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The Menace of Internet Pollution

15th Rashtriya Sabha of Swadeshi Jagran Manch at Gwalior in December 2021 passed farsighted resolution on environment, global warming, carbon emission, erosion of ozone layer while briefly discussing internet pollution. — Vinod Johri


During 15th Rashtriya Sabha of Swadeshi Jagran Manch at Gwalior from 24th to 26th December 2021, a very significant and farsighted resolution was passed on environment which emphasized concerns on global warming, carbon emission and erosion of ozone layer. The menace of internet pollution was briefly discussed in the conference. Until then, we knew about it but were not sensitized towards internet pollution. Internet has turned into indispensable part of our life, personal and professional. 

E-Pollution is the environmental damage that comes from the constant heat and cooling down in facilities that are referred to data centres on which Governments and Corporates are heavily dependent on data centres.

It was on March 12, 1989, at CERN, Geneva, that the idea of   the Internet was born. Today, 32 years later, the Internet has completely changed our lives: how we communicate, work, get entertained, informed or do our shopping. But the truth is that the Internet also has a huge impact on our planet.

On one hand, manufacturing cell phones, laptops, and other types of devices and equipment means extracting (and separating or transporting) rare earth minerals from the Earth. On the other hand, data centres that represent the “cloud” on Earth are a synonym with energy consumption due to the storage and the permanent flow of data.In 2015, the Internet was estimated to represent 600 million tonnes of CO2 a year – as much as the world’s total civil aviation.

From the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and the numerous lockdowns, there has been an exponential growth in video transmission (streaming) all over the world. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), watching an hour of video streaming on Netflix entails emissions of 36gCO2 while keeping in mind that a trip by airplane from London to New York is the equivalent of 1.3 tonnes of CO2. Studies estimate that digital technologies contribute between 1.4% to 5.9% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to ‘The Royal Society’, a leading British scientific academy.

The digital activity is responsible for 2% of the planet’s CO2 Emissions.Sending an email, using search engines, storing data are heavily responsible for carbon dioxide emissions. The web generates today 2% of the CO2 emissions of the planet which is just the beginning of this new form of pollution. Indeed, within four years, digital pollution will represent 3 to 4% of carbon dioxide emissions - a situation that is alarming! 

The low carbon footprint of streaming video content can be explained due to the rapid improvement in the energy efficiency of data centres, networks and devices. But the slowing of efficiency gains, the effects of outbreaks, and the new demand for emerging technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain, is leading to a growing concern due to general environmental impacts in the sector in the coming years.As they are data factories that store thousands of IT servers, data centres are usually considered to be energy devourer.

It should ring alarm bells - 

  • Doing a search on Google emits the equivalent of 5 to 7 grams of CO2.
  • The carbon cost of an email with a 1 MB attachment is 19 grams of CO2 according to French Environment & Energy Management Consultancy (ADEME).In one hour, more than twelve billion emails are sent, representing more than 4,000 tons of oil.
  • Although the energy needed for a single internet search or email is small, approximately 4.1 billion people, or 53.6% of the global population, now use the internet. Those scraps of energy, and the associated greenhouse gases emitted with each online activity, can add up.
  • The carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the systems supporting them account for about 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions, according to some estimates. It is similar to the amount produced by the airline industry globally, explains Mike Hazas, a researcher at Lancaster University. And these emissions are predicted to double by 2025.
  • One of the main forms of digital pollution is called “dormant pollution”. It’s due to the storage of emails. All emails stored in a mailbox make many servers run uninterruptedly in data centres. However, data centres are very energy intensive and need to be permanently air conditioned to be cooled. The volume of stored data doubles every two years.
  • Increased anxiety and fear, polarization, fragmentation of a shared context, and loss of trust are some of the most apparent impacts of digital pollution. Potential degradation of intellectual and emotional capacities, such as critical thinking, personal authority, and emotional well-being, are massive.
  • The most significant contributor to our individual Internet carbon footprints is our use of online video, which generates 60% of world data flows and over 300 million tonnes of CO2 per year.

What are the main disadvantages?

  1. Addiction, time-waster, and causes distractions
  2. Bullying, trolls, stalkers and crime: A person who uses the Internet very frequently can face abusive or trolls’ people. Another issue cyberbullying is also increasing rapidly over the years. 
  3. Spam and advertising: The Internet is the best place to advertise any service or product as compared to traditional advertising methods. But you might see more spam in your inbox than junk mail in real life because digital advertising can be sent on a massive scale
  4. Pornographic & violent images
  5. Never being able to disconnect from work
  6. Identity theft, hacking, viruses, and cheating: There are various malicious users and computer hackers that can steal your personal information and hack accounts, which can be used for identity theft and can be harmful to you personally. 
  7. Distracts focus and patience: The sites have an instant gratification effect that we use on the Internet every day.  Getting information this way can affects your interactions and make you more impatient and less focused on your activities.
  8. Health issues and obesity: If you are surfing the Internet frequently, playing games and spending too much time on the computer, it can also lead to obesity and an unhealthy lifestyle. 
  9. Depression, loneliness, and social isolation: The Internet also becomes a reason lead to depression as many people tend to compare their lives with others on social networking sites. 
  10. Buying things that you don’t need: The Internet provides advantages for consumers to make purchasing, so users can purchase products frequently without putting much thought into whether they should. 
  11. Not a safe place for children: There are many unethical and pornography communities are available on the Internet that can cause to distract their mind. 
  12. Viruses/Malwares: The frequently use of the Internet may infect your system from viruses that can damage your valuable data, which is difficult to recover. These viruses enter into the system through USBs, CIDs, and the Internet. 

We can follow few simple tips to reduce the impact of your internet usage on the environment.

  1. Deleting emails is the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint on the computer. If every person only deleted 10 of those emails, they could save 1,72,500 gigabytes of storage space and around 55.2 million kilowatts of power.
  2. Keep Your Laptop And Other Digital Equipment For Longer Periods. We consume (buy and discard) huge numbers of different tech devices every year so that we can be connected to the Internet, and the greenest gesture we can put into practice to reduce our digital footprint is certainly to limit this consumption.
  3. Avoid Over-Consuming Video Streaming. Streaming is now one of the biggest consumers of energy regarding our Internet usage. The transfer of real-time data for videos, often viewed in high definition quality, generates quite high energy consumption. The website designers build their webpages with automatic launching videos that increase the weight of the data to be loaded by users. It is also the case with major web platforms.
  4. Be reasonable with the “cloud” and online storage. In the same way as streaming, online storage solutions like the cloud cause a lot of energy consumption. Each photo or data you store online must be permanently preserved on a server that needs to be powered. 
  5. Learn how to use your equipment better. A large part of energy consumption linked to the Internet often comes from the bad use of equipment. Most of the consumers leave their internet box turned on during the night, which consumes energy for nothing. Many consumers also continue to use 4G at home instead of their wifi, but browsing wifi consumes much less energy than browsing the mobile network. 
  6. Manage Your Emails Better (Without Necessarily Deleting Them)
  • Send fewer emails and limit the number of recipients;
  • Write emails in text format rather than HTML.
  • Unsubscribe from the newsletters you’re no longer reading;

We need to contain menace of internet pollution.    

The author is Sah Vichar Vibhag Pramukh, Delhi Prant, SJM 

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