A cloud of fine particles

You’ve sacrificed your scooter on the altar of environmental friendliness and replaced it with a bicycle. Now you only buy non-processed foods from local producers, you’ve changed all your bulbs and you turn off the tap when brushing your teeth. All because you’ve read online articles and joined social media chat rooms about the environment. But is digital really that good for the planet? 

We’ll spare you the suspense. The answer is no. Contrary to popular belief, the digital world does not solve environmental problems. First slap. Worse still, it is responsible for a considerable volume of carbon emissions. Second slap. 

Ready for the knock-out blow? The consumption of digital content (articles, videos, music) is responsible for 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. You don’t think that’s much? It’s more than all civil aviation emissions. Yes, brutal. 

In 2018, videos alone, which nevertheless represent 80% of global traffic, produced and emitted over 300 million tonnes of CO2. Obviously, YouTube is near the top of the list (21% of emissions), but it trails behind Netflix and Amazon Prime, which together account for 34% of emissions*, just ahead of pornographic sites (27%). We already knew that porn made you blind, now we know that it damages the climate too.

Now that the facts are there in front of us, how should we react? Should we shut everything down and go back to Minitel? Not possible. Should we stop doing Google searches that emit an average of 7 g of CO2 each time? We could do.

It has got to the point where you’d be forgiven for thinking that those who are predicting the end of humanity are right, and that scrolling the internet all day to find the best environmentally friendly habits is in fact more harmful than pumping air conditioning into your garden during a heat wave and that whatever we do, we’re all doomed. So why don’t we just all slip into a comfy pair of sarouel pants and play diabolo around a campfire, awaiting the end without a fuss?

Alternatively, we could take a quick look at the kind of good habits that we can adopt without changing too much in our lives but which make a difference to the environment. Feel free to read our list of good habits in sarouel pants. That’s fine by us.

Take a back seat from social media.

It’s not something we do consciously, but when you start looking into it, the two that frequently come up are Facebook and Instagram. They should not be a daily knee-jerk reaction. In 2018, 4.75 billion items of content were published daily on Facebook. Daily. That means every day. The annual figure is so big that we don’t how to say it: 1,806.75 billion. Jeff Bezos’ savings account.

Instagram, less popular but popular all the same, gets by with 95 million items of daily content. Add to that the very short lifespan of content on social media (around 5 hours for FB and 24 for Instagram), and the fact that the content never disappears, we start realising the sheer volume of data – data storage centres consume 3% of the world’s electricity.

So what should we do? Here are three environmentally friendly actions that combine your love for hashtags with your love for polar bears:

  • Don’t post for the sake of posting, only post when you REALLY have something to say. If they follow this mantra to the letter, a lot of Internet influencers’ accounts should be disappearing quite soon. 
  • Set up an Instagram alert to restrict your daily consumption (you can do this in settings). 
  • Learn to live without it. When it comes down to it, that’s the easiest way of saving the planet.

Social media are not solely to blame for this outrageous consumption of electricity, so here are seven good habits you should adopt to control your online life.  And that’s an order. 

The 7 digital eco-commandments 

  • Forget tabs

The thirty-two tabs that you’re keeping open to read later are fooling no one but you. Surplus consumption, however, is all too real. So restrict yourself to what you’re really using.

  • Type in the URL of the site you want to go to directly.

You know where you want to go, and you know what the site is called. Google is a search engine, but if you’ve already found it, what’s the point of searching? By avoiding this detour, you’ll save around 7 g of CO2 emissions. Multiply that by the number of times that you do this. Multiply that by the number of people who do the same. In short, go straight to where you want to go. 

If you don’t know the URL, use Ecosia, Lilo or Qwant. They are search engines that respect your private life and the planet. And give you the answer that you’re after, of course.

  • Stop sending so many emails and attachments

And stop copying so many people in. Did you know that every time you do this, you create data that is stored for no reason? ADEME, the French energy and environment agency, reports that every MB sent, and therefore stored, represents 15 g of CO2. 

So we should delete unnecessary contacts and check our inboxes for unread content and newsletters.

  • Store your holiday photos in physical form

Same story: the 67 Go of out-of-focus photos stored in your Costa Brava 2012 album are not just floating somewhere in the atmosphere. They are stored on servers that are running day and night to keep photos that you NEVER look at.

What should you do? Bury your holiday albums on hard disks and memory sticks. Then lose them.

  • Stop streaming

This is probably the most painful one for you, right after social media. Streaming is all the aforementioned evils combined. So we need to streamline and download. This has got to be better than listening to the same sounds on Spotify thirty-five times and consequently downloading the data the same number of times. 

  • Look after your IT equipment

Firstly, because it costs a small fortune but you already know that – buying a smartphone is a major event, so it had better last a long time. Especially as it contains precious metals (whose extraction is controversial but that’s another issue), which can be reused. So once you’ve kept them for as long as you can, give your smart phones and laptops a decent burial, in a recycling bin where they will be fully recycled.

  • Switch off your screens 

By leaving your computer and mobile plugged in all day, and your second screen on standby all night, you’re consuming unnecessary electricity.

Our best advice is to switch off or unplug when you don’t need them.

*source: The Shift Project, published in July 2019