Netflix binge-watching is polluting the planet and streaming just one series produces the same amount of emissions as driving from Manchester to Birmingham.
Those are two of the bombshell claims in a new documentary which suggests that humanity’s insatiable desire for content is having a terrible effect on the planet. It also alleges that the internet sector generates as much as the airline industry.
Video accounts for roughly three-quarters of all the data accessed on the internet, the producers of a BBC programme called Dirty Streaming: The Internet’s Big Secret found.
This means that the internet could be using the same amount of electricity as the whole of America in just over a decade’s time.
That’s a problem because the data centres which power our online lives are often powered by fossil fuels, the energy sources blamed for causing climate change.
Professor Ian Bitterlin, a consulting engineer and visiting professor at Leeds University, said the launch of 5G mobile internet will results in another vast ‘avalanche of data use’.
During the documentary, he said: ‘5G will generate much more traffic and demand much more power, which is not good for climate change.’
Dr Mike Hazas, a professor at Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, also warned that watching shows in high definition consumes five times the amount of energy as traditional, lower resolution video.
‘If you go to high definition, the number of pixels and the amount of information that comes across is four to five times as much, and so you can equate that roughly to being four to five times the amount of energy,’ he said.
‘The network’s having to do more and then the data centre far away is also having to do a bit more.’
If you’re concerned about emissions, it’s best to watch shows at home rather than on the move.
‘If you have the choice, watching that video at home as opposed to during your daily commute is a better way,’ he added.
‘In terms of energy consumption, things like autoplay and infinite scrolling, because they keep us engaged, that keeps the data flowing which keeps the energy flowing.’
TechUK has published a long post which questioned the allegations in the BBC’s documentary which you can read by clicking here.
Emma Fryer, associate director of data centres, wrote: ‘While we agree that it is important to keep a close eye on any potential negative consequences of the growth of digital services, this must be based on rigorous analysis, sound policy and informed citizens.
‘It is therefore disappointing that a number of the claims made, or impressions given by the programme were misleading, or simply incorrect.’
Dirty Streaming: The Internet’s Big Secret is available on BBC Three on iPlayer from March 5.
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