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Fast-forwarding climate change: Emissions from the energy that powers video streaming services are piling up fast | Image: ViewPoints

Big Story: Streaming videos fast-forwarding climate change

France-based The Shift Project has finally shed some light on how your online binge-watching habits are impacting the environment. New research that quantifies emissions from online activity revealed that about 80% of online emissions (or about 400 MtCO2eq) can be attributed to conferencing and video streaming services such as YouTube, Netflix, Hotstar, Skype — and porn sites. Noting that just 10 hours of high definition video content packs in more data than the English text articles on Wikipedia, the study makes a case for ‘digital sobriety’ and a drastic cutting down on unsustainable online video consumption. Worryingly though, the industry is nowhere near its peak. According to an industry growth report by PwC, the global online Video on Demand market is set to grow by over 60% to $72.9 billion by 2023.

While the web’s carbon footprint has been an elephant in the room for some time now, proliferation of smartphones have made its environmental costs much harder to ignore. Early perceptions of the internet’s environment friendliness are finally becoming myth as it climbs its way to becoming the world’s fourth-largest emitter — behind China, the US and India — if taken as a country. Online emissions are especially ominous for India, arguably the most prominent driver of the expansion of the internet. The country’s user base has more than doubled since 2015 to 560 million in 2018, and is expected to reach 627 million in 2019. This means that currently one in every eight internet users is Indian.

India’s online video subscription market already stands 10th in the world and is expected to grow further by over 23% every year to reach a value of Rs10,712 crore by 2023. While being celebrated as a success of the government’s Digital India scheme, it cannot be ignored that India’s digital energy consumption is also set to increase by 16% year-on-year in the same time period. And yet, there has been no discussion on what this might mean for our future emissions budget. With the Indian government, among several others, busy drawing up plans for 5G networks — which will enable even more data transfer at much faster speeds —  it is only a matter of time before these concerns cease to be a matter of choice.

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