Skip to main content

Mopping Up the Internet’s Muddy Carbon Footprints

Your clicks online are generating CO2 emissions.

We all know the impact that cars, factories, and even our own bodies have on the environment.

But have you ever stopped to think about the environmental impact of the internet?

It’s true: every time you load a page, send a tweet, share a post, or “like” something online, you’re emitting carbon dioxide — CO2. A small amount, sure, but consider how many people the world over are loading, sending, sharing, and liking, too.

It seems crazy to think that something as intangible as the internet could have a carbon footprint, but it does. And I never realized the full environmental consequences of our actions online until I came across the humorously-named TweetFarts.com, which serves to generate awareness about CO2 emissions from social media, particularly Twitter.

From their website:

TWEETS GENERATE CO2

The energy it takes to send a tweet generates .02 grams of CO2. With 500 million tweets sent daily, a total of 10 metric tons of CO2 are emitted per day.

How is this possible? Well, all information online is transmitted through large data centers which contain thousands of servers and require an enormous amount of electricity to run. It’s the act of powering these servers with electricity that produces the CO2.

TweetFarts has a search function that enables visitors to track the CO2 emissions of various hashtags. Since at the time of this writing the college basketball playoffs have recently begun, I decided to track #MarchMadness. I found that in just one day, 1,334.56g of CO2 had been emitted from 66,728 tweets. In the past seven days, 4,411.36g of CO2 from 220,568 tweets. And over all time of #MarchMadness’s existence, 8,115.72g of CO2 had been generated from 405,786 tweets. That’s like driving nearly 20 miles by car!

What can be done about this? Finding alternative ways to power data centers is one way to help. To that end Facebook has been among the companies leading the charge — in 2011 Facebook opened a LEED® Gold-certified data center in Oregon powered in part by solar energy, and it has plans to build a data center in Sweden that will run almost exclusively on preexisting hydropower. Another way to help is simply in the way websites are coded — using leaner, more compact languages and scripts can help reduce CPU usage, which in turn uses less energy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to shut the computer down for a bit — all this CO2 production is making me feel guilty!

Were you as surprised as I was to learn about carbon dioxide emissions from the internet? Do you or your company have plans to alter your energy consumption because of it? Let me know in the comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *