The Carbon Impact of the Internet Age

There has been a lot of pre-apocalypse hysteria going around of late and to anyone who is as superstitious as numerologists you’ll notice that most of the present doomsayers are transfixed on dates that have the digits 2 and 1. I’m not saying that the world will end when 2 become 1, I’m just saying in recent light of the past natural disasters I think we should seriously consider how we use our resources and focus on green technology.

Now with that thought in mind, the question is: Do the benefits of the Internet outweigh the unlimited hosting costs of its energy consumption and CO2 emissions?

Carbon Footprint

The number of Internet users has grown by 444.8% globally in the last ten years. Even though the rate of growth is several hundred percent, in Asia, Europe and North America, and they constitute the greatest number of users, they have been online for two decades. The Middle East, Africa and Latin America/Caribbean users are new netizens yet to affect said statistics. In Africa the rate of growth is 2,357.3%, the Middle East is 1,825.3% and Latin America/Caribbean is 1,032.8%. At this growth rate, every person in the world will be online by 2017. A web host reseller is one of the biggest online businesses that take advantage of these facts as more websites are added to the Internet every day apart from cyberspace offered by your ISP.

There were 10.3 million data centers in the U.S. in 2005 and the energy use was measured in 2006. It equaled enough energy to power the United Kingdom for two months. However, looking at the bigger picture, the total amount of energy consumption went up by 200% between 2000 and 2006, but the total Internet traffic during that period went up 32,000,000%. That is a very efficient increase.

There are more good news. From 1992 to 1996 the growth of the GDP in the U.S. was 3.2% and the energy demand growth was only 2.4%. From 1996 to 2000 the GDP growth was 4.0% and the energy demand growth was only 1% and between 2000 and 2009 both the GDP growth and the energy demand growth were 2.2%. Also, the energy intensity or primary energy consumed per dollar of GDP dropped 7.5% between 1986 and 1995 during the pre-internet era. It dropped 20% between 1996 and 2005 and dropped a further 8% between 2005 and 2009.

Because of the advances in communication technology it is estimated that 40% of people could work at home. If they did, it would be the equivalent of removing 10 million cars from the road. This would reduce carbon emissions by 53 million metric tons a year. Only 2% of the workforce actually works at home, but they have increased productivity of 25% to 40%. This means there is 5.5 million more man years of work annually in the U.S.

On the other side of the coin, one Google search generates 0.2 grams of CO2. This equals driving a car three inches. One month of Google searches produces the same CO2 as powering a U.S. freezer for 5,400 years. It consumes 3,900,000 kWh of energy which is the same as 5.57 million loads of laundry.

The worst aspect of all this CO2 emission is spam. One spam message produces 0.3 grams of CO2. Every year 62 trillion pieces of spam fly around the world. This is the CO2 emission equivalent of driving around the Earth 1.6 million times. This month, Sophos has published a report that listed the capitals of spam coming from various countries. India and USA send the most spam. Russia and Brazil send about half as much. South Korea, along with the European countries of UK, Italy, France and Spain send less, and the least is sent by Germany. The thing about spam pollution is for every email address harvested by a spammer, 850 spam messages are sent. These messages are generating CO2 emissions for no good purpose.

There are other useless things online that emit unnecessary CO2. Online jobs are one. For every real job online there are 48 scams. Those scams create a lot of traffic until people realize what they are. Online gambling is another. The number of people who gamble online has doubled every year and 75% of them admit they are problem gamblers. And what about the 40% of the 12 million online players of the World of Warcraft who admit to being clinically addicted?

The question if the Internet carbon footprint is too big still remains. The Internet has the potential to reduce carbon emissions if it is used wisely. Working at home alone saves tons. However, the Internet is available to anyone who can access it, and they are not all using it wisely. There are more than 1.5 billion people online around the world and the carbon footprint of the net is growing more than 10% per year. Not only is the demand for electricity more, but the carbon debt is drastically increasing from just a few years ago when it was minimal. The question that should be asked is:
Is there any way to take advantage of the great potential for the Internet to reduce carbon emissions along with phasing out the scams, spam and worthless traffic that produce so much?

This is a sponsored guest post written by Gwen Davis.

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Reader Comments

I think government has to apply some rule to control the power consumbtions in data center. either by using some green sources or by deployng virtualizations

Internet has become a daily necessity. However, until we’ll be able to adopt a green attitude regarding the use of Internet it will take a while. First and foremost we;ll need to have an authority to regalement such a thing and some well established rules.

I have never tried to place a link between spammers and the increase of CO2 in the atmoshpere, but no I have one more reason for hating the annoying web-tendence. For my part, I vote for telecommutin, which is able to solve several serious problems without additional spendings. I don”t understand why employers still have something against the trend.

we all know that everything has a positive side as well as a negative side, we began using e-paper, e-mail to save the Paper and to reduce the pollution which was caused by the cutting of trees but eventually the Power consumption has led to another serious problem which is the carbon emission and we all are soon going to suffer from it in a drastic manner but i think there would be another technology to make the alternative way but , we should not blame the government instead we, should think about maintaining and conserving the environment on our own, we should do the Tree planting and make our life Eco-friendly.

More people working from home is great. Less cars = less pollution. The gas company’s stop getting richer.