According to the International Energy Agency, global internet usage and time spent online has skyrocketed in recent years, seeing a 40 percent increase in just two months beginning in February 2020.
The coronavirus pandemic probably helped this increase by keeping people indoors more, but the trend is on the rise. While handheld smart devices may lead us to think they have little environmental impact, all of our internet and electronic activities leave behind their carbon footprint.
Even when we are not personally using the internet, vast amounts of electricity are used by massive data centers powering online searches, websites, and streaming services. If the electricity used in these computing warehouses is generated from a non-renewable resource, it produces greenhouse gas emissions that pollute the air and perpetuate climate change. Every time we use our devices to access streaming service, enter a search query, or send a text or email, multiple servers and processors transfer and crunch the data, consume electricity, and generate emissions.
In addition to powering servers, these data centers have to cool, too, using a significant amount of energy in the process. Some companies use sea and lake water for cooling, even dunking entire data centers into the ocean to see how much cooling effect the briny water provides.
As internet users, there are many things we can do to reduce our internet carbon footprint. The following tips can be helpful:
- Turn off your computer and unplug the chargers when not in use.
- Turn off unwatched televisions.
- Consider service providers that use renewable energy sources at their data centers or employ carbon offsetting practices.
- Use cloud services for data storage and sharing.
- Use smaller devices, if applicable, as they consume less electricity.
NYS is continuously working toward making the transition to renewable energy easier with policies and programs to introduce new and retain the existing wind and hydroelectric projects. In 2019, NYS passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protect Act (Climate Act) which sets statewide greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The Climate Act also lays out targets for renewable electricity generation and energy efficiency. Many big tech companies have also taken a step forward and pledged to achieve carbon neutrality. By supporting such companies and keeping online habits in check, we can help reduce the internet’s environmental impact. NYSERDA has tips on how to Reduce Your Footprint to achieve carbon neutrality at your home.