Every single search, every streamed video and every email sent, billions of times over all around the world, it’s all part of our daily life by now. But it all adds up to an ever-increasing global demand for electricity, and a large digital carbon footprint too. What can we do to reduce the impact our energy-hungry online lives are having on the planet?
Everything we do on the internet, whether its with a smartphone, computer or tablet, needs electricity. And depending on where you live, that electricity probably comes from a mix of different sources, but probably mostly fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – which produce carbon dioxide when burned and contributes to global warming. And then of course, there is the electricity needed to make the gadgets you were using in the first place. In 2018, digital communications even overtook the aviation industry in terms of CO2 emissions. And as more and more people get online each day, the production and use of electronic devices and digital services is growing exponentially.
In our long read Knowledge article Our Digital Carbon Footprint, we took a closer look at the facts and figures behind our digital habits to see where the challenges lie and what needs to be done by politicians and business leaders to try and minimize the impact of our digital society. Responsibility for the problem is far from being solely on the end consumer. But until governments and international institutions agree to recognize the issue and do something about it, there’s actually a whole range of things that we as individuals can do.
While it may be too late to get everyone to give up their video streaming habits, there are a whole range of different things you can do to reduce your own personal digital carbon emissions.
8 Ways to Shrink Your Digital Carbon Footprint
- Consume more consciously
A decision about what we want to buy is always also a decision about the world we want to live in. Was the product made under ethical conditions? Were the workers fairly paid and treated? What is the environmental impact of its production? And when it comes to the digital world, it’s no different. When it comes to buying “ethical electronics” the options are fairly limited, but when it comes to smartphones the market seems to be growing. Fairphone and Shiftphone are just two manufacturers who claim to ensure humane working conditions and offer durable (and/or repairable products) free from conflict minerals.
- Avoid creating electronic waste
We replace our smart devices with the next generation before they’ve even stopped working and we’d rather throw away our broken gadgets and buy a new one than try and repair them. If you really need a new phone or computer, how about buying second hand from somewhere like Rebuy? If your old one is faulty rather than completely done for, check out the repair guides on Fixit to see if it can be salvaged. Or if it’s something you know you won’t use all that often (a fancy camera or GoPro, for example), how about saving some money and borrowing it instead for a small fee?
- Correctly dispose of your old gadgets
All too often old electronic gadgets are simply mixed in with normal household waste, meaning all of the recyclable materials in it went to waste and potentially hazardous waste from entering landfill and causing soil and water contamination. Or alternatively, they end up gathering dust in a drawer. If you have electronics that have come to the end of their life, inform yourself about the best way to correctly dispose of them. Most large cities in Europe will have a recycling or pick-up service, so search around online for the correct method before ditching your devices.
- Cut back on streaming – or try out alternatives
A huge amount of all of the traffic on the internet is consumed by one thing: streaming moving images. Netflix alone consumes a staggering 15% of the world’s internet traffic. And music streaming has a pretty gigantic data appetite too. If cutting back completely on online video is a complete no-go, then how about downloading the movies, shows and playlists that you know you’ll be watching again and again, instead of streaming them each time? And, do you really have to watch that movie in 4K on your tiny smartphone screen? Reducing the resolution of the videos you watch also massively reduces the data used to stream it and therefore also the amount of energy used.
- Find alternatives to cloud computing
Do you really need to backup 25 practically identical photos by uploading them to the cloud? Every photo, video and file you save is stored there over and over again for security reasons – and that consumes energy each time. According to a Greenpeace study, globally cloud computing consumes more electricity than all of Germany put together. The alternative? Regularly cleaning up in the cloud and deleting useless files saves energy. And: USB sticks or external hard drives are a good storage alternative – and they protect your private data from unauthorised access by others too.
- Think before you search!
Enter a search query and in fractions of a second you get an almost endless list of hits. It’s fast – but it also eats up a lot of power. According to Google’s own figures, its data centres consumed around 5.7 terawatt hours in 2015. At that time, the annual energy consumption was roughly as high as that of the city of San Francisco – and with more and more people getting online each day, today it is probably even higher. So, take a second to think before punching something into the search bar. Make your search as exact as possible to avoid multiple searches, and avoid searching for a website and then clicking on a link when you could just put the website name in directly and avoid the extra step. Alternative search engines such as Ecosia (who plant trees) and Gexsi (who support social innovators) also offer a good alternative.
- Install an ad-blocker
Advertising on the internet is usually technically pretty complex (flash animations, pop-ups, videos…), making them very data-hungry too. Ad-blockers stop adverts from appearing while you’re on the internet, which makes the pages load faster and uses fewer resources too. And yet another advantage: ad-blockers help improve data security too, by stopping advertising companies and other third parties from automatically collecting information about you. There are lots of free ad-blockers available to download online and some web browsers even have them pre-installed.
- Clean out your email inbox
Every mail that lands or is stored in your inbox requires computing power – and yes, you guessed it, electricity. You can do the same with your online inbox as you can with your analogue one: cut down on junk/spam mail, unsubscribe from newsletters you never read, and regularly clean old messages out of your inbox. You can find more tips in our article: Save the planet, clean your inbox!
Already do all this and want to take it one step further? Then you’re ready for the next level!
Give your digital life a complete green overhaul
If your electricity at home comes from a green energy provider, then that’s of course a great way to reduce your own personal ecological footprint. But as individual consumers our own energy use at home is only ever going to have a fraction of the impact that energy-hungry data centres will have. So you can directly magnify your positive impact by supporting digital service providers that also place importance on green energy and ethical standards – like your email provider, search engine and web hosting service. Here are just a few ideas:
- Use Alternative Email Providers
Every mail that you send, receive or save contains not only text and images, but also bits and bytes. Most established providers use the electricity mix of whatever country they are based in – usually including energy from coal-burning power stations. It’s better for the planet for you to send all of your emails using 100% renewable energy, and these days there are more than enough providers offering exactly that. And there’s an extra bonus too: alternative providers generally protect your data and your privacy better than the industry’s big-hitters. All of these providers are completely ad-free, meaning you have to pay a small fee to use them. But that also means you also never have to see annoying product personalisation ads ever again, hooray!
- The email provider Posteo gets its electricity from Greenpeace Energy, banking transactions are handled by green German banks such as GLS Bank and Umweltbank. A mail address at Posteo costs one euro per month. In return you get 2GB of ad-free mail storage and extras like a calendar and address book. Data can be secured by two-factor authentication or the entire mailbox can be encrypted.
- With Mailbox.org, for one euro per month you will also get an ad-free email box with a size of 2 GB. Besides mailbox, address book and calendar, Mailbox offers a text and spreadsheet programme. Two-way authentication and one-time passwords are supported. They get their electricity from the green electricity provider Lichtblick and their account is held at the ethically-minded Social Bank.
- Tutanota is another provider based in Germany, offering a free and open-source end-to-end encrypted email service, driven 100% by free energy. For 12 euro a year you get 1GB of space and a free calendar thrown in too, or you can upgrade and pay more for more storage and services.
- Norwegian-based Runbox prides itself on being the world’s leading “hydopowered email service” – thanks to the country’s natural water sources, the email servers are run on 100% renewable energy. Your emails are encrypted and protected by Norway’s strict privacy legislation. Their basic account costs 15 euro a year and gives you 1GB of email storage and 100MB of file storage too.
- Find sustainable phone providers
When it comes to looking to make your mobile phone use more sustainable, unfortunately in Europe the options seem to be few and far between. Ensuring you use a secondhand phone (or one that’s ethically-made like a Fairphone or Shiftphone) using it for the full extent of its useful life and then recycling your old handset are ways to ensure the physical phone itself has as small an impact on the planet as possible. But what about the impact of all of the data packages you’re using and the calls and texts you’re making? There are just a few companies on the scene so far, with hopefully more to appear in other countries in Europe.
- In Germany, WETell aims to shake up the mobile communications market as the country’s first sustainable provider, run on 100% renewable energy. Their range of mobile phone tariffs prioritise climate protection, data protection, fairness and transparency. This year we interviewed one of the founders.
- Austria-based Goood is a mobile operator with lets you do good each time you make calls and go online: 10 percent of your monthly base fee goes to a good cause of your choice. In addition, Goood invests 25 percent of its profits into social projects. In Austria, the provider has a certified CO2-neutral network.
- Green Website Hosting
Once you’ve got your email and phone sorted, what about your website? It’s been suggested that today, based on the energy consumption of the average data centre, a website with 10,000 page views a month could emit up to as much CO2 as driving a car over 5000 miles. Switching to a green web hosting provider, one that uses renewable energy and focuses on improving and optimising energy-efficiency, could make a huge difference.
We also use a green service provider to host RESET.org. Hetzner Online uses electricity from renewable sources to power the servers in their own data centre parks.
Not sure if you need to make your website more sustainable? You can check the carbon impact of your site using the online Website Carbon Calculator – as well as find tips there on how to improve it.
We could try to list the different green hosting providers here, but The Green Web Foundation has a hugely comprehensive list right here of all of the different green hosting companies in each country around the world. You’re sure to be find one there that suits you and your budget.
Climate Change Impacts in Everyday Life
Climate change has a profound impact on everyday life, touching various aspects of our routines and experiences.Climate change has a wide range of impacts that can be observed in everyday life. Here are some examples:
- Extreme weather events: Increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events such as hurricanes, droughts, heatwaves, and heavy rainfall are linked to climate change. People may experience more severe storms, prolonged periods of heat, or increased instances of flooding.
- Rising temperatures: Climate change is causing global temperatures to rise. This can lead to heatwaves, making it uncomfortable and potentially dangerous to be outdoors for extended periods. It can also impact agriculture, water resources, and ecosystems.
- Changing seasons: Climate change can alter the timing and duration of seasons. For example, spring may arrive earlier, affecting the growth and blooming patterns of plants and the timing of animal migrations.
- Sea level rise: Due to melting glaciers and thermal expansion of seawater, sea levels are rising globally. This can lead to coastal erosion, flooding, and saltwater intrusion into freshwater resources, impacting communities in coastal areas.
- Changes in precipitation patterns: Climate change affects rainfall patterns, leading to more intense rainfall in some areas and droughts in others. This can have consequences for agriculture, water availability, and the risk of wildfires.
- Shifting ecosystems: Climate change can disrupt ecosystems as species struggle to adapt to changing conditions. This can result in changes in the distribution of plant and animal species, affecting biodiversity and ecosystem services.
- Health impacts: Climate change can affect human health directly and indirectly. Increased heatwaves can cause heat-related illnesses, while changing disease patterns may expose populations to new or expanded health risks, such as the spread of vector-borne diseases.
- Food production and availability: Climate change can impact agricultural productivity due to changes in temperature, rainfall, and growing seasons. This can lead to reduced crop yields, affecting food availability and prices.
- Energy consumption: Changes in climate can influence energy demand and consumption patterns. For example, increased use of air conditioning during heatwaves or additional energy required for heating in colder regions can impact energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions.
- Migration and displacement: Climate change can contribute to population displacement as people are forced to leave their homes due to rising sea levels, droughts, or other environmental changes.
- Changes in water availability: Climate change can affect water resources, leading to water scarcity or reduced water quality. This can impact drinking water supplies, agriculture, and industrial processes.
- Increased air pollution: Climate change can worsen air quality as higher temperatures and changing weather patterns can increase the formation of ground-level ozone and particulate matter, which can harm human health.
- Disrupted transportation: Extreme weather events, such as storms or heavy rainfall, can disrupt transportation systems, causing delays, road closures, and damage to infrastructure. This can impact daily commutes and travel plans.
- Increased allergies and respiratory issues: Climate change can affect the timing and distribution of pollen-producing plants, leading to longer and more intense allergy seasons. Additionally, worsening air quality can exacerbate respiratory conditions.
- Impact on recreational activities: Climate change can affect recreational activities such as skiing, snowboarding, and ice skating as warmer temperatures and reduced snowfall can shorten winter seasons and limit snow availability.
- Changes in fishing and seafood industries: Climate change can impact marine ecosystems, affecting fish populations and the livelihoods of fishermen. This can result in changes in the availability and cost of seafood.
- Loss of natural landmarks and ecosystems: Rising sea levels and coastal erosion can lead to the loss of iconic natural landmarks and habitats, impacting tourism and the beauty of local environments.
- Increased insurance costs: As extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, insurance companies may raise premiums for property insurance, affecting homeowners and businesses.
- Changes in gardening and agriculture: Climate change can affect gardening practices and agricultural techniques as farmers and gardeners need to adapt to shifting weather patterns, changing growing seasons, and new pests or diseases.
- Psychological and emotional impacts: Climate change can have psychological effects on individuals, such as eco-anxiety, grief for the loss of natural environments, and concerns about the future. These emotional impacts can affect overall well-being and mental health.
Climate change is a global challenge that requires collective efforts from governments, organizations, and individuals. By understanding the tangible effects of climate change in our daily lives, we can empower ourselves to make informed choices and contribute to creating a sustainable and thriving planet for future generations. Let’s take action today to safeguard our environment and create a better tomorrow.
The Urgency of Environmental Sustainability: Consequences of Failure
In today’s rapidly changing world, environmental sustainability has become a pressing concern. Failing to prioritize and maintain sustainable practices can lead to severe repercussions for our planet and all its inhabitants. In this blog post, we will explore the potential consequences of neglecting environmental sustainability and shed light on why it is crucial to act now to secure a sustainable future.
- Climate Change: A Ticking Time Bomb Climate change stands as one of the most critical challenges we face. Failure to address sustainability issues contributes to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions, resulting in adverse effects such as soaring global temperatures, erratic weather patterns, and an increase in natural disasters. The consequences of climate change are far-reaching, impacting ecosystems, economies, and human lives.
- Loss of Biodiversity: A Threat to Ecosystems Environmental sustainability is closely intertwined with the conservation of biodiversity. Ignoring sustainable practices threatens the delicate balance of ecosystems, leading to the extinction of plant and animal species. This loss of biodiversity disrupts ecosystem services vital for our survival, including pollination, nutrient cycling, and natural pest control. The consequences can be dire, affecting food security and overall human well-being.
- Resource Depletion: A Race Against Time Unsustainable practices such as overexploitation of natural resources jeopardize their regeneration capacity. Forests, fisheries, and freshwater sources are being depleted faster than they can recover. This scarcity creates a domino effect, triggering increased competition, conflicts, and economic instability. Conserving our resources is crucial for sustainable development and the preservation of future generations.
- Pollution and Health Impacts: A Silent Threat Neglecting environmental sustainability results in pollution of our air, water, and soil. Rising pollution levels have a direct impact on human health, causing respiratory issues and other ailments. Wildlife and ecosystems suffer as well. Contaminated water sources, for instance, can lead to waterborne diseases and hinder agricultural productivity. A healthy environment is the foundation for a healthy society.
- Economic Consequences: Counting the Cost Failure to achieve environmental sustainability carries economic consequences. The costs associated with environmental damage, such as cleaning up polluted areas and healthcare expenses, can be substantial. Moreover, the depletion of natural resources hampers economic growth, disrupts supply chains, and affects industries reliant on ecosystem services. Prioritizing sustainability is an investment in our long-term economic stability.
- Social Inequities: Navigating Environmental Justice Environmental degradation disproportionately impacts vulnerable communities, deepening social inequalities. Poor waste management practices, for example, burden marginalized communities, leading to environmental injustice. Climate change-induced events like sea-level rise result in forced displacement and create climate refugees, further magnifying existing social challenges. A sustainable future requires equity and justice for all.
Conclusion: The consequences of failing to maintain environmental sustainability are multifaceted and far-reaching. Climate change, loss of biodiversity, resource depletion, pollution, economic repercussions, and social inequities all stem from neglecting sustainable practices. It is essential to prioritize environmental sustainability to safeguard our planet and ensure a better future for generations to come. Embracing sustainable solutions and taking collective action is the key to mitigating these risks and building a resilient and thriving world. Let us act now for a sustainable and prosperous tomorrow.
How does the energy industry impact the environment?
In Texas, the energy industry plays an important role, particularly when it comes to green energy. Because of the prominence coal, oil, and renewable energy play in the Lone Star State, concerns over CO2 emission levels are equally important.
Burning fossil fuels and producing cement account for about two-thirds of all carbon dioxide (CO2) and industrial methane released into the atmosphere since 1854. Although the U.S. has cut more CO2 emissions than any other nation and is on pace to meet a 2009 pledge to reduce CO2 emissions by 17% (from 2005 levels) this year, global carbon dioxide emissions have still reached the highest point in human history.
The Trump administration dismantled Obama-era regulations that would have required power producers to slash CO2 emissions 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. China is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases (by a large margin). The United States comes in second.
Coronavirus pandemic affects CO2 emissions
The impact on energy use and CO2 emissions due to the coronavirus pandemic has had major implications on global economies. In the first quarter of 2020, while many countries remained in full or partial lock down, energy demand declined by 3.8 percent.
The hardest hit industries include:
- Coal. Global demand for coal fell by almost eight percent, compared to the same time in 2019. Low-priced gas and the continued growth in renewables globally, as well as mild weather across the U.S., capped coal use.
- Oil. Demand for oil was down almost five percent in the first quarter of 2020. This was mainly due to shelter-in-place orders and reduced air travel due to COVID-19. Since air travel accounts for nearly 60 percent of oil demand globally, the impact on the demand for oil was significant.
- Gas. Although not impacted to the same degree as coal or oil, gas still saw a two percent reduction in demand in the first quarter of 2020.
- Electricity. Experts estimate the demand for electricity since the COVID-19 lockdown has decreased by about 20 percent. However, residential demand for electricity actually saw an increase and far outweighed the reduction in commercial and industrial operations as businesses remained closed.
- Renewables. This is the only energy source that saw an uptick in demand.
Energy companies step up to address climate change
Every year the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) addresses how the industry impacts changing weather patterns and greenhouse gas emissions. An increase in droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes, climbing temperatures, and rising sea levels have energy companies scrambling to address the consequences of climate change on weather patterns and the environment.
However, in the past six months, climate change has taken a backseat to COVID-19-related conversation. Even so, according to the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative, nearly a dozen energy companies world-wide have agreed to cut the output of emissions by 36 million to 52 million tonnes (a metric unit of mass equal to 1,000 kilograms) per year by 2025.
Energy-related CO2 Emissions from Industry, 2019
How are CO2 emissions produced?
Industries produce products and raw materials for use every day. The greenhouse gas emissions that industries emit are split into two categories, direct emissions and indirect emissions. The emissions come from the use of machines, computers, processing raw materials, heating and cooling buildings, use of petroleum in production, chemical reactions, and more.
- Direct emissions are produced on-site at the facility
- Indirect emissions are produced off-site and result from a facility using energy.
It’s difficult to weigh the cost to reduce greenhouse gasses to companies over time. Obviously, the long-term gains to the environment will far outweigh short-term expenses. There is no economy-wide tax on carbon. Instead, greenhouse gas mitigation policies provide subsidies aimed at certain technologies, like solar and wind generation and biofuels.
The role of renewable energy
Although all sources of energy have an impact on the environment, renewable energy – solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal and biomass – have substantially less. However, that’s not to say that renewable energy has no environmental impact.
Wind. Wind power produces no global warming emissions or toxic pollutants. However, wind power can impact wildlife, birds, and natural habitats. Land use and copper consumption can also cause issues for the environment.
Solar. Solar power produces electricity from the sun, which is cost-effective and leaves little impact on the environment. However, it can have an impact on greenhouse emissions with the use of hazardous materials during manufacture.
Geothermal. Geothermal plants use technology to convert resources from deep within the earth’s crust to electricity. Depending on the technology used, it can affect emission levels in the air.
Biomass. Both biomass power plants and fossil fuel power plants use combustion of a feedstock, like agricultural waste, forest products, and manure to generate electricity. How the biomass is generated and harvested can affect land use and add to global warming.
What can you do?
While you may not be able to influence large companies to change manufacturing processes, there are a few things you can do to stamp out even a small portion of greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions.
- Use your own reusable bottle or cup for water or coffee.
- Replace efficient bulbs in your home.
- Keep your thermostat a few degrees warmer or cooler.
- Turn off lights when you leave the room.
- Walk or bike to work.
- Don’t select one-day shipping unless necessary.
- Get outdoors, but pick up your litter.
- Use the SaveOnEnergy marketplace to find and compare renewable energy plans and rates available in your area.
Kathryn Pomroy is a freelance journalist from Minnesota who has written for dozens of major publications, magazines, and many well-known person finance companies. She is also knowledgeable in energy-related topics like renewable energy, climate change and greenhouse emissions. Kathryn holds a BA in Journalism.
Source : SaveonEnergy
Energy industry impacts on the environment
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