Did you know that your online activity could be contributing to pollution?
Recently, University of Wollongong (UOW) student Brady Moffat discussed with UOW student researcher Tara Whieldon on how the visual design and digital industry contribute to the pollution impact on the environment. He stated that the use of heavy websites and loading times for online activities are contributing to the carbonisation of the planet. From uploading to the cloud, distributing files, buffering content, Moffat discussed how all are drawing more energy and therefore increasing electric emissions.
Brady Moffat also highlighted how “the visual design industry, through graphic design, logistics and distribution, face the challenge of creating a cleaner, more energy-efficient future for the sector”.
Tara Whieldon explained the impact of decarbonising visual design to Brady Moffat,
“…say for example, website design. So, if you’ve got a website that has a lot of code, a lot of imagery, a lot of like… bright colours, it, the loading time to actually load that website is going to be obviously greater and during that is producing more energy. Which then, produces more carbon emissions.”
The cause of global warming is pollution. CO2 emissions have become more prominent as a contributor to global warming, and with the increase of technological developments, it is only rising. A study by Ahmed Usman, Ilhan Ozturk, Sana Ullah and Ali Hassan looked at whether Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have symmetric or asymmetric effects on CO2 emissions. Specifically looking at Asian economies, this study found that ICTs contribute to emissions in two ways. The first, is through the production of materials, such as metals and plastics, and the other is by using the internet, mobile devices and computers which increases energy demand and subsequently “lowering environmental quality” (Usman et al., 2021). The study looked at nine countries in Asia, and out of the nine studied, eight of them showed a significant correlation between ICTs and carbon emissions.
Another study which looked at Digitalisation and carbon emissions, specifically ‘how does digital city construction affect China’s carbon emission reduction’, found that carbon emissions are often produced by energy usage. The study explained that in areas of large urbanisation, population and Gross Domestic Product (GDP), CO2 emissions were significantly higher. Looking at areas in China with higher population densities and large urbanisation, the study showed that these areas have a significant correlation with CO2 emissions. Whilst the study argues that technology such as computers can play a role in reducing carbonisation it also reiterates that,
“Digital technology is based on electricity, and the development and operation of infrastructure such as cloud computing, blockchain, and data centres requires increasingly energy-intensive infrastructure, which in part leads to more carbon emissions. The information services-based digital sector is highly power-intensive, accounting for 10% of global electricity generation” (Yang et al., 2022).
By looking at these studies and through Mr. Moffat’s conversation with Tara Whieldon, it is clear that our online activity could be contributing to pollution. So, the next time you’re downloading that file or editing a design, be conscious of the potential environmental impacts it could cause.