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A small YouTube design change could help the planet throw out its digital waste

According to researchers at the U.K.’s University of Bristol, YouTube videos carry a carbon footprint of around 10 million tons of CO2 equivalent each year. A little bit change in YouTube design which will let users to listen to music with an inactive screen could drastically cut the site’s annual carbon footprint by up to 500,000 Tons. That’s because a lot of the energy is used to get that video to users and a lot process happens at the network and device level.

Greenhouse Gas emitting energy is consumed manufacturing and shipping these products for IT companies; Image Source:

Now the question arises that what does carbon footprint mean. We tend to forget about this, but every web search, every email sent or received, and every status update on Facebook means the consumption of electricity and therefore the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), gases like C02.

The total amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly or indirectly support human activities are known as Carbon Footprint, which is usually expressed in equivalent tons of carbon dioxide. The use of the internet involves using a lot of energy, energy that emits GHG.

Energy use is involved in two levels: Manufacturing and shipping level, powering and cooling level. Technology companies need to manufacture and ship Internet’s hardware like phone, computer, server which requires a lot of energy. On the other hand, keeping those devices powered needs drawing a lot of electricity. Also servers are particularly energy hungry. The disadvantage f energy consumption is the emission of green house gases.

Greenhouse Gas emitting energy is consumed powering the data centers and devices for IT companies, these energies are produced from power grid, coal, natural gas etc; Image Source:

Many different gases make up Earth’s atmosphere. Among them Nitrogen is 78 percent and Oxygen is 21 percent. Many other gases comprise the remaining 1 percent. Some are chemically inert. That means they don’t react with others. Other bit players have the ability to act like a blanket for the planet.

These have come to be known as greenhouse gases. Like the windows in a greenhouse, these gases trap energy from the sun as heat. Earth would be quite cold and unfriendly in manner without their role in this greenhouse effect. Global temperatures would average around -18° Celsius, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Instead, the surface of our planet averages around 15 °C, making it a comfy place for life. But human activities have been releasing extra greenhouse gases into the air which is slowly rising the average temperatures across the globe. In 2018, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) account for 6 to 10% of global electricity consumption, or 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions. And this figure increases by 5 to 7% each year!

Greenhouse Gases are being emitted regularly from server production, search engine, watching videos and in many more digital ways; Image Source:

YouTube is a website designed for sharing and watching videos. Millions of users around the world have created accounts through which they can upload videos that anyone can watch.

Every minute of every day, more than 35 hours of video is uploaded to YouTube. Huge amounts of energy are needed to power the servers and networks that let YouTube viewers watch more than one billion hours of video every day.

A team at the University of Bristol calculated that the YouTube’s carbon footprint is around 10 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year, roughly the same as Luxembourg or Zimbabwe, based on estimates of the electric energy which was used to provide YouTube videos globally in 2016. Moreover, to watch those videos, you need electronic devices which also consumes energy.

Watching YouTube video using electronic device; Image

It has been observed that many people just listen to YouTube videos in the background while they’re doing other things online . So a huge amount of energy is consumed to load those videos causing Carbon Footprint, which is a huge waste, called “digital waste” by Chris Preist, lead author of the study and professor of sustainability and computer systems at the University of Bristol.

Researchers found that a single change in design which will let users listen to audio on YouTube with an inactive screen could reduce its carbon footprint by between 100 to 500 thousand tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. This reduction is roughly equivalent to the annual carbon footprint of 30,000 UK homes.

Preist thinks that the burden of reducing streaming’s carbon footprint should rest on the companies that host and stream the content, not on the people who tune to music videos, cooking shows, and vlogs. Currently, the feature is only available to YouTube Premium subscribers. For non-paying users, listening to music on YouTube requires the app to be kept open and the screen active.

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