Netflix and….CO2 Emissions? 

by Alexandra Patel

When people think of carbon emissions they probably think of cars and power plants but you’d probably be surprised to learn that video streaming is becoming an increasing source of GHG emissions as our Netflix and Youtube addictions grow. A  study lead by the French think tank The Shift Project discovered that 1% of all global carbon emissions, or 300 million annual tons of CO2, can be attributed solely to online video streaming. This is the carbon equivalent to Spain’s total annual emissions – the 12th biggest polluter in the world.

Powering the Digital Age: Over the past couple of years, online and mobile video usage has exploded. 

  • Currently, about  60% of all online traffic is dedicated to video streaming. This number is only expected to increase as the energy consumption of digital technologies grows by 9% every year
  • Netflix and Prime video alone make up 34% of these emissions, with pornography videos coming in a close second at 27%. 

This surge in demand for internet-based streaming and streaming platforms has made data centers – the factories of the information age – one of the “largest sources of new electricity demand globally,” according to a Greenpeace report. This has fueled greater demand for coal, oil, and gas – energy sources that are causing the climate crisis (this is especially a problem here locally in Virginia)

Why This Matters: Since streaming is here to stay so it’s up to consumers to be aware, for streaming platforms to green their services and for governments to ensure that the platforms are investing in change. Changes to platform interfaces, like the removal of autoplay, could reduce the number of videos streamed and result in 550,000 fewer tons of emissions. Regulations on technologies that limit the amount of data accessible to users or the way services are designed could lead to the more sustainable management of our digital infrastructure. The transition to renewable energy in powering our numerous data centers would reduce reliance on fossil fuels and allow us to watch Stranger Things with less guilt. 

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