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From clicks on Internet to Carb💨n in the air

Are you one of those who starts the day by checking WhatsApp/emails or browsing the net for headlines 🙋🏻‍♀️? And during the rest of the day, we are very often writing emails, checking our social media and if not may be listening to music? If you've replied yes to both these questions then this article is for you 👉🏻👉🏻😊.

All these services through the Internet (data), wireless network, cell phones, and other communication mediums come collectively under the umbrella “Information and Communication Technology (ICT)”. ICT is general helps us save time, conserve trees and not send paper letters, entertain ourselves, do video conferencing and instant messaging. With platforms like Facebook, IG, LinkedIn we can communicate with others across the world as if they were living next door. For me it is a boon.

Little did I know that ICT is also a BIG consumer of electricity and accounts for about 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions globally. Just to give you an idea, it is more that the global aviation industry's human induced CO2 emissions (source:!! This figure is expected to double by 2025!

I learnt from BBC that when the Brazilian footballer Cristiano Ronaldo shares a picture with his 289mln Insta followers, it consumes 56mwh of energy which could power 10 typical British households for a year. WHAT??!!

‘Despacito’, the 4 mnt+ video with a record 7bln views on Youtube consumes 900 Gb of energy in streaming, equal to the energy consumption of 5 African countries in a year!! This is HUGE!!

I don’t know which countries these are but I don’t really care.

I was flabbergasted and wanted to understand what’s going on behind my screen!

Doing my research, I learnt that appx 80% of internet traffic comes from video, music streaming, social media and gaming.

Here is what goes on: when you watch a video over Youtube for example, your browser connects to the host servers or big computers that reside in a building called Data Centers (DC). These DC and are critical in helping deliver the services we ask our browser like opening a website, send emails, make a purchase. This data is stored in a DC. These DC could be anywhere in the world and the service you ask your browser may go through routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems, servers connected to other servers, local networks etc. before finally coming to your screen.

Cloud gaming which is still a niche market is gaining steam. Additional hardware may or may not be required. Like an audio or a video file, it is also hosted offsite in a DC and is streamed to your device. So again, it requires processing power and the energy use.

All this technology has a huge appetite for electricity. Handling, transferring and storing the growing volumes of data at the same time makes them very hot hence the need for DCs to keep their temperatures down. And cooling these Data centers thus requires electricity. Which in Hong Kong is in majority coal based.

True that the energy needed for browsing the net for a couple of minutes or listening to a song or sending an email is small. However, 4.72 bn or 60% of the world population use the internet and this number is growing rapidly. With billions of users doing exactly that same click, those small bits of electricity associated can add up.

To satiate the demand from stake holders, technology giants who are massive users of data centers have set themselves ambitious renewable energy targets. Facebook, Apple, Google, Amazon and the likes either already are or are well on their way to be have their entire business run by 100 percent renewable energy. Good!!

What about US, the end users? Depending on our utilization, our ICT carbon footprint may be more or less consequent. As a resident of this planet, taking small actions on an everyday basis to minimize our footprint is easy and best...

Next time you are in from of your computer/laptop let’s start by remembering that:

1. For Videos: Streaming videos consumes a whole lot more energy than audio files so let’s avoid over-consuming.

2. For music: Listening online, Local storage on phones, computers or local network drives keeps the data closer to the user and will reduce the need for streaming over distance from remote severs which are energy hungry. If you are a music lover or love a particular song, owning copies of our favorite music which can be played over and over again, might just be the best option for the environment.

3. Cloud gaming: Be reasonable with it! Iif you’re a regular gamer, the old style joy stick and console games might be a more environmentally friendly option.

4. Digital mail boxes: Manage Your Emails Better (without necessarily deleting): Emails are stored in DC whose energy consumption and climate impact is a disaster!! So, limit the number of recipients you are sending your email to. Avoid sending bulky attachments as they burden external servers. Rather save your attachment on a on a sharable platform with a link sent to all.

5. Tabs tale: Avoid opening too many tabs at the same time on your browser. Be tech savvy…you CAN make do with only 1, 2 or max 3 tabs at one time instead of 10!


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