It is not just the fashion industry, disposable plastics, climate change, cosmetics industry that focus on the environment and sustainability topics. It includes all the resources we generate as humans. With thousands of films, TV shows, documentaries and more available for streaming, streaming platforms are an indispensable source of entertainment. A lifestyle of “Netflix & Chill” and staying at home has become necessary due to the pandemic. I have heard that Spotify, Netflix, and YouTube generate a lot of CO2. Hence, as someone interested in sustainability, I wondered how my daily habit of using those services produces so much CO2?
As calculated by the School for the Contemporary Arts, streaming media contributes a surprising 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuels power because of most of the world’s data centers, networks, and devices. Approximately 7% of all electricity consumption worldwide is associated with Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). By 2040, it is expected for the ICT segment that the number can climb up to 14% of 2016-level worldwide greenhouse gases emissions. (School For The Contemporary Arts)
30 Minutes on Netflix = 4 Miles Driving and More
This fact was claimed by some of the big media stations, including the New York Post, CBC, Yahoo, DW, Gizmodo, Phys.org, and BigThink, that “the carbon emissions generated by watching 30 minutes of Netflix (1.6kg of CO2) is the same as driving almost 4 miles”. (Kamiya, 2020)
This fact came from a report by the Shift Project in July 2019, which also highlighted the streaming industry was responsible for more than 300 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018, equivalent to emissions from France. Furthermore, Shift Project published a follow-up article in June 2020 to correct its mistake of the original “1.6 kg per half hour” to “0.2kg per half hour”. (Kamiya, 2020)
Besides Netflix, YouTube is a source of generating great amounts of emissions as well. According to Channel 4 Dispatches, they estimated that the 7 billion views of “Despacito”, by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, featuring Justin Bieber, had consumed 900 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity, or 1.66 kWh per viewing hour. YouTube, with over 1 billion viewing hours a day, would consume over 600 TWh a year (2.5% of global electricity use), which would be more than the electricity used globally by all data centres (~200 TWh) and data transmission networks (~250 TWh). (Kamiya, 2020)
The Solutions Sit With Us
As I said, video games are not to blame. We spend a lot of our time on the Internet without realizing the impact it has. Clearly, our world has shifted towards online, cloud data collection, and digital platforms mostly. Yet, the problem lies in the claim by organizations and companies over which resource is used to generate electricity and deliver the internet. This tool gives us access to everything we need today. Some parts of the world still rely on fossil fuels for most of their energy, despite claims that they use renewable energy. (Griffiths, 2020)
It is not possible to solve the sustainability problem overnight. I can see that we have a very long and challenging way to go out there to explore, be aware, execute, and sit back and rethink what we’ve done? Is this the right way to go about it? If not, what can we do about it? The list goes on.
In my role as a consumer, I rely heavily on streaming services not just for entertainment and to soothe boredom but also to learn and grow through the documentary movies I watch on streaming platforms. In fact, I enjoy it. Knowing now that this kind of “healthy” habit is actually “unhealthy” due to the large amounts of fossil fuels and less renewable energy consumed, it was like a slap in the face to unveil the truth behind my online habit. Ouch! To know that hurt pretty badly.
Each day there is a lesson that aims to improve and broaden our thinking and knowledge to choose and do what we know is good or bad to do or not to do. Let me get right to the point: I just wish giant media companies treated our entire environment with respect and found ways to use far lesser fossil fuels and energy. As a whole, we can acknowledge what we are doing and aim to make the world a better place.