Sunday, April 14, 2024

Digital Footprints: Truths and Woes

by Zarelle Glen Dorothy A. Villanzana | January 28, 2022

Did you know that a small act as walking to your destination can already help combat climate change?  Lessening the use of fuel to start a vehicle provides a significant step towards sustainability. Through this, fewer gases from the vehicles’ exhausts are emitted into the atmosphere, which will help in inhibiting what we call the “greenhouse effect”. 

The greenhouse effect is the entrapment of the sun’s heat on Earth that provides us ‘favorable’ warmth, while also protecting us from the radiation caused by greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. What causes the rapid warming of the globe is the production of these gases, too much so that it endangers other living organisms.

We emit carbon almost in a routine manner, from our breathing to the consumption of various products. An estimate of all the carbon emissions released in the process of creating and consuming a product would be what we call our carbon footprint. From cooking food to riding vehicles to using electricity, we leave a significant amount of carbon footprints, collectively affecting the environment. 

But other than these activities, one that is not commonly known to have a direct impact is our usage of the internet. The digital space indeed affects the physical world. According to The Shift Project, our digital footprint accounts for 3.7% of global carbon emissions, more than the 2.5% carbon emissions of the entire aviation industry, and is set to double by 2025. Sending a single email could emit 4 g of carbon dioxide (CO2), 54 g if attachments are included; watching a video emits 0.2 g of CO2 per second, so an hour spent would result in 720 g of CO2. That’s a lot considering the number of people indulging in media these days.

Carbon Footprints at the Height of the Pandemic

The pandemic saw a significant rise in online activity. Thus, the amount of carbon emission has also increased which contributes greatly to climate change. A 2021 Elsevier study projected that if current pandemic-fueled actions continue through the end of 2021, the world could see an additional 34.3 million tons of CO2 and other greenhouse gases emissions. 

Almost three years into the pandemic, the state remains fairly unchanged, from typical Zoom meetings to online correspondences involving document and email exchanges.  More hours have also been spent scrolling through social media, and application usage and bandwidth overload became a present online trend. All of these cost energy, and with energy consumption comes the amplification of the greenhouse effect. Unless the supply of energy is sustainable, there’s a bigger portion of harm being done to the environment.

Despite a seemingly hopeless situation, this doesn’t mean nothing can be done. We can reduce our footprint even through small things such as lessening screen time, charging only when necessary, limiting the number of emails being sent (not to mention, avoiding the “reply-all” button), disconnecting unused devices or game consoles, and turning off anything that still consumes energy when not being used, like light bulbs or the television.

Non-fungible Tokens and Cryptocurrency

Not only has our lives shifted to virtual work and school, but technology has opened up more possibilities for this current normal to grow further with internet currencies going mainstream. 

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the use of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have recently gained traction, and there are ongoing debates whether they should be considered the future of finance.

For starters, a non-fungible token is proof of ownership over a digital art piece. The concept was to allow digital artists to assert originality over their works in a world of duplicates. Artist and programmer Memo Akten estimated that an average transaction specifically for NFTs has a carbon footprint of about 48 kg of CO2. Compared to the traditional way of mailing an art print, the carbon footprint of NFT transactions goes up to 14 times more.

Cryptocurrency, meanwhile, is a type of digital money that can be converted into real money just as if it were another country’s currency. As interesting as this may seem, with technology, it doesn’t always look good under the surface. The ‘mining’ process consists of high-powered computers working day in and day out. Figures provided by the Cambridge Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index stated that the annual electricity consumption of Bitcoin is greater than the overall energy required to power all the tea kettles in the UK for 29 years. And to think, Bitcoin is just one of the thousands of cryptocurrencies currently in use.

Second to Bitcoin is Ethereum, where a single transaction’s carbon footprint is at 33.4 kg of CO2, according to Digiconomist’s estimates. Ethereum, however, plans to transition entirely to a proof-of-stake method in 2022, which is said to reduce its energy use by 99.95%. Rather than using a competition-based mechanism like proof-of-work, it chooses who gets to ‘mine’ at random, so it doesn’t require as much computational power since it works similar to a lottery. Other cryptocurrencies are also available, taking a more sustainable approach. And if one were to ever try out investing in these digital currencies, it is good to weigh the pros and cons first, making sure the cons don’t outweigh the benefits.

With almost everything going digital, it is necessary to also put energy into thinking about how technology could offer a better chance of regression rather than progress if we continuously undermine their impacts on the planet. It is significant for one to mull over the thought of whether this technological boom could soon lead to our doom, as our planet proceeds to suffer for our leisure.

Sources:

Arshad, M. (2021, May 5). Are Cryptocurrencies Harming the Environment? Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future. https://earth.org/are-cryptocurrencies-harming-the-environment/

Carlsen, C. (2021, December 14). 3 Environmentally Friendly Alternatives to Bitcoin. The Motley Fool. https://www.fool.com/investing/2021/12/14/3-environmentally-friendly-alternatives-to-bitcoin/

The Hidden Carbon Footprint of the Internet. (2021, September 8). EcoCart. https://ecocart.io/posts/the-hidden-carbon-footprint-of-the-internet

Proof of Stake Definition. (2021, December 17). Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/proof-stake-pos.asp

Qiu, J. (2021, May 5). What Are NFTs, And What is Their Environmental Impact? Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future. https://earth.org/nfts-environmental-impact/

Reducing Your Digital Carbon Footprint in the Wake of COVID-19. (2021, June 18). Berkeley Boot Camps. https://bootcamp.berkeley.edu/blog/reducing-your-digital-carbon-footprint-in-the-wake-of-covid-19/

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Latest articles