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The Average Internet User's Carbon Footprint

Researchers say that the average Internet user spends a whopping 3,230 hours online every year. That equates to 40 percent of all waking hours or, put another way, over nine hours online everyday. And that's just the average person.

Stream of digital data
Digital data transmission.

The researchers conducted a life-cycle assessment of all the infrastructure and electricity required to underpin the online activities of this average person, breaking down the 3,230 hours of digital content consumption per year, that included 730 hours of web surfing, 894 hours of social media, 833 hours of video streaming, 566 hours of music streaming, and 207 hours of video conferencing on smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktop computers, and televisions.

The researchers explain, in their paper published in Nature Communications, that the average Internet user’s digital consumption results in the emission of 229 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year. Doesn't sound like much, does it?

However, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, if we are to limit global warming to 1.5 °C, each individual's annual carbon budget should be kept down to just 501 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year. Therefore, the average Internet user is gobbling up 41 percent of their budget.

But there is some good news in the report. Electricity - for both manufacturing and operating electronic devices - is the biggest contributor to the climate impact of Internet use. So decarbonizing the electrical grid is a powerful strategy, with the potential to slash the carbon footprint of digital content consumption to just 12 percent of each person's annual carbon budget.

If your electricity isn't being sourced from green sources, what could you do to limit your carbon assumption. Two quick tip: don't watch everything in HD and don't say thank you. “If each British adult would abstain from sending out a “Thank you” email, we would conserve more than 16,000 tons of CO2 per year - equal to 81,000 flights from London to Madrid. Are really all the emails we send necessary?” says Anneli Ohvril, of Digital Cleanup Day.


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