Pause Your Netflix Marathon. Binge-Watching is Found Guilty of Contributing to Climate Change


As much as we need our weekly binge-watching sessions of our favorite Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon shows, scientific evidence shows that streaming services are contributing a notable amount of carbon emissions to the atmosphere—and it’s growing.

The Shift Project’s Climate Crisis study found that streaming videos on demand were the biggest contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions of the online video industry. The second biggest contributor? Porn.

Watching just half an hour of your favorite Netflix show is basically the same as driving an oil-fueled car for four miles. That’s 1.6 kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions.

Everything needs energy, including the Internet and online videos. But energy causes carbon emissions if the data centers rely on fossil fuels instead of green alternatives. Simply put, the more videos you watch, the more energy you need, and the more carbon emissions the data centers produce.

“More data equals more energy needed to maintain a system that is ready to stream this video to your device at a moment’s notice,” explained Gary Cook of Greenpeace.

In 2018, online videos emitted 306 metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is the same amount of greenhouse gasses produced by the nation of Spain. What’s worse? It’s expected to double.

According to Cook, digital video file sizes are “getting bigger with each new generation of higher definition video.”

Data centers contribute 0.3 percent of all carbon emissions, and that number is expected to rise as online video is expected to account for 80 percent of all Internet traffic in just two years in 2020. In the last few weeks, Disney and Apple already released their streaming services, and other platforms like HBO are set to release theirs soon.

To minimize the effects of your binge-watching to the environment, Cook recommends disabling autoplay and settling with non-high definition displays. He also advises against using 3G networks, which only make it worse.

But the best thing you can do? “Exercising collective responsibility, with individuals demanding Internet giants rapidly transition their data centers to renewable energy, has been the biggest driver thus far,” said Cook.

The Internet’s complicity to climate change has been downplayed throughout all branches of media, because, well, it’s the lifeline of almost every industry. But the underrated and unaddressed unsustainability of online videos is going to cause more harm than good if people remain in the dark. So let’s maybe cut back on the binge-watching and hope streaming services push for sustainable data centers.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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