Who thinks they watch or listen to streaming content do well the environment is very wrong. Not only is this not true, it is even harmful. Is it therefore possible that giving up packaging, plastic, paper, supports of any material is still harmful to nature? Yes, according to the vast majority of world experts. And everything is – as expected – to be traced back to the enormous energy consumption that streaming services generate daily for to come in in the homes of users.
Studies of this kind have existed for some time: last year, for example, a comparison was made between vinyl, cassette tapes, CDs and streaming for listening to music, and this last "abstract" mode of use is nothing but had come out of the challenge really well. Or rather: those who listen to little music can rely on streaming, otherwise it is better to go back to buying good old vinyl.
And now that the pandemic has strongly accelerated the consumption of (and on) the network, the question returns: how much does streaming of videos, music, games – not to forget the connections for work and education – affect the environment? Asking oneself is simple, answering is certainly less so, but there are those who have made estimates that do not want to give a "scientific" response, but simply empower consumers by making them understand that even the use of multimedia content in streaming has its own cost (environmental). In short, the laws of thermodynamics are not escaped even on this occasion. This is especially true for streaming video, which accounts for 80% of total network traffic.
The problem, it was said, is the continuous transfer of the signal from data centers to users' computers, tablets or smartphones. Send virtually content requires significant energy expenditure, especially considering the fact that this happens simultaneously (and incessantly) for millions of people. To function, data centers need energy, and they will need it more and more: it is estimated that in 2030 13% of the total electricity produced will be absorbed precisely from data centers, which will be responsible for 6% of carbon dioxide emissions.
So it's not hard to believe that 6 hours of streaming video on Netflix can be equivalent to consuming 1 liter of gasoline, as a study reported by The Conversation. It is only an example, of course, but it makes us understand how much streaming can affect the environment: just think that a couple of years ago in Nature a study was published in which it was shown how the carbon footprint of the energy used to operate servers and to recharge smartphones were equivalent to the polluting emissions of airplanes.
Is there a solution to contain this impact? We are in the midst of the digital age, there are even those who hypothesize that soon we will be literally submerged by bits, the fifth state of matter. Therefore it is necessary to rely on technological development, perhaps developing precisely those insulating materials so-called low energy consumption topologies that have allowed David J. Thouless, R. Duncan M. Haldane and J. Michael Kosterlitz to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2016. Or even implementing solutions capable of improving energy efficiency for the same flow of data transmitted.
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