Social Media Habits
As one begins to think about the environment, its damages, and their own carbon footprint, it’s only natural that the mind goes straight to thinking about the bigger decisions they make every day - transportation methods, electricity usage, water usage, etc. However, we must learn to open our eyes to the harsh reality that our ever so normalized social media usage is another huge member of the world’s global polluters.
According to The Shift Project, the carbon footprint of electronics gadget users accounts for 3.6% of the total greenhouse gas emission; this equates to, and could even exceed the amount of CO2 gas produced by the aviation industry. (Tam) Unfortunately, this number is projected to double by 2025.
Earth.Org offers a notable amount of quantitative values that successfully puts into perspective, just how much CO2 is emitted from our habits of browsing the internet, Instagram, YouTube, and more.
According to Google in 2009, a singular search emits around 0.2g of carbon dioxide and another 1.76g to load up a website. So each and every time a student searches for something on the internet and clicks on multiple links for research, CO2 is constantly being emitted into our environment. Emailing, one of the most basic forms of professional and casual conversation is no exception. Around 0.3g of CO2 is emitted from spam emails, an extra 4g for regular emails, and an additional 50g for a file attachment. (Tam) think about how many emails a student or anyone in the workforce sends and receives. Then think about the number of people who require the usage of emails every day, including the weekends. That is a lot of environmental damage that many fail to realize.
The most shocking of them all is Instagram. Personally, I think Instagram is the most commonly used social media application. Unlike apps like Twitter, TikTok, and Snapchat, Instagram is an app that a wider demographic can comfortably use. However, posting a photo on Instagram emits 0.15g of CO2, and scrolling through the feed for 1 minute equates to around 1.5g of CO2 emitted. (Tam) What’s key to note here is that the average user spends around 28 minutes scrolling through Instagram. (Tam) Think about it this way. 65.5% of the world has access to the internet. That is around 4.66 billion people. (Tam) If we do the math, the fact that carbon footprint from gadgets alone takes up 3.6% of all greenhouse gas emissions makes sense.
You may be wondering how our interaction with the internet actually contributes to these emissions. This could be answered as we trace back the steps to how we gain access to the internet. Internet usage requires electricity. Electricity is most commonly sourced from the burning of fossil fuels, which is a direct contributor of CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately, according to a Yale-led study, all the numbers above are predicted to continue increasing especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has made telecommunication more essential than ever before.
Despite this, there are several things that we, as members of the digital community, can do to help mitigate this issue.
Switching off automated and unnecessary updates and backups
According to Mike Hazas, a researcher at Lancaster University, automatic cloud backups, and app updates take up around 10% of the traffic from mobile devices.
Conscious email sending and receiving
“If every adult in the UK sent one less “thank you” email a day, it would save around 16,500 tonnes of CO2 a year.” This is equivalent to 81,000 flights to Madrid. (Tam)
Turning of Video in calls
A five-hour video call across countries could emit up to 215kg of CO2. (Tam)
Less photo sending
One text is around 0.014g of CO2 while sending a picture increases that value up to 5g. (Tam)
McCarthy, Joe. “How Does Your Social Media Use Impact the Planet? Use This Calculator to Find out.” Global Citizen, 19 Apr. 2017, https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/social-media-emissions-carbon-footprint/.
Tam , Claudia. “How Social Media Habits Are Contributing to Internet Pollution: Earth.org - Past: Present: Future.” Earth.Org - Past | Present | Future, 24 Sept. 2021, https://earth.org/how-social-media-habits-are-contributing-to-internet-pollution/#:~:text=Many%20internet%20and%20social%20media,the%20amount%20produced%20by%20the.