HomeBlogHow the Internet Uses Fossil Fuels and How to Use It in a More Sustainable Way

How the Internet Uses Fossil Fuels and How to Use It in a More Sustainable Way

August 9th, 2022

Summary: Because so much of the internet takes place, well, somewhere else, it’s easy to imagine that there are no consequences for the network. Sadly, that’s not true. We’ve got the scoop on how the internet and devices need carbon, why cryptocurrency can be bad for the environment, and how you can reduce your virtual footprint.

It’s easy to think that “going paperless” is an automatic, big-time win for the environment. And while you’re probably familiar with keeping an eye on data usage for your phone plan (or if you’re still with a provider who has fiber internet data caps…) you may not think about the fact that everything we do online needs data. And that data has to be powered by something.

Beyond the actual fiber, cable, and other wires that are laid in the ground for your wired internet access, even wireless functions (like WiFi and the cloud) require some carbon dioxide. Plus, there are data centers and server farms that support the internet and the content we access and store.

So let’s get into the numbers and how you can reduce your (virtual) footprint.

How Does the Internet Require Carbon Emissions?

The internet was touted as an eco-friendly solution, especially in the early 2000s when it was really taking off. But moving tons of data, and data storage, online isn’t 100% eco-friendly. Keeping everything running requires energy, and that’s typically in the form of greenhouse gases. Whether it’s keeping your own devices running or keeping the entire cloud running, energy is expended all the time.

Here’s what that looks like, according to Climate Impact:

  • The global IT sector is third in the world for electricity demand — behind only China and the U.S.
  • A carbon footprint of 3.7% worldwide, which is similar to the airline industry’s footprint
  • A footprint predicted to double by 2025
  • The average website produces 1.76 grams of carbon dioxide per page view
  • The average email produces 4 grams of carbon dioxide
  • Sending an email with a large attachment produces roughly 50 grams of carbon dioxide

Plus, things like server farms require energy to make the thousands of computers they store run. But they also require air conditioning, fans, and more to prevent anything from overheating.

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How Do Your Devices Require Carbon Emissions?

In addition to everything that powers the internet, your devices themselves also have carbon emissions. Precious metal is used in smart devices for everything from copper wiring to batteries to those microchips there always seems to be a shortage of. For most devices, aluminum is the most popular material because that’s what the outside case is made of.

And to get these materials out of the ground, it requires things like underground mining, open pit mining, and placer mining. When electronic waste is thrown away, materials that were more accessible in the existing devices must be dug up all over again.

So when you are done with your device, be sure to find an electronics recycling center near you or see if the manufacturer has any trade-in offers — it’s one easy way to reduce your footprint and get rid of some clutter.

Is Crypto Bad for the Environment?

Just like going paperless, it might seem like cryptocurrency is the next logical step in our connected world. But even virtual currency comes at a price. So why is crypto bad for the environment? The answer is complicated, but here are a few drawbacks:

  • Mining cryptocurrencies requires a huge amount of computational power. We’re not just talking about a higher electricity bill for one month. In one year, Bitcoin alone consumes more energy than the entire countries of Venezuela or Finland, according to the University of Cambridge.
  • Individual transactions are environmentally pricey. Even if you’re just spending cryptocurrency, the eco-price tag can be high. According to Digiconomist, a single Bitcoin transaction requires about one million times more carbon emissions than the same transaction using a Visa.
  • It requires rig farms. Similar to server farms, rig farms are massive undertakings that work to mine the coin fastest and require space, cooling mechanisms, and lots of electricity. Because of the popularity of cryptocurrency, a single personal computer working to solve a hashing problem will probably not find anything.

Illustration of a person pumping "gas" into their cell phone, with clouds of CO2 emission in the background

While crypto generally costs a lot to the environment, there are opportunities in the future to create more environmentally-friendly currencies or for companies and miners to move towards renewable energy to power the equipment. We’re hopeful that things will change.

How Can You Reduce Your Footprint Online?

A large portion of our lives take place online these days, and going completely off the grid is not a real choice for so many people. So how can you build more eco-friendly digital habits? Here are a few of our favorite tips.

Switch to Fiber Internet

When it comes to fiber vs. cable internet, fiber is the clear winner. Bonus: it’s more environmentally friendly than cable internet. Fiber wires take less energy to send data than copper wires and need to be replaced less often.

Plus: fiber networks can withstand more temperature fluctuations than cable and can be submerged in water, making it more resilient in extreme weather events. EarthLink Fiber Internet is the solution you need. With speeds up to 5 Gigs and plans starting at $59.95, what’s not to love?

Tidy Up Your Digital Life

Clutter doesn’t just pile up on your dining room table (or that one chair in your room). It can pile up on your devices, too. Getting rid of unused or unwanted photos, downloads, and apps makes a difference to the amount of power you’re using and reduces the space you’re using for cloud storage. It even makes things easier to find, so that’s a win-win.

You can also unsubscribe from mailing lists. You’ll have less clutter in your inbox and you can rest easy knowing that you’re saving at least 4 grams of carbon dioxide every time. Looking for more tips? We’ve got five tips for a digital declutter.

Stop Mindlessly Scrolling

Whether you’re doom scrolling or just killing a few minutes in line, it’s super easy to pick up your phone. But every time you click on a link, watch a video, like a post, or conduct a search, you’re using energy. Try reaching for something else while you wait or setting timers to interrupt the rabbit holes you may have fallen down.

Who knows? You might even realize that you’re less stressed or have a few minutes back in your day!

 

Wherever you’re at in your sustainability journey, fiber internet is one way to keep moving forward. You can use it to get connected with great causes and ideas all while using less energy than cable internet. If you’re ready to find your home internet plan today, call our Internet Experts at 866-383-3080.

Michelle Ricker

Michelle Ricker

Michelle Ricker is the Content Marketing Manager for EarthLink. She's an internet expert who loves to break down why connectivity topics are relevant to everyday life. With more than five years of writing experience, she thrives on storytelling and well-placed punctuation. She graduated with her M.A. from the University of Cincinnati but currently lives and works in Atlanta.

See all posts from Michelle Ricker.