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Environmental Effects of Internet Use

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 For every five people in the world there are three computers. And in the United States there are four computers for every five people[i]. These numbers are astronomical and growing every day. We live in a technological society. But we also live in a society that is becoming more and more concerned with the environment. You may be one of those environmentally-conscious people. But I wonder, have you ever thought about the impact your HP desktop or your Macbook Pro laptop has on the environment?

It is estimated that most computers generate 40-80 grams of greenhouse gas emissions per hour depending on the make and model[ii]. Older computers will obviously generate more than that. Eighty grams does not seem like that much on an individual level. Now consider that since January 1st 2012 there have already been almost 20 million computers sold worldwide, and the number is rapidly climbing![iii] Each one of those computers is emitting roughly 60 grams of greenhouse gases per hour, and each computer is left on for at least 12 hours a day. That rounds out to about 14.4 million grams of greenhouse emissions per day worldwide!  

Those numbers alone account for the power the computer requires to run. On top of that there is the computer itself. A lot of materials go into the manufacturing of computers. There is plastic, silica, iron, aluminum, copper, lead, zinc and tin. Not to mention the countless materials that make up the inside hardware of the computer. What about internet usage? The internet is a huge part of our everyday life; it must have some impact on the environment. The problem with answering that question is the necessity of conducting online research in order to answer it! Google is the biggest search engine in the world, and as such is not generally inclined to provide many articles explaining exactly why one should not use Google. But with some sneaky word play, I was able to find a few articles that said just that.

 

 

 Web servers and data centers are huge contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. It is a very wasteful and carbon-intensive area. Even the newer energy efficient data centers and web servers still rely on energy produced primarily from non-renewable resources. It has been speculated that Google has somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 servers running at any given time (information that is not given away lightly!) That means a lot of servers, and for only one search engine! Think of the environmental effects of other search engines and major websites such as Bing, Yahoo or YouTube. There are thousands, if not millions, of websites available to us, and every single one of them has servers powering them.  

A professor at Harvard estimates that every second a person spends on any website generates about 20 milligrams of carbon dioxide emissions[iv]. How many seconds have you spent on Facebook today? How many minutes? Hours? It may seem like a harmless few minutes to you, but every second counts when it comes to protecting our Earth.

 Unfortunately, even for those environmentalists among us, avoiding the Internet all together is virtually impossible in today’s western society. We are surrounded by the Internet not only on a daily basis, but an hourly basis as well. Our phones are often connected to the Internet; television screens flashing news updates and advertisements in metro stations are connected to some sort of wireless modem; to settle little arguments we even turn to the Internet for proof of our opinion. The best we can do as a society is to reduce the amount of time we spend on the Internet. When you are not using your computer, turn it off. The same goes for cell phones and their Internet connection. It is also a good idea to try and limit the amount of time you spend on your computer every day. Believe it or not there is a whole world full of amazing new discoveries outside of your computer desk. Get outside, see the world!

 



[i] pcworld.com/article/7024/computerstopeople_ratio_now_25. html

[ii] treehugger.com/gadgets/what-is-the-environmental-impact-of-the-internet.html

[iii] worldometers.info/computers/

[iv] edition.cnn.com/2009/TECH/science/07/10/green .internet.CO2/

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