Lafon

Mexico City - Haven’t you started wondering how our global digital carbon footprint has increased as a result of the global COVID-19 crisis? 

Staying at home is hard. We’ve lost our freedom to go to work, go to the gym, go to bars, to the movies, to parks, museums or to travel. We’ve lost our freedom to get close to people without fear. 

So we are all coping. We started working from home, working out from our phones or going up and down the stairs, watching more TV, napping, cooking and zooming around. 

But what if the World Wide Web went down? Would we be coping? Let’s face it: no. We depend on this digital space to survive. So yes, I bet our digital carbon footprint has exponentially increased ever since this crisis started (and historically as well). 

Here’s the first question for you: if each individual lowers their digital carbon footprint, will this significantly reduce global greenhouse gas emissions?

If you Google it yourself, you will find countless articles claiming our individual digital carbon footprint have gone bananas (1) over the years and we must change these patterns ourselves if we don’t want the climate crisis to hit us harder. (BBC, Reset, Mozilla)  

You probably already heard what we need to change: “shut down your computer, disconnect your devices, kill the vampire power”. Here are four reasons why you should give a damn:

So are our individual choices enough to make a difference?

In 2017, Greenpeace (2) came out with the campaign #clickclean to call out to those Tech companies that are powered by dirty fuels and in the red list they added Twitter, Netflix, HBO and SoundCloud to say a few. 

But when comparing numbers claiming individual responsibility versus what the IT industry says… guess what? The numbers don’t match:

Here’s a surprising report from Ericsson (3) : contrary to popular belief, they argue (both on their online report and through SoundCloud) that false claims or “fake news” are being spread around by journalists telling people individuals are responsible for their excessive digital carbon footprints. 

“Have you ever worried how your online activities impact the climate? According to this report, the true impact may be a lot smaller than you think”. 

Debunker alert!

Then only a month ago, a report from Website Builder Expert (4) made it to the news asking individuals to change their habits with convincing visuals. 

But can we trust these numbers?

Fine! We would have to dig in deeper to uncover what’s behind this useless debate between individual and collective responsibility for our shared digital carbon footprints. 

Whether we decide to change our individual behaviors or ask the Tech sector to raise their standards, we are in this together.

What’s certain is population keeps growing, access to the internet as well, and the digital universe is fast expanding. 

Thus, we need to rethink not only of the time we spend on the NET, but on the source of energy that powers this system. How fast can we transition into a future running on 100% renewable energy?

That’s the question my friend.

Sources

1). Berners-Lee, Mike. “How bad are bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything”. Greystone Books, 2011. 

2). Cook, Gary. “Clicking clean: who is winning the race to build a green Internet?”. Greenpeace, 2017. 

3). “A quick guide to your digital carbon footprint”. Industry Lab / Ericsson, 2020. 

4). Monaghan, Maura. “The World’s Digital Carbon Emissions Per Minute”. Website Builder Expert. April 6, 2020. 

Monica Lafon is an environmental freelance journalist. She got her BA degree in Journalism and Political Science at Concordia University and her Master degree in Environmental Policy at Sciences Po Paris.