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Study Shows You Should Turn Off Your Camera During Zoom Meetings to Save the Planet

It’s called going green on the internet.
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Here’s some great news for the antisocial people out there: Scientists say you should turn off your camera during Zoom meetings to reduce your carbon emissions and save the planet.

The carbon footprint of the internet and data storage isn’t widely known simply because there’s not enough research being done about it. We all know that cars, cows, and factories are bad for climate change, but apparently, so are our Zoom calls.

All that internet has to come from somewhere and all our data has to go somewhere. All of this is stored in data centers, which emit a lot of greenhouse gasses in order to keep running. Internet infrastructure is relatively new to most people, but here’s how it works simplified: Imagine hubs that require huge amounts of electricity, water, and land in order to store all of your data. All of your data goes into a cloud, yes, but that cloud has to be stored somewhere: Enter data centers.  

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One hour of videoconferencing on Zoom or streaming on Netflix emits 150 to 1,000 grams of carbon dioxide. In comparison, a gallon of gas burned by a car emits around 8,000 grams of CO2. But according to researchers from the Purdue Climate Change Research Center, the Purdue Center for the Environment, the MIT Energy Initiative, and the Yale MacMillan Center, you can reduce your footprint by 96 percent if you keep your camera off and by 86 percent if you stream movies at just standard definition.

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Now that’s a huge cut to your carbon footprint.

Overall, the world experienced a drop in global carbon emissions in 2020 due to lockdowns, but internet use increased by 20 percent. If that trend keeps up, by the end of 2021, we would need at least 71,600 square miles (the size of the country Syria) to sequester all the internet-emitted carbon.

"Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality. So without your consent, these platforms are increasing your environmental footprint," said one of the researchers.

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Don’t get us wrong. We’re sure streaming a film has a lower carbon footprint than driving a diesel-fueled car. But the study is proof that there’s a cost to the planet for every human action. It’s just a matter of choosing the “lesser” evil and making small actions to reduce our carbon footprint.

So the next time you’re in a Zoom call while wearing pajamas, haven’t showered in days, and looking like a hot mess, just tell your boss you’d prefer to be off cam right now. For the planet, of course.

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Anri Ichimura
Section Editor, Esquire Philippines
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