Home Tech Think before you click and three more ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint | Koren Helbig

Think before you click and three more ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint | Koren Helbig

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 Think before you click and three more ways to reduce your digital carbon footprint | Koren Helbig

has been called “the largest coal machine on the planet” – and most of us use it countless times a day.

It is estimated that the Internet and its associated digital industry produce around Same annual emissions as aviation.. But we barely think about the pollution as we take 16 duplicate photos of our pets, which are immediately uploaded to the cloud.

This is the invisible downside of our online lives: the data we produce is stored and processed in gigantic, energy-intensive data centers spread around the world.

Over the past year I’ve delved deeper into digital waste and learned key ways we can reduce our digital carbon footprint.

1. Think before you click

Every document, photo, and email—even every “like” or comment on social media—travels through multiple, electricity-intensive layers of Internet infrastructure, including computer servers housed in incredibly large data centers.

“The largest data center on the planet… south of Beijing… has an area of ​​600,000 square meters, the equivalent of 110 football fields,” writes the French journalist Guillaume Pitron in his 2021 book, The Dark Cloud: How the Digital World is Costing the Earth.

Data processing within these “digital age factories” generates heat as a waste product, requiring air conditioning or chilled water systems (largely powered by coal) to maintain stable temperatures.

I started with small changes to reduce my data usage: unsubscribing from unwanted newsletters and deleting unused phone apps.

I also avoid turning on generative AI to get simple answers: use an estimate four to five times the energy from a conventional web search.

2. Clean up virtual clutter

Most of us accumulate thousands of old or unread emails and countless duplicate photos. Deleting them periodically can help reduce your digital footprint.

Many inboxes allow you to search by file size; I’ve gotten into the habit of periodically checking for “1 MB or more” and deleting all emails with large attachments that I no longer need. Searching by sender name allows you to bulk delete hundreds of marketing emails with a single click.

In my professional and personal life I take hundreds of photographs taken in RAW, a file format two to six times larger than JPG, so I am diligent about removing duplicates almost immediately.

Android and iPhone offer basic bulk deletion functionality for photos and files to “free up space.” Or try the GetSorted app, which breaks down photo cleaning tasks into doable chunks.

3. Minimize cloud storage

Next year the digital industry will become the fourth largest consumer of electricity in the worldbehind China, India and the United States.

To reduce my dependence on power-hungry cloud storage, I’ve gone analog. I store all my photos and files on password-protected hard drives, which only use power when connected. I back these up quarterly in two copies, one of which is stored at a friend’s house in case of a fire or theft at mine.

This helps me save money since I only pay for a cloud subscription, where I only store the files I’m working on.

That system can be a bit complicated for most, so regular cleanups of the files you choose to store in the cloud become more important.

4. Keep devices as long as possible

While it’s tempting to continually upgrade to the latest device, new devices come at a considerable environmental cost. The manufacturing of a smartphone, for example, accounts for around 80% of its lifetime carbon emissions, according to the United Nations Environment Program.

So the longer we continue using a device, the better. Refurbished phones and computers are becoming more common and IT community websites such as ifixit.com It can help you repair the products yourself.

Even removing cyber clutter can help extend the life of your device, according to Macquarie University associate professor of human geography Dr Jessica McLean.

“My computer was running slowly and my browser kept crashing,” he says. “It turned out that I had a lot of videos and large documents stored that were eating up a lot of memory. We deleted them and my computer started working again.”

But McLean, who wrote a book on the high environmental impact of digital activity, warns that the burden of digital pollution cannot fall solely on individuals.

“We need to be part of a systemic structural change,” he says. “And that means taking advantage of individual opportunities to intervene, but also demanding and expecting our governments to better regulate corporations and adopt carbon-neutral options.”

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