The world’s digital obsession doesn’t come without a carbon footprint. By 2022, 60 percent of the world’s 7.5 billion people will have internet access and 80 percent of that internet use is for streaming videos. Data streaming now surpasses the aerospace industry in terms of carbon emissions. So should we stop watching Netflix? One French think-tank seems to think so.
According to The Shift Project, until the world economy can realistically shift to renewable energy in every country where the internet is used, people should consider limiting their video streaming. Its recent report indicates that online video watching released 300 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2018 alone, about the same amount of annual emissions as the entire country of Spain.
“We have limited energy resources. The internet is a worldwide thing, so it would require every country in the world to be powered by renewable energy,” said Maxime Efoui-Hess from The Shift Project. Because that goal is still far off, he also said we should not allow the internet to grow as fast as it has now — essentially advocating to limit internet access and global connectivity for poor and rural populations, which are among the last to access and readily use the internet.
Efoui-Hess also recommended slight changes like watching on smaller screens and not using high definition — changes that are insultingly small personal sacrifices and inconveniences while the top 100 corporations continue to emit more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
If you’re suffering from climate anxiety and every small action makes you feel like you’re doing your part, by all means stop watching your favorite Netflix shows. But the best bet would be to continue advocating for major policy and economic changes that reduce the unchecked polluting and emissions among those companies and sectors in a position to make changes at a meaningful scale.
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