Climate Crisis: The Unsustainable Use of Online Video
July 15, 2019 5:49 AM   Subscribe

Is Netflix bad for the environment? How streaming video contributes to climate change - "Driving an electric car, choosing train travel or using less plastic — we know there are many things we can do to be less of a burden on the world's environment. But would you be willing to give up on streaming video?"

An unsettling perspective: In 2018 ...
  • Online video viewing generated more than 300 MtCO2, i.e. as much greenhouse gas as Spain
  • Pornographic video viewing generated more than 80 MtCO2, i.e., as much as all France's households
also btw...
  • Training a single AI model can emit as much carbon as five cars in their lifetimes - "In the last two years, the NLP community has reached several noteworthy performance milestones in machine translation, sentence completion, and other standard benchmarking tasks. OpenAI's infamous GPT-2 model, as one example, excelled at writing convincing fake news articles. But such advances have required training ever larger models on sprawling data sets of sentences scraped from the internet. The approach is computationally expensive—and highly energy intensive."[1]
  • AI is changing the entire nature of compute - "Modern neural networks such as OpenAI's GPT-2 are over a billion parameters, or network weights, that need to be trained in parallel. As Facebook's product manager for PyTorch, the popular machine learning training library, told ZDNet in May, 'Models keep getting bigger and bigger, they are really, really big, and really expensive to train'. The biggest models these days often cannot be stored entirely in the memory circuits that accompany a GPU."[2]
  • Neal Stephenson Explains His Vision of the Digital Afterlife - "PCMag: Then there's the quantum computing aspect. Bringing these quantum server farms online that can simulate the whole connectome of firing neurons, and scaling that up to thousands and millions of soul processes. In the context of all the other tech you've brought into this book, it doesn't sound all that farfetched. What are some of the other applications you envision being possible when we finally unlock true quantum computing?"[3]
  • NS: A big controversy that I didn't really want to touch on in this book, because it would have been just a red herring, is whether brains are quantum. Is the brain strictly a classical system, or do you need to use quantum mechanics in order to explain what the brain does? One thing we do know about quantum computers is that once we can get them to work, which is no small task, they will be unbelievably fast and increase available computing power by orders of magnitude compared to traditional computers.

    It was clear that in order to tell any kind of remotely plausible story about simulating a whole world, bringing back all of these scanned connectomes, and getting them all working, is that it would take a completely ridiculous amount of computing power above and beyond anything that we've got now. So the notion of widely available quantum computing server farms was sort of my explanation for how that could ever happen.
posted by kliuless (73 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
 
The connection between the Stephenson stuff and the climate stuff seems a little thin; is the implication that quantum will somehow be less energy-intensive?

The resource-consumption impact of always-on, on-demand services has been obvious from the get-go, and it's weird in 2019 how often it still feels like an intervention to point it out.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:00 AM on July 15 [11 favorites]


Get In your car and go rent a DVD, for the environment.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:11 AM on July 15 [51 favorites]


It's worth noting that Netflix at least buys carbon offsets for its electricity use.
posted by pinochiette at 6:18 AM on July 15 [21 favorites]


would you be willing to give up on streaming video?

100 companies are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The solution to climate change is not for individuals to stop watching Netflix.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 6:19 AM on July 15 [157 favorites]


We could start by banning cryptocurrency mining, which is both incredibly wasteful and generally pointless.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:20 AM on July 15 [108 favorites]


Treating the IT sector as a single monolith obscures the fact that companies in this area can be wildly different when it comes to using RE. Of the 4 Big SV giants:

* Apple's global facilities run on 100% clean energy and they have committed to getting there for their whole supply chain (report)
* Google's global facilities run on 100% clean energy
* Facebook is committed to going 100% RE by next year

Whereas Amazon has been accused of abandoning their committments to 100% RE.
posted by gwint at 6:24 AM on July 15 [19 favorites]


Watching a movie on Netflix obviously has a carbon footprint, but how does it compare to other replacement activities?

Some time ago I read an article (maybe here) about the carbon cost of video games. I ended up investigating and found that playing video games for an hour has roughly the same carbon footprint of driving 0.5 miles (this would be a game making full use of a modern graphics card on a PC, not mobile gaming which is much less). That's higher than I probably would have guessed, but also means that any replacement activity that involved driving would certainly be higher.
posted by justkevin at 6:25 AM on July 15 [11 favorites]


I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Video cassettes fly off the shelves of Blockbuster. CRT beams glitter in the dark near the cowboy doors. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
posted by furtive at 6:27 AM on July 15 [20 favorites]


A couple of years ago, I saw a study that calculated you'd have to stream an album 19 times before it caught up with the carbon footprint of buying it on CD. If I recall correctly, that didn't include the carbon burden of shipping the CD.

Netflix says their combined power use, direct and indirect, was about 200,000 MWhs in 2018. Spread that across their 139 million users, and that's about 1.438 Kwh per user.

That's approximately 0.01% of what the typical energy customer in the US uses.
posted by Foosnark at 6:35 AM on July 15 [39 favorites]


100 companies are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The solution to climate change is not for individuals to stop watching Netflix.

I really find this framing unhelpful, as if those companies live in some sort of walled off part of the world from the rest of us-- most of those companies are either oil, coal, or gas extractors. That's because there is demand for oil, coal, and gas! How do we reduce demand? Here are the three simple steps to solving global warming:

* Push governments at every level (national, state, county, city and town) to pass laws with 100% RE goals (look what New York State just did!)
* Push companies (maybe even one you work for!) to draft goals for 100 RE use (like these companies have!)
* Push yourself and your family to work towards reducing your CO2 footprint

Notice how these steps don't solely blame either companies or individuals but also empower people at the same time?
posted by gwint at 6:38 AM on July 15 [29 favorites]


My first thought. Oh come on dammit, can I do anything without effing up the environment?????

TBH I think that these types of articles about "this innocuous thing you do is bad for the environment too" are, intentionally or not, taking our eye off the worst offenders that ultraviolet catastrophe pointed out.

We need to stop acting like the solution is that we all individually make sacrifices while the big polluters are ignored. Yes, we all do need to think about our impact, but that alone won't get it done.
posted by jzb at 6:40 AM on July 15 [49 favorites]


The energy consumed by training AI models can easily be made fully renewable as this is an example of dispatchable load - it can be run when there is a lot of renewable power being generated. I would not be surprised if the supervisory and scheduling systems used by large tech companies already do this because timing when you use power makes a big difference in cost. In areas with a lot of renewable generation, there are hours when the cost of power falls to almost nothing on a wholesale basis and large consumers can get wholesale pricing and pay per half-hour period.

100 companies are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The solution to climate change is not for individuals to stop watching Netflix.

Exactly. The solution to climate change is not for individuals to do that or indeed any individual action. Humans have developed sophisticated technologies of social organisations called governments to solve problems like this and to enforce collective action. The most moral thing individuals can do is to vote, donate, organise, and lobby to move their governments to act.

That same logic also applies to companies though. Even though, contra Romneybot, corporations aren't people my friends. They'll do what they're told, whether that is through the banning of certain activities, taxes, cap and trade systems, changes to tax systems.

A small number of people buy their electricity from 100% renewable providers in the UK but it took regulatory action to set prices on carbon (and rules on non CO2 emissions) to remove coal from the power mix. British CO2 emissions are now down to what they were in 1890. Even adjusting for the movement of energy intensive industries elsewhere (for which less data is available) it's a massive reduction.

That didn't happen because "companies" suddenly decided to be nice - something that an amoral paper construct can't do anyway - it happened because we changed the law.
posted by atrazine at 6:49 AM on July 15 [6 favorites]


We need to stop acting like the solution is that we all individually make sacrifices while the big polluters are ignored.

This is totally true. Individual user choices are not going to solve this problem. In fact, we're well beyond the point where the problem can even be solved. Our commitment to warming extends at least 40 years into the future, meaning even if we miraculously cut all carbon emissions to zero today like Thanos' snap, we have 40 years of increasing warming already built into the system.

And individual choices aren't the problem. The entire economy is built on using carbon, and unless we have major systemic changes (likely needing to be imposed through governmental regulation and intervention), none of this ever gets solved.

A lot of data centers are built (at least in the part of the country I live in) near hydroelectric generation dams which means they are using power that is nominally clean, and that's good. But other than taking a walk and growing food in your garden, I don't think there's anything that anyone does that doesn't somehow involve carbon-based damage to the climate. That's how we've structured our global civilization.
posted by hippybear at 6:53 AM on July 15 [6 favorites]


christ i don't care anymore i'm ready for the meteor
posted by poffin boffin at 6:55 AM on July 15 [8 favorites]


Climate change defeatism is ultimately no different than climate change denialism.
posted by gwint at 6:57 AM on July 15 [15 favorites]




Climate change defeatism is ultimately no different than climate change denialism.

Other than one acknowledges the truth and the other doesn't.
posted by hippybear at 7:03 AM on July 15 [11 favorites]


Saying individual action doesn't matter is akin to saying voting doesn't matter.
posted by grumpybear69 at 7:04 AM on July 15 [11 favorites]


Climate change defeatism is ultimately no different than climate change denialism.

Other than one acknowledges the truth and the other doesn't.


Yeah but ultimately the results are the same: inaction and the status quo. So in that sense they are the same.
posted by kendrak at 7:07 AM on July 15 [8 favorites]


Take all the actions you want, we still have 40 years of warming built into the system even if we stop all carbon emissions right now. The point is, mitigation is great, and we should all be doing that, but the idea that we will somehow stop the apocalypse by our actions taken today is blind to the facts. We've had warnings about this for generations, and now that we're actually seeing the problems, we have another generation or more of effects even if everything mitigates right now, which it won't.

The climate isn't a legislative body. Voting one way or another about it won't matter. These are things which are built into the system and we keep feeding into the system, and it won't stop even if we stop everything right now because of how physics works.

You can shout me down all you want, but unless it's realized that we have a serious problem that will continue into the future and plan for that, it won't matter what is done today. We have decades of what was done yesterday that has lingering effects.
posted by hippybear at 7:12 AM on July 15 [10 favorites]


100 companies are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

This is such misleading and unhelpful framing. This is only true if you decide that when a bitcoin miner decides to use a crapton of electricity to generate virtual monopoly money, all of the associated emissions can be attributed entirely not to the miner, not to the power company, not to the coal plant, but to the guy who dug up the coal. That whenever someone decides to roll coal in a stupid vehicle with the engine intentionally tubed to run dirty, that is 100% the fault of oil companies, not the driver, not the car companies, not the petrol station, but the refineries. 100% attributable to the original extractor.

That is not what people believe they are being told when they hear that "100 companies are responsible for 70% of global greenhouse gas emissions" any more than they want a murder prosecution for lead miners when someone shoots someone else.
posted by Dysk at 7:17 AM on July 15 [18 favorites]


The claims about the environmental burden of internet traffic are just sort of tossed out there without much support or justification, and without comparison to alternatives, to history, or to what they might offset. They have a whiff of inappropriate cost-accounting about them. I don't think they're very convincing.

You can certainly tally up the electric consumption of the entire internet and divide by the users to get a per-capita consumption figure; but it doesn't follow that one user turning off a video or deciding not to upload a few photos will produce one per-capita unit of savings, or even any measurable savings at all.

This concern about the environmental impact of online video in particular seemed familiar to me. As it turns out, some years ago there was a post here about a study whose authors claimed YouTube was gobbling up huge amounts of electricity, and I thought (in my not-even-an-armchair-engineer way) that their numbers were also fishy. That study turned out to be sponsored by motivated parties.

Personally, I think there are plenty of good, less-technical reasons stop watching so much video, to stop obsessing over our phones so much. If you find it useful to tell yourself you're saving electricity by turning that junk off, that can actually be true. Go ahead. But if it's your desire to be ecologically conscious, you'll have to consider the impact of what you're doing instead, too.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:20 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]


Like, according to that logic I could steal an oil tanker and set it on fire, and the smoke would be 100% not my fault, entirely ExxonMobil or whoever.
posted by Dysk at 7:21 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Umpty-billion people simply living generates umpty-trillion tons of umpty-bad. Any time you multiply by umpty-billion whatever it sounds bad, and it’s a cheap way to generate clicks/outrage/whatever. Streaming video is somewhere near the bottom of the pack as far as carbon footprint goes. I am not quite ready to move to the brave new future where all fun is banned.

I am also not ready to say the world is ending. As usual, people will do what it takes to muddle through. Hopefully with a little more foresight than usual, and hopefully without requiring me to amuse myself playing solitaire with real cards ... like an animal.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 7:22 AM on July 15 [10 favorites]


New study suggests streaming music leads to at least 200 to 350 million kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions (Rolling Stone, May 2019)

It's a medium-length article that serves as something of a preview from a forthcoming book (MIT Press) on the environmental and human capitol that goes into making music media.


See also -- Vinyl revival: is there an environmental cost to record sales? (The Guardian, May 2019)

A rare case that breaks Betteridge's law of headlines --
With production processes largely stuck in the late 70s, the production process is decidedly anti-green. It involves toxic acids, huge amounts of energy including steaming and cooling, and the records themselves are typically PVC, a plastic thought to be carcinogenic, which is due to be banned by the EU.

Foosnark: A couple of years ago, I saw a study that calculated you'd have to stream an album 19 times before it caught up with the carbon footprint of buying it on CD. If I recall correctly, that didn't include the carbon burden of shipping the CD.
If you listen repeatedly, a physical copy is best – streaming an album over the internet more than 27 times will likely use more energy than it takes to produce and manufacture a CD.
BBC - Future - How streaming music could be harming the planet (February 2019)
posted by filthy light thief at 7:22 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Saying individual action doesn't matter is akin to saying voting doesn't matter.

Except that the message that individual action is ever going to be a meaningful part of dealing with climate change (and pollution generally, before that) has long been pushed by large organizations to deflect their own responsibility. Long as in longer than I've been alive, and I'm someone who predates the Internet.

They're really entirely different things. Individual action does help with things like littering, which are at their root caused by individuals. Our dependence on fossil fuels has been engineered, it is not the result of people making choices in a vacuum.

Many people have trouble acknowledging the situation for what it is because it requires that they examine where some of their long held beliefs originated from, which can be quite uncomfortable given who has ended up benefitting from the activism that sprung up as a result of said manipulation.
posted by wierdo at 7:29 AM on July 15 [16 favorites]


Of *course* individual choices matter, but personal sacrifice is not the way to think about our choices. Taking the train instead of flying, or taking public transport instead of driving, matters mostly because it creates demand for trains and public transport. Companies like Apple and Google buy clean energy because their customers give them incentive. Both create demand for, and therefore drive, cleaner technology.

Sorry to be all market-y about it, but since we have governments that won't do enough (or in some cases, anything (or in some cases, seem bent on deliberately making things worse)), this seems like the only alternative way to drive change, and it does work. Nobody can tell me that a company being in the market for a medium country-sized hunk of clean energy doesn't affect the way we generate energy.

Voting by consumption habit is neither ideal nor democratic. And in a healthy system, government action would reflect both fact and informed public opinion. And electing people who are committed to action is still important. But in the meantime we have what we have, and those click-baity "each google search uses enough energy to make a cup of tea" studies are not helping at all.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 7:36 AM on July 15 [5 favorites]


Without strong governmental action in the form of forcing the current status quo to change in a way that will probably cause immediate economic upheaval (meaning pain and agony and nothing the public will want) but will be good in the long term provided we have the will to "get there"... nothing will change.
posted by hippybear at 7:40 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]




To be fair the US military has more funding allocated to it than most countries. Not that these two issues are concurrent, but they are both unaddressed scandals.
posted by hippybear at 7:43 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]


To be fair the US military has more funding allocated to it than most countries.

They're an undemocratic, unconstrained emitter that we're not allowed to criticize. They're central to the problem, and are never part of the conversation about solutions.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 7:50 AM on July 15 [6 favorites]


It should be noted that in the US, strong governmental action is beginning to take place, but at the state level rather than nationally. For obvious reasons.
posted by gwint at 7:54 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Reduce audio and video copyright to 7 years. Implement local municipal media servers akin to public libraries. Allow, nay, encourage download for local replay.

If we're gonna blame individuals' Netflix use for climate change, I say we ought to smash our copyright down to a reasonable length of time. For the environment.
posted by explosion at 8:09 AM on July 15 [15 favorites]


Netflix says their combined power use, direct and indirect, was about 200,000 MWhs in 2018. Spread that across their 139 million users, and that's about 1.438 Kwh per user.


My rooftop solar panels generate that much in 20 minutes during midday production. As ultraviolet catastrophe said, there’s a lot more places to look for carbon emissions reduction potential than people watching Stranger Things.

Also, on the military derail, yes, they do emit a lot, but they’re taking steps to at least do something. The base near here has several different patches of land that are covered in solar panels. Not just a token amount of panels, we’re talking somewhere around 20-30 acres just on this one base. Luke AFB also has a bunch.
posted by azpenguin at 8:13 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Saying individual action doesn't matter is akin to saying voting doesn't matter.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:04 AM on July 15 [2 favorites +] [!]


IDK, if (acknowledging Dysk's point that this statistic isn't really correct but using it in my hypothetical) my vote counted once and 70% of the vote went to 100 corporations I'm not totally sure I'd vote either. I think individual action matters a lot on a local level and we should be building supportive and intentional communities, and I also think that on a large scale collective action matters and, if cutting out streaming works for you, awesome! But it's not a substitute for regulating/dismantling/smashing the entities that disproportionately both create and, by externalizing the costs of climate change onto the rest of us, benefit from it.
posted by an octopus IRL at 8:13 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]


My rooftop solar panels generate that much in 20 minutes during midday production. As ultraviolet catastrophe said, there’s a lot more places to look for carbon emissions reduction potential than people watching Stranger Things.

It also doesn't take displacement into account. How does watching Netflix compare with VCRing a TV show and watching it later, because that's what would have happened pre-Netflix. I'd bet that a lot of these sort of headlines are seeded by corporate interests for the FUD factor. After all, if the average consumer can be made to feel guilty for watching Netflix, they're less likely to attack the Exxons of the world for their role.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:19 AM on July 15 [9 favorites]


Saying individual action doesn't matter is akin to saying voting doesn't matter.

Individual consumption decisions don't matter, individual decisions to organise, lobby, and vote do matter. That's because the latter are designed to scale, 5% of a population effectively organised around a political goal is an extremely powerful force that can bring the full cooperative and coercive machinery of the state to bear on a problem. 5% of the population making personal consumption decisions that halve their footprint (inherently really hard to do as an individual) is a much smaller impact.

Every big problem humanity has faced so far has been addressed through some form of collective action. Whatever useful things we are able to do to slow or mitigate the damage done by climate change will come through the same mechanism.
posted by atrazine at 8:27 AM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Climate change defeatism is ultimately no different than climate change denialism.

lol okay
posted by poffin boffin at 8:29 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Honestly, I feel like this is about as impactful as the stupid drinking straw bans.

Vote and pressure your government. Pressure Amazon to make AWS as green as possible. But if you want to do something on a personal level, look at your heating, cooling and lighting first.
posted by Foosnark at 8:36 AM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I guess anything that uses power is inherently environmentally unfriendly unless you're at 100% RE already. Even then, it's probably not great because the manufacturing of your devices has a carbon footprint; when you throw them away, they become waste; who knows what's going to happen to the battery, etc.

In TFA, there's a breakdown of what devices consume what percent of energy in the IT sector and a breakdown of what percentage of video streaming comes from Netflix vs. porn vs. YouTube. (note: I've only read the first article, so maybe I'm missing something there) I'd really like to see:

1) a percentage breakdown of personal carbon usage - like what percent comes from driving, computer use, etc. I realize this probably varies wildly based on commute times, mass transit, and general lifestyle. But if I'm trying to be responsible by lessening my carbon footprint, what should I tackle first - my computer use (which, by the way, is going to be my career as a developer)? My commute? Power-hogging appliances?

2) A percentage breakdown of computer activities by power use. Web browsing, crypto-mining, gaming (offline and online), video streaming, AI training.

Also, from TFA: "The power amplifiers have a low electrical efficiency, which means that about half of the energy used for data transmission is lost as heat," said Stobbe. "The most efficient transmission technology is fiber-optic cables, which transmit signals by light."

Cable companies can, I don't know, actually help a whole lot by improving existing Internet infrastructure, both saving power and boosting our garbage speeds? Not that I'm holding out hope with that one.

Conclusion: This article uses "you care about the environment, but would you millenials give up your sacred NETFLIX???" as outrage-clickbait. Yes, streaming video does take up a lot of Internet bandwidth, and thus takes a lot of power to do. Yes, it's probably definitely better for us all if we do it less. But I find it pretty disingenuous to say that we need to quit watching so much video to halt climate change in its tracks.

well i guess i'm awake enough to do that technical writing assignment, time to quit procrastinating i suppose
posted by scruffy-looking nerfherder at 8:36 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]


Climate change defeatism is ultimately no different than climate change denialism.

lol okay


No, really. The effect is absolutely the same. Denialism says "it's fake, why change?" Defeatism says "we're fucked, why change?" And as we've seen it harder and harder to deny, the same voices have slowly changed their tune to defeatism.

When you say "we're fucked, why change?" you're throwing in with the people who put us in this mess. Even if we can't fully fix things in our lifetime (or even 10 lifetimes), the incremental difference between what we can see and what happens if we don't try is worth the effort.
posted by explosion at 8:45 AM on July 15 [11 favorites]


Is the concern that personal actions will be ineffective, or that when confronted with the prospect of having to make significant lifestyle sacrifices, the average American will produce a range of responses from refusal to hostility that will color their voting record on environmental policies that could reign in corporate pollution?
posted by Selena777 at 9:09 AM on July 15


How much carbon is released by refreshing the average uspolitics thread once? If only we had these conversations by chiseling them into stone tablets and sending them to each other via courier we'd save the world
posted by XMLicious at 9:18 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Watching a movie on Netflix obviously has a carbon footprint, but how does it compare to other replacement activities?

[stares off into distance in porch rocking chair, moving toothpick around mouth with tongue]
posted by clawsoon at 9:20 AM on July 15 [12 favorites]


I can't figure out if I need to just burst into insane Joker-like laughter whenever I remember that fucking cryptocurrency mining uses SO MUCH FUCKING ENERGY.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:24 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]


The connection between the Stephenson stuff and the climate stuff seems a little thin; is the implication that quantum will somehow be less energy-intensive?

Even in his recent book, the "quantum computing" stuff is just mostly a McGuffin to get us from our current computer age into the "Hell Yeah! Singularity here we come!" computer age. I guess there is the climate impact of "what use to take up a whole building, now fits in your pocket", but mostly it was just a way to show that our computing resources now had rocketship growth compared to we'd consider normal today. Whether or not our brains did some sort of quantum computing didn't really come into it.
posted by sideshow at 9:48 AM on July 15 [2 favorites]


[the market] does work.

*looks around* It does?
posted by praemunire at 9:50 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


It also doesn't take displacement into account.

Exactly. To accomplish what I do on the internet would take vastly more resources offline. I completely agree with using devices as long as you can, using wifi instead of mobile, not streaming in HD to my phone's screen, downloading music I play frequently (Spotify handles that automatically I think) and some of the other recommendations in the article, but those things already make economic sense, 'cause a lot is just saving mobile bandwidth and not buying new crap, and I'm cheap.

Anything electrically powered can be fueled by renewable power sources, including Netflix and the intertubes. I rent. I have to take what comes off the grid. Every possible thing in my house is electrified, hotplates and furnace included, I can fix stuff and rarely buy new, I recycle and compost when I can get away with it, I'm slowly but surely going vegetarian, I don't own a car, I take the train long-distance... I'm doing the best I can with what I have. I can't help anymore, beyond pressuring government and companies to do better, which means yelling at the internet (I guess doing that in text saves the planet a little?). I'm sorry, but that's all I got left.
posted by saysthis at 10:14 AM on July 15 [7 favorites]


You can shout me down all you want, but unless it's realized that we have a serious problem that will continue into the future and plan for that, it won't matter what is done today. We have decades of what was done yesterday that has lingering effects.

Cool. So because future generations consumed resources and polluted like there was no tomorrow, then we shouldn't do anything to try and have a tomorrow? That's probably realistic but hella fatalistic and a pretty shitty message to send to future generations. "Sorry kids, we really fucked it all up and there's no hope for the planet, but it's too big of a problem to change so I'm not going to make any individual sacrifices or change my behavior because I'm powerless."

I agree that we need to pressure industry and governments to switch to renewables and to be less wasteful. But that doesn't absolve individuals from pushing back on the market. It's overwhelming and hard and is a total bummer, but I feel like practicing some kind of mindfulness about your environmental impact - even if it's a hollow gesture - is ultimately better than saying "¯\_(ツ)_/¯".
posted by kendrak at 10:19 AM on July 15 [1 favorite]


This doesn’t apply so much for streaming video, which most people will only watch a single time, but if you listened to an album more than a couple of times, I expect that Spotify or Apple Music would try to cache a copy locally on your device, thus saving everyone involved a whole bunch of money in aggregate.
posted by adrianhon at 10:23 AM on July 15 [3 favorites]


In fact, we're well beyond the point where the problem can even be solved.
Climate change isn't a binary state. Our actions today can decide whether there's a 2°C temperature increase and a famine that afflicts 1 billion people, or a 4°C temperature increase and a famine that afflicts 2 billion people (or whatever those numbers turn out to be).

These are grim numbers either way, but I'll take less-bad over more-bad.
posted by adamrice at 10:32 AM on July 15 [17 favorites]


People talking about climate chaos, especially the newspaper coverage of things like this makes me realise our attitude to CO emissions is as clueless as Lucille Bluth's relationship to money. We're all very "I mean, it's one banana, Michael... What could it cost? Ten dollars?".

Using the financial analogy, we're all flat broke, but if we start properly cutting back, we'll only have to move into a slightly austere flat in a not so nice end of town. If we carry on spending like we are, we'll be combing through the rubbish tip that we all sleep on for scraps before we know it.

In this analogy, Netflix is a penny sweet we eat to make life on a budget liveable enough that we stick to it. And meanwhile we're mortgaging our house to buy Ferraris (analogous to, well, an awful lot of car use). This type of stuff sucks, and you can bet that at least part of the reason this is being pushed is to provide "balance" with criticism of manufacture of consumer goods.
posted by ambrosen at 10:57 AM on July 15 [6 favorites]


Climate change defeatism is ultimately no different than climate change denialism.

In the sense that defeatists and denialists are both dupes of the oil companies, two stages in the same strategy.
posted by straight at 11:05 AM on July 15 [4 favorites]


I can think of morally questionable activities (some legal, some illegal) that may never go away, regardless of whether I practice those activities. But that doesn't mean I should just go ahead and do those things.

I still haven't looked at this particular issue to my satisfaction. Maybe it's significant and worth acting upon. Maybe it's a strategy to divide left-wingers about climate change. Maybe it's a strategy to unite right-wingers in fear that we're coming to take away or (heaven forfend!) tax their Netflix. Maybe it's all or none of those things. I don't know.

But no one should expect the internet to be a perpetual machine, and no one should scoff at people willing to examine their own behavior and take personal responsibility for it.
posted by pracowity at 12:37 PM on July 15


Ban Netflix and plastic straws. (dusts off hands and strolls offstage)
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:54 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


But no one should expect the internet to be a perpetual machine, and no one should scoff at people willing to examine their own behavior and take personal responsibility for it.

I mean, I don't think anyone here is saying you have to use Netflix. I think probably the most obvious answer to try and save energy would be to download (legally or not) and play on your own hardware.

But, I have to admit, watching the Netflix I do in a year has less impact than my driving to the grocery store once or eating a single steak, as far as I can see. There are individual actions that may actually add up to a lot in the end, in terms of where we live, what we eat, how we commute. I think unless you've figured out how to do all of that without emitting CO2 (and I certainly haven't!), you're better off focusing on that and not worrying about your Netflix binge from time to time.
posted by thegears at 2:55 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I think this is a great research topic from a computer engineering standpoint. The global carbon footprint of online video is equal to the footprint of Spain. Just imagine that. So the megabits add up, especially in a way that's hard for individuals to relate to.

Like other externalities, consumers are not kept informed. This lack of transparency is dysfunctional and reflects the interests of greedy economy/corporations.

Supposedly, IT networks can reduce such emissions via spatial locality of data. The bad news is, technology historically does not change because of the environment, and worse, technological optimizations can backfire and increase consumption rather than decrease it. These points are emphasized in the EEB report the recent FPP.
posted by polymodus at 3:14 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


Exactly. To accomplish what I do on the internet would take vastly more resources offline.

Accomplishing things is what got us into this mess!
You know what barely uses any energy? Sitting around outdoors watching moss grow.

also cockfights, but those are pretty cruel
posted by aspersioncast at 3:29 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


I mean, I don't think anyone here is saying you have to use Netflix. I think probably the most obvious answer to try and save energy would be to download (legally or not) and play on your own hardware.
People streaming video are playing it on their own hardware. And they are downloading it. So net energy difference: zero. There are certainly other differences, like you don't have to pay Amazon if you pirated it, and you spent more time dinking around, and you (maybe) have a lower-resolution experience. If you watch it again, you save a little bit by not re-downloading it.

I'm still of the opinion that the idea that watching less streaming video and expecting a measurable effect is mostly slacktivism.
posted by Gilgamesh's Chauffeur at 5:11 PM on July 15 [3 favorites]


Netflix says their combined power use, direct and indirect, was about 200,000 MWhs in 2018. Spread that across their 139 million users, and that's about 1.438 Kwh per user.

IE: running a conventional electric dryer for about 20 minutes. Hang your towels to dry one time annually and you've completely offset the CO2 emissions your family created watching streaming media for a year.
posted by Mitheral at 5:19 PM on July 15 [10 favorites]


People streaming video are playing it on their own hardware. And they are downloading it. So net energy difference: zero. There are certainly other differences, like you don't have to pay Amazon if you pirated it, and you spent more time dinking around, and you (maybe) have a lower-resolution experience. If you watch it again, you save a little bit by not re-downloading it.


Wow, you are completely right--not sure how I messed that up. I think I was thinking of streaming music, where you might stream the same song 300 times instead of just downloading it once. That being said, I'd be shocked if Spotify et. al. were not big on caching, now that I think it through.
posted by thegears at 5:20 PM on July 15


If Spotify were doing local caching on user's machines for songs played repeatedly, this would have already hit the news because there are people out there who monitor disk usage and would see this happening.
posted by hippybear at 5:23 PM on July 15


Spotify does have this capability built in already though they don't use it this way. I know because I use Spotify in the car all the time via downloaded playlists. It would be an easy policy change to to cache a users top 400 songs or whatever seemed prudent. You could even make it opt out/in and sell it as a new feature to save data. Storage is cheap for the volumes involved.
posted by Mitheral at 5:35 PM on July 15 [2 favorites]


How much could they save the world if corporate journalism quit burning up the intertubes with contrived clickbait?
posted by Monochrome at 7:13 PM on July 15 [4 favorites]


Truly, it is as I have said all along: the dirt amphitheatre is the only sustainable entertainment, provided one reforests it after each performance.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:10 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


All the lights in my home are CFL's, LED's, or the two full-size florescents in my kitchen. My heat and my A/C rarely come on. The A/C doe not kick on till 80 degrees F, and the heat till 58 degrees F. (I live in the Puget Sound area and thus get to avoid the extremes that so many must face.) All my laundry is hang dried, and most of my showers are cold. I use public transit and a bicycle to get just about everywhere, excepting the occasional ride with a friend. My electrical and chemical carbon foot print are pretty damn small compared to my fellow Americans. The plus is that my power bill is fracking small. If I had the means I would cover my South facing roof in solar panels. Someday I will. I also feel downright justified to zone out for a few hours a week while I watch my streaming services. I also read a lot of books. If you want to find a lower carbon footprint activity, the nearest local used bookstore has options. If you want to support a candidate who has made climate change the main pillar of their campaign give Jay Inslee some love.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 9:06 PM on July 15 [1 favorite]


> So the megabits add up, especially in a way that's hard for individuals to relate to.

if everyone could see their carbon footprint -- and everyone else could verify it -- and reduction had a social value to it, which could be associated with a monetary value, it might be easier to relate to :P

that is, after all, the set up for a market in carbon credits -- one solution accounting for externalities -- driving efficiencies and societal optimization on mitigating environmental harm. being able to value, or put a(n appropriate) 'price'[1,2] on, non-rival, non-excludable public goods -- say, a climate conducive to human flourishing -- would, i think, be a remarkable civilizational advance, but it also shows the vast institutional gaps (lacunae!) which would need to be filled.

a price has the nice property that lets you compare apples and oranges -- but only along certain, let us say, market-oriented parameters which we now find limited and problematic (to say the least ;) but now, it seems, "data have largely superseded price as the most effective signalling mechanism in the economy" -- the megabits add up! what if, just speculating here of course, some of those (metadata) megabits were to include the metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MtCO2) to produce them?

a netflix stream from a server farm with electricity sourced from a hydroplant by the dalles, adjusted for salmon-run displacement (speculative!), would have a lower MtCO2 'cost' than one utilizing coal-based power, for example. what's neat is that if, collectively, we prioritized the data's -- or whatever activities' -- carbon cost (or environmental impact writ large, if that could be measured, and agreed upon ;) over its purely financial cost, then tradable carbon credits could (theoretically!) supplant money as societies' 'numéraire', kinda-sorta like how facebucks is trying to with monopolizing and monetizing your attention[3,4] :P
posted by kliuless at 11:49 PM on July 15



The extinction rebellion should not be streamed
- "Digital technologies now emit 4 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than civil aviation. Glaringly, they add, this share could double from now to 2025 because the energy consumption required for digital technologies is increasing 9 per cent a year."

Fortnite Is the Future, but Probably Not for the Reasons You Think - "The term 'Metaverse' stems from Neal Stephenson's 1992 novel Snow Crash, and describes a collective virtual shared space that's created by the convergence of virtually enhanced physical reality and persistent virtual space. In its fullest form, the Metaverse experience would span most, if not all virtual words, be foundational to real-world AR experiences and interactions, and would serve as an equivalent 'digital' reality where all 'physical' humans would simultaneously co-exist. It is an evolution of the Internet."

German renewables deliver more electricity than coal and nuclear power for the first time - "In Germany, sun, wind, water and biomass have so far produced more electricity in 2019 than coal and nuclear power combined. But it's a snapshot of a special market situation and might not be a long-term trend."
posted by kliuless at 1:49 PM on July 16 [1 favorite]


btw, the only reason that Germany isn't at 80% renewables instead of 60% as it currently is, is that they made a decision to phase out nuclear at the same time as attempting to transition to renewables. In 2002 they had 30% nuclear and now they have 13%. It was a horrible mistake, but even having done that the transition to renewables is an incredible achievement. (see energy-charts.de for all the data)
posted by gwint at 8:15 AM on July 17


There's an aggregate map of the carbon intensity of all the electricity grids which publish their data. It's live, but at 342gCO₂/kWh Germany's decidedly middle of the road for carbon intensity right now. Great Britain's at 253g/kWh and France is at 67g/kWh, for example. And New York and New England are at 307g/kWh and 332g/kWh, respectively.

The more people know how much CO₂'s being emitted for their electricity, the better, though.
posted by ambrosen at 9:01 AM on July 17 [3 favorites]


Also, get with the program, Queensland.
posted by ambrosen at 9:07 AM on July 17


That's a really cool tool, ambrosen, but it's weird that it's in real time-- it means that (if I'm understanding it correctly), unlike say a trailing 24hr or 7day dataset, countries where it is currently night show 0 solar, so doing real time comparisons to countries in different timezones is apples to oranges.
posted by gwint at 1:01 PM on July 17


ambrosen: There's an aggregate map of the carbon intensity of all the electricity grids which publish their data.

Funny to see Alberta on there. The new Conservative government mustn't have realized yet that they're on the map.
posted by clawsoon at 1:11 PM on July 17


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