Watching videos on the internet contributes to climate change

I was listening to this on the NPR/PRI program The World this afternoon, and apparently you can’t listen to it online yet. Since I was driving I didn’t get the name of the organization/spokesperson, you should be able to in a day or two.

Thesis (with some evidence apparently): the passing back and forth of information on the internet, including costs of creating and maintaining the infrastructure, accounts for about 4% of the carbon use that is the basis of climate change; this is roughly equivalent to the damage caused by air travel. 80% of internet usage is streaming videos. Therefore, the practice of watching streaming videos contributes in a non-trivial way to climate change.

So when you think you are harmlessly watching kitty videos online, you are really contributing to the eventual destruction of mankind and all its works.

Youtube will never be the same to me again.

It’s not quite as simple as the analysis they presented. There’s chunks of infrastructure, with associated carbon costs to build and maintain, that are still required for a functioning internet where nobody watches streaming video. It also isn’t a net carbon cost analysis that shows the benefits of people not doing things like drive to the movies or to get rental, drive to bars to see live music, etc that we’d reasonably expect to replace streaming videos. It doesn’t try to break out power for low bandwidth but computationally intensive tasks like some could based applications, either.

Still data centers for major internet companies consume massive amounts of power. That power still dominantly comes from carbon producing sources.

The guy discussing it seemed mostly peeved about videos that play automatically, like on news sites, and said something like “when that happens, we have to watch because our minds are trapped by movement.” Overall his solution was just that people should watch fewer videos. I guess that solution remains the same whether they are watching them online or driving to a video store.

I was a little disappointed that the program host (Marco Werman) didn’t bring up any of the points you did, and seemed to be more interested in struggling to make sense out of the interviewee.

Nonsense. Do you have any idea how many times I’ve meant to go to the store, and then fell down a youtube rabbit hole and had to find something in the pantry for dinner? And that’s just the grocery store. My goodness, youtube saves me hundreds of trips per year! :wink:

I agree. Watching internet videos undoubtedly causes some carbon use. But it has to be much lower than most other common activities people engage in. So by diverting people from those, YouTube is actually working against climate change.

The four percent figure seems ridiculously high. It doesn’t pass the sniff test. The only way I can see they came up with such a high figure is if they included all of electrical power generation in the infrastructure cost. Which is misleading; most of that power generation infrastructure would exist anyway.

The problem is not how we consume, or what we consume, it is how we deal with the side effects of infrastructure.

Since creating information increases entropy, this board is contributing to the heat death of the Universe.

I hope.