Does Streaming Video Accelerate Global Warming?

Updated: Sep 10, 2020



Nowadays, we may send and receive almost a hundred of emails each day, read and text messages with lots of people through chat portals, upload photos to cloud storage or Facebook, watch viral video clips to keep up-to-date from social media, and watch movie series, live sport events or live new release of famous artist’s album through Streaming technology.  These are just examples of online activities of people living in the digital world.  From individual perspective, we may think – “it’s just an upload of a few photos” or “It’s only a few minutes of entertaining video.”.

However, if we consider the whole system that supports these activities, however, the massive amount of internet traffic of digital data has greatly affected the world environment.  It is worsening Global Warming.

Many may not believe in the latest update that Digital technology has released up to 4% Greenhouse gas, already ahead of global aviation industry which has released about 2.5% of total GHG.  It is estimated that there will be 9% increasing demand annually of power supply for ICT industry whereby the proportion of power consumption from ITC usage is 10% more than that of its production!

Computer peripherals, tablets or smartphones, internet infrastructure/telecommunication, as well as data centers require electricity to function.  The source of energy for producing electricity comes mainly from fossil fuel which is the main contributor of carbon dioxide increment in the atmosphere.  The wasted energy from excessive activities is a hidden cost under exciting, fast, and enticing technology that almost no one has ever thought about its flipside.

IT experts have predicted that in 2020 the size of digital data will be as huge as 40-50 zettabytes and about 80% of them will be Unstructured Data, i.e. photos, sound, and video clips.  In other words, by 2020 the size of digital data will be 40 times larger than that of current size or more than observable stars in the universe!

This article focuses on the usage of streaming video, a type of digital format whose size being generated bigger than that of other formats.  It is intended for readers to recognize and realize the impact to Global Warming from viewing streaming videos.  It is the topic hardly anybody talks about.

If you recall the good old days, movie depicted stories though a film of motion pictures and sounds.  The picture was not so clear nor sharp, and the sounds was not so fantastic.  Today, various high definition and resolution of movie are available for viewers to choose from, subject to viewers’ preference.  Especially viewing movie or events on-demand through streaming video would be so attractive to viewers that they easily addicted to follow, for example, watching continuously favorite series of one season containing 10 episodes in one day.   This has caused an ‘addictive’ behavior to consumers in which the internet service providers are aware of this point quite well…

Cisco, a big IT Company, has forecasted that by 2020, about 60% of the world population will have an access to online internet.  The use of online videos will be as much as 80% of all digital data traffic.  Recently, the Shift Project – a French think-tank NGO focusing on limiting the impact of Climate Change and reducing dependency of fossil fuels energy in the Economic system – has released a report from the case study of online video’s usage.  The points worth highlighting are as follows:

60% out of 80% of videos on the internet mentioned above is online video (remaining 20% is other video). They are kept on data centers’ servers.  They are accessed remotely via the website of streaming video service providers.The video in itself is a data media with very condensed data. A 10-hour high definition video consists of more data than English Wikipedia in a text format!  As such, high-definition video is packed with very condensed data and it also requires much of energy in transmitting video data to the destination too.In 2018, viewing online video emitted more than 300 million tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to Spain’s Greenhouse Gas emission as the whole country (or is 20% of total emission in the digital technology industry).VoD (Video on Demand), accounting for 34% of online video traffic, emitted the Greenhouse Gas of more than 100 million tons per year. It is nearly the amount of the emission in Chile as a whole.Pornographic video, accounting for 27% of online video traffic, emitted the Greenhouse Gas of more than 80 million tons. It’s nearly the amount of household Greenhouse Gas emission in France.



At this point, you would think that the demand for online video usage is rapidly increasing due to the growth of streaming video business.  In the meantime, the world has limited resources and facing climate crisis as a time bomb.  The solution of renewable energy to substitute that of fossil fuel seems promising.  This means every country must change to renewable energy swiftly altogether.  However, in reality, it seems impossible to make this happen in a short period of time while the crisis of world climate is going on.  It seems viable solution left is the attempt to reduce the usage of streaming video.  This would lead to the question that whether or not it may be necessary for us to reduce the usage of streaming video in order the help heal the world from Global Warming!

This is not an opposing question against streaming video where its usefulness such as documentary and online courses is still important, and not the campaigning question to stop using streaming video completely.  The key point is that how important we give to limited world resources.  They are used excessively on activities less needed in our lives.  Do we choose to remain status quo, not feel responsible and let the world ‘decay’ before us, despite knowing that our activities are poisoning the world?

Don’t underestimate yourself, the world’s future is in everyone’s hands.

Peeraphong Chearanai

(Khun Peeraphong Chearanai, a computer scientist, is a former Business IT expert specialized in design and implement Management Information system for multinational petroleum company for over 20 years.  He is interested in MI, BI, Big Data, Science, Technology, Environment, and Philosophy)

Sources:[1] Eric Bassier,”Global Warming of Data”, DataCenterKnowledge, 18 May 2016. [Online].Available: https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/…/18/global-warming-data[2] Learn Center, “Data Never Sleeps 7.0”. DOMO. 2019. [Online].Available: https://www.domo.com/learn/data-never-sleeps-7 [4] Maxime Efoui-Hess, “CLIMATE CRISIS: THE UNSUSTAINABLE USE OF ONELINE VIDEO”, The Shift Project, 11 July 2019. [Online].Available: https://theshiftproject.org/…/unsustainable-use-online-vid…/ [4] Jeannette Cwienk (cmk),” Is Netflix bad for the environment? How streaming video contributes to climate change”, DW, 11 July 2019. [Online].Available: https://www.dw.com/…/is-netflix-bad-for-the-envi…/a-49556716

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