Climate change is now at fever pitch

November 1, 2022

Climate change is now at fever pitch

With the upcoming World Cup about to take place in Qatar, football pitches will be on the minds of many.

And while the competition is raising a number of important issues, including those of human rights and equality, the famous green playing surface should be making us think about another one too.

Did you know that the internet, for all its benefits, has become one of the world’s worst polluters?

It is responsible for 10 per cent of the world’s electricity use, a figure that is expected to double in coming years.

And because much of that is generated by fossil fuels, it means there is an enormous environmental cost.

Far from pitch perfect

At the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance, we have calculated that – every day – the emissions created by the internet is the equivalent of losing half a million football pitch-sized area of tropical rainforest.

It’s one of these statistics that sounds so incredible it’s almost impossible to comprehend.

But it’s true, and here’s how we work it out.

The data

A football pitch can hold around 300 trees – as was proved by this artist who planted exactly that number to make an environmental point recently.

A mature tree can absorb around 48lb of carbon per year.

That means a football pitch-sized mini-forest would swallow up about 6.5 tonnes of carbon over the course of a year – or just under 40lb per day.

Now, we already know that in 2021 the world generated 36.3 billion tonnes of carbon emissions, of which the internet is responsible for 3.7 per cent.

Sounds small, right?

Not when you realise that equates to 1.343 billion tonnes.

So let’s go back to football pitches, which can remove 6.5 tonnes per year.

You’d need 206.6 million of them just to tackle the internet’s slice of the world’s pollution.

That’s 566,000 every single day.

The equivalent of losing more than half a million football pitch-size areas of precious tropical rainforest with every 24-hour period that goes by.

That is what the internet is doing to our planet.

Looks can be deceiving

Society tends not to think of the internet as a contributor to climate change.

It looks clean – there is no smoke coming from computers or chimneys attached to data centres.

It simply does not fit our pre-conceived notion of what pollution looks like.

But the statistics don’t lie. When you account for the electricity consumed by end-user devices, transmission networks and data centres – across the entire world – the amount used is eye-watering.

We can take action to reduce this now, by cutting the amount of electricity used every time a web page is accessed, and by working with hosts which only use renewable energy.

We can also take responsibility for web emissions by investing in areas such as regenerative farming and rewilding as our website usage increases.

At the EFWA, we offer website owners a free audit to show them how they can take responsibility for their emissions.

Global events must lead to global action

The World Cup isn’t the only global event coming up.

World leaders are set to gather for COP27 in Egypt in the coming days to discuss how to reach net zero.

By picturing the internet’s emissions in football pitches, they will soon see where the real priority areas are.

Shane Herath

Shane serves as the Chair of the Eco-Friendly Web Alliance and a member of its Scientific Advisory Board. Shane regularly contributes to ComputerWeekly’s IT Sustainability Think Tank.,