Our online digital photo hoarding is carrying a heavy carbon cost
New research has shone a light on the carbon emissions generated by the sheer amount of photos Brits are taking on their phones.
It’s believed that for every photo posted online, we’re taking five more and keeping them saved on our Google Photos or Apple iCloud accounts.
These reserves take up storage space on server farms that, in turn, contribute to the spiraling carbon emissions that humans are producing.
According to the study carried out by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET), the glut of digital photos accounts for over 355,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions every year.
The researchers say that’s the equivalent to the entire population of Chelmsford flying to Australia and back.
They surveyed 2,000 Brits and found just a quarter of respondents delete additional shots they take, leaving millions of identical images being added to storage every week.
And for those that do delete their excess pictures, fewer than one in six (16%) say they do this for environmental reasons (i.e., to reduce the burden of energy needed to power servers used to store our data dumps).
Reports suggest the carbon footprint of our gadgets, the internet and the essential systems supporting them account for 3.7% of global greenhouse emissions – on par with the airline industry.
And, shockingly, these emissions are predicted to double by 2025.
According to the IET research, Brits dirtiest data habits include:
- Failing to delete duplicated pictures from our phones (69%)
- Using two or more devices at once (almost 60%)
- Passive streaming – focussing on another device when streaming TV/ video content (52%)
- Failing to clear archives from messaging services e.g., WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger (63%)
- Holding onto old text messages (56%)
Chris Cartwright, chair of the digital panel at the IET said: ‘We’re really pleased to see the public becoming increasingly engaged in environmental debates. We want people to feel empowered to get involved and play their own part in tackling climate change and contributing to the journey to net zero.
‘Until now, a lot of the noise on carbon emissions has been focused on the big contributors – the aviation, transport, and food industries – or costly and disruptive solutions such as solar panels, micro-generation, storing energy using power walls and heat pumps. But the story doesn’t stop there.
‘In our ever more connected lives, the data we now rely so much on also comes with a hidden carbon cost. Unsurprisingly, most of us don’t realise that our use of cloud storage means huge, power-hungry data centres are needed.
‘The vast majority of data in the world today has been generated in the past two years; a trend showing no signs of slowing. This is why we all have a responsibility to change our habits.’
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