Start : Reflections about digital uses facing of environmental challenges
The digital transformation is already underway, while new environmental issues are coming into play. Users need to be aware of the impact of their usage.
Digital pollution is generated by all our activities on the web and the use of our devices. Thus, it is not the exclusive consequence of technological and digital objects and their manufacture; it is also the result of activities on the web that seem harmless: creating content, downloading, storing data, reading audiovisual content...
Is the development of streaming an environmental problem?
Watching a high definition video stream for 10 minutes is equivalent, in terms of energy impact, to using a 2,000 W electric oven at full power for 3 minutes. (Data: Carbon Trust 2021)
Again, this sheds light on the fact that all our digital activities have a real impact on the environment. Especially for this activity, which is one of the most harmful to the planet.
What we often don't realise is that these simple online videos are stored on numerous servers which, like the files, require large amounts of energy to be cooled and operational 24 hours a day.
Although electricity consumption depends on the time spent behind our screens and especially on the type of use, watching 10 minutes of streaming video consumes 150 times more electricity than recharging the battery of a smartphone (according to the International Energy Agency - IEA).
The consumption of streaming video games is increasing and becoming the standard.
Playing online games, in streaming, has become a common practice, but a polluting one.
It is not easy to measure the environmental impact of this entertainment, as it will depend on many factors: number of users, internet connection & networks, device used, servers, type of game and even individual gaming habits.
What we need to keep in mind is that the consumption of resources in video games is not limited to the manufacture of the game and the equipment needed to use it. The act of playing also has a significant impact on the environment.
This is an example of a popular flight simulation video game that uses real-time aerial maps to provide the most realistic user experience possible. The technological prowess is unprecedented, the immersion is total.
Only to fully enjoy it: 1 computer, 1 graphics card are required and a 6.25 Mega bytes/second connection is recommended.
Here are the statistics announced by the publisher (in 2021):
+ more than 2 million players
+ more than 50,000,000 flights
+ 72% of the world's surface overflown
+ 5.6 billion kilometres or 19 round trips between Earth and Sun
And over 9.7 million hours of flight time viewed on Twitch.
These results speak volumes about the popularity of this type of entertainment, which may have real learning value as a simulation.
However, it is important to understand that servers are running at full capacity and are still mostly powered by fossil fuels.
The Metaverse is taking place.
The metaverse is a great promise of our decade, but are we ready?
A virtual universe that extends our lives, without leaving home. On paper, we could imagine doing good for the planet: less travel, less polluting activities...
However, carrying out our activities virtually requires the use of our natural resources.
Take, for example, the storage of data, the use of electricity for the very functioning of this virtual world.
A study conducted shows that the development of this type of large-scale use would be responsible for 6% of the carbon footprint in the years to come.
The metaverse is also the development of the digital economy, with cryptocurrencies in the spotlight.
Digital currencies, such as Bitcoin, have reached peaks in transactions and consumption over the past 12 months. Most NFTs, these virtual currency tokens, are stored on the Ethereum blockchain.
All these processes consume a lot of energy and therefore increase the carbon footprint of the virtual universe.
In 2018, digital economist Alex De Vries warned about the electricity consumption of Bitcoin. It would be equivalent to the consumption of Ireland in one year.
The development of a virtual world is thus not the development of a greener world.
How to reduce the environmental impact of digital uses?
How can we make our digital activities greener? There are tips and solutions that can be implemented individually. However, the impact is such that these small solutions are not enough. The one and only solution that will turn the tide on our carbon emissions is to switch to green energy on a global scale.
This is something that seems unattainable in the near future.
Staying at the individual level, the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint is to consume responsibly and therefore avoid electronic consumerism. Reducing the amount of data stored for each individual is also an effective way.
This is the objective pursued by FileVert, as well as by a larger number of organisations that are taking up the subject, and some fine initiatives are moving in the direction of controlling one's digital consumption (e.g. Ecomail, Treebal, but also Greenmetrics, Fruggr.io, Improved Impact, Cleanfox, Rzilient, TeleCoop, Weeedoit and many others).
Some investors are taking an interest and investing large sums of money in greener applications. Others are transforming their internal operations to be more digitally frugal.
We will conclude by saying that we should not reject the digital revolution, but should be fully aware of its environmental impact in order to remain critical of its uses and make choices by understanding the stakes.