“The Unspoken Truth of Climate Crisis” seminar organized by KBO Earth at the Thai Army Club on June, 2019 has revealed that digital data and internet usage are the accelerating factors of global warming by three main reasons:

Firstly, the main source of electrical power energizing digital data and internet comes from fossil fuels. And the burning of fossil fuels causes an emission of greenhouse gas. The amount of digital data and internet traffic are key factors accelerating global warming as the data transmission uses basic infrastructure (data center and network) and electronic devices which are energy-intensive.  It is estimated that the annual demand for high electricity usage would be up to 55% of total global electricity consumption and data traffic has increased more than 25%.

Secondly, when digital data and internet are functioning, they generate considerably high heat.  As such, the infrastructure is kept under controlled temperature environment, either with air-conditioning system or relocating data centers to the North pole region or under the sea.  Eventually, the heat generated by the infrastructure and those electronic devices is absorbed by the atmosphere and the surrounding areas.

Lastly, the microwave used for transmitting data wirelessly is one of the factors accelerating global warming.  It is considered as an adulteration that human invented.  As the usage is increased significantly, it is accumulated and disturbs the global climate to change extremely. 

In this article, it explains what we can do to slow down the climate crisis by managing digital data effectively.

According to previous article “Does streaming video accelerate global warming?”, the group of researchers from the Shift Project reveals that video represents 80% of global digital data in 2018.  It means that only 20% of other digital data consists of the usage of websites and other data.  Therefore, the excessive use of digital technology mainly comes from digitalized video. In addition, higher quality of video, for instance, “8K” inevitably consumes higher electricity (while it is still in discussion of its necessity whether lower quality video is literally sufficient).  

Interestingly, among all kind of streaming video, we found that they consist of 34% of VoD (Video On Demand), 27% of pornography, 21% of Tubes, and 18% for others, respectively.  Therefore, it leads to a challenging question whether it is worth using such streaming videos that consume limited fossil fuels and create greenhouse gas emission. So how can we reduce streaming video usage (or even stop using it!) for a sustainable use of digital technology for the true benefit of mankind?

A systemic principle suggested by The Shift Project to help deal with this problem is “Digital Sobriety” adoption (creating/buying less-powerful machines, replace them less frequently and not using energy-intensive approaches where possible), which requires a framework of discipline and regulation for appropriate use of digital technology in the settings of limited natural resources and to reduce environmental impact.  The essential tool to be used is the system design that is in line with the sustainable usage of digital data.

You may have noticed the online videos in various social-media platforms that they come with the function of auto-play and embedded videos.  This function is called “addictive design”.  The design aims at maximum contents to be presented to consumers.  The design is one of important steps to determine the form of usage and how it affects the environment (this principle is usually overlooked in the design process).  Therefore, the usage of online videos depends on not only the consumers’ behavior but also the system design of providers.  The effective reduction of digital technology usage would require a mechanism in creating considerate usage.  Adopting only one solution may not be adequate to expedite “digital sobriety” successfully amid worsening global climate crisis…

As a digital provider of online-video in particular, the considerate design choice of digital service is recommended, such as choosing video’s resolution that is suitable for the purpose of usage and is friendly to environment.  Choosing a live-broadcast via conventional TV signal is less affected to environment than via video streaming worldwide.

As an individual, the thoughtful use of online-video means if there is a need for the use of online-videos, one would choose to use it with minimum resolution, and to avoid downloading them to the cloud as the online backup takes place immediately which, again, consumes electrical energy.  Unless needed, it should not be kept in the cloud too long.  They should be deleted, or backed up offline if the video is important.  When using online-video, one should avoid the internet connection via “mobile data” as it consumes more electricity to boost the signal-loss than that of “WiFi” or “Fiber Optic” broadband.  The energy usage for mobile data is less effective.

At a collaborative level ranging from consumers, providers, governments, private sectors, NGO both domestically and internationally, the establishment of organization to set out clear guidelines and regulations for managing digital data is recommended.  It may be necessary to open for public hearing and debates on concerning issues: prioritization, pros and cons of digital technology usage for sustainability and deceleration of global warming crisis.

In my view, the Shift Project’s proposal looks interesting.  If its proposal becomes practical, it would help reduce the impact of global warming significantly.  The challenging problem is the urgency of global warming and limited available time to get solutions implemented in time.  This requires cooperations from different parties, and the acceptance of problems, its importance, guidelines and measures, and differences in cultures and social values.  In addition, it requires times, determination, and patience to success.

Individually, I strongly believe that the correct and sustainable solution begins with our own “consciousness”.  If we give and share right knowledge and understanding on how important and urgent the global warming crisis is, our smallest contribution of society would become great drive force to effective and sustainable solutions.  This means we realize for what purpose we use online-video, and how we want to use them so that our use will have minimum impact to the earth.

Originally posted on KBO Earth FB on 30-Sep-2019 and 10-Oct-2019. 

This edition is a consolidation of two posts and is made on 3-Sep-2022 by Peeraphong Chearanai.

About Khun Peeraphong Chearanai (Author)

He is a computer scientist and former Global Business IT analyst managing data reporting across platforms for Board of Director in multinational oil company for more than 20 years.  He is interested in MI, BI, Big Data, Science, Technology, Environmental issues and Philosophy.





Together with KBO EARTH


“Reduce” internet usage

“Remove” useless digital data

“Reduce” usage of plastics and electricity

“Increase” green life-style, plant trees and forestry

“4-Hour of No WiFi” no internet usage every Sunday from 6:00 – 10:00