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How to reduce the carbon footprint of watching videos?


In an interview with Al Mayadeen TV Station, ITWorksMe CTO Salloum ElDahdaah stated that energy use and emissions from streaming today could be substantially lowered by taking environment friendly actions

One of COVID-19 pandemic most noticeable impacts was the huge rise in video consumption around the world due to lockdowns. The internet and streaming services allowed us to stay connected despite physical distances, to keep on working and mostly entertain ourselves during isolation. However, according to several recent researches these online habits came with an exponential toll on the environment.

Streaming services were increasingly associated with energy use and carbon emissions from devices, network infrastructure and data centers. According to recent studies led by scientists at the U.K. Royal Society, streaming a single HD video on a phone alone generates approximately eight times the carbon emissions as streaming in standard, as per The BBC.

Every online activity we perform such as browsing, searching, listening to music or streaming videos causes the emission of carbon dioxide. This is due to the energy needed to run our devices, power the wireless networks we access and operate the data centers and vast servers essential to support the internet and store the content we reach over it. 

In fact, watching online videos accounts for the biggest chunk of the world's internet traffic – 60% – and generates 300m tons of carbon dioxide a year, which is roughly 1% of global emissions, according to French think tank, The Shift Project. Streaming and downloading music is not far from harming. Rabih Bashroush, a researcher at the University of East London and lead scientist at the European Commission-funded Eureca project, calculated that five billion plays clocked up by just one music video – the hit 2017 song Despacito – consumed as much electricity as Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic put together in a single year. “The total emissions for streaming that song could be over 250,000 tons of carbon dioxide,” he says.

However, renewable energy use is gaining momentum in IT industry and major cloud providers pledged to cut their carbon emissions.  The central IEA- International Energy Agency estimates that one hour of streaming video in 2019 is now 36gCO2, down from 82gCO2 as per its original analysis published in February 2020

In an interview with Al Mayadeen TV Station, ITWorksMe CTO Salloum ElDahdaah stated that energy use and emissions from streaming today could be substantially lowered by taking environment friendly actions, at the levels of the individuals, platforms and regulators. Greener and more responsible decisions such as using smaller devices and screens, which consume less electricity and upgrading our equipment less frequently can make a big difference, he added. 

Salloum also advised to switch off auto-play and default the stream to a lower resolution rather than high definition when it is not necessary, especially that often consumers would not even notice the difference. Choosing to stream our favorite shows or cat videos over wi-fi rather than on a mobile network can be more responsible. Turning off accompanying videos while streaming music if you aren't watching them is also an easy and effective step. 

Yet, the paramount influence on the course of any expected change will be the one undertook by international technology companies, he insisted. They should further invest in renewable energy to power their data centers and networks. Sustainable design and coding could also help, such as further improving video compression and reducing stream quality as YouTube did in May 2020 during the coronavirus pandemic crisis. 

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