Most days when I get home from work, I kick off my shoes and cozy up with some Netflix. Video streaming is kind of my go-to when I want to relax—and I’m far from alone. Each year, our collective video streaming results in carbon emissions equivalent to the entire country of Spain, a new report has found.
All the data centers used to run the sites that give us our videos—from YouTube to Pornhub—require massive amounts of energy. Researchers estimated earlier this year that YouTube, alone, emitted some 11 million tons of carbon dioxide in 2016. Now, a separate group of analysts from The Shift Project, a Paris-based think tank dedicated to a low-carbon future, has concluded in a report that all online videos from around the world emit over 300 million tons of carbon dioxide a year. That’s 1 percent of the total annual global emissions.
The Shift Project looked at two reports from network companies to determine their data traffic and calculate the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated. The organization has even created a browser extension (currently only for Firefox), Carbonalyser, to help users learn how much emissions their current computer usage is creating.
While streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video make up 34 percent of these emissions, pornography videos come in a close second. The world is horny, and all that porn watching accounted for 27 percent of all carbon emissions associated with online video streaming.
Whether you’re enjoying some porn or binge-watching Stranger Things, these videos have an impact on the planet. The authors of this report aren’t calling for an end to our video usage, but they do want users to be more thoughtful about their video binging and watch less, overall.
“If we let the video users go how they are going right now, there will be a time when we just won’t be able to really sustain these users, and I think it’s dangerous for the digital infrastructure for the digital world,” report author Maxime Efoui-Hess, a project officer at The Shift Project, told Earther.
The report offers a few design changes that could help reduce the industry’s impact on the planet. For instance, autoplay features encourage further video consumption, driving up those greenhouse gas emissions. Removing such features could help us watch fewer videos, something the researchers behind that studied YouTube found, too. YouTube could reduce emissions by up to 550,000 tons by tweaking its interface.
More importantly, however, the report authors want to see regulation on digital technologies that, for example, limit the amount of data users have access to, or on the way services are designed to help manage them more sustainably. The report doesn’t mention this, but if data centers were powered with renewable energy, that’d help, too. Right now, they mostly depend on fossil fuels, as this Greenpeace report shows, and that’s problematic.
Efoui-Hess loves watching videos too, he admits. He’s gone down those 2 a.m. YouTube watching sprees where he barely remembers what the hell he was watching in the first place. Now, however, he questions how much he really wants to watch something before he does. He hopes everyone can start there because all those videos come at a cost to our planet.