How we battle climate change: a few ignorant questions

(Once again, apologies for lateness.)

This week a fairly depressing and urgent IPCC report was issued  – see here:

We can try to battle climate change by challenging the government and campaigning for better insulation, more wind farms etc.

And/or we can try to battle climate change by reducing our own (our family’s, our company’s etc) carbon footprint. Some people argue that the second is useless in comparison with the first, and that even encouraging the second lets the government off the hook, but I don’t agree.

When we’re trying to reduce our carbon footprint, we in the West are constantly given a few key messages: fly less, eat less meat, turn down your thermostat. Shower rather than bath, use public transport or buy an electric car, dry clothes outside if possible. Whether any of us could do more here is our own issue.

But I haven’t noticed many people talking about internet use. Maybe it’s just that I don’t look in the right places. Is there a simple place I can go for the Idiot’s Guide to my questions?

For example:

  • Which uses more energy, traditional radio/TV or radio/TV accessed via computer or phone (or is there no difference?) Which consumes more energy: terrestrial TV, cable TV or Netflix?
  • Which uses more energy, watching a programme live, or watching it later via iplayer (or is there no difference?) Is there a practical difference between this and watching something live-streamed to the net?
  • If I download something, then I can go back to it. So if it’s likely that I will want to do this, is it better to download than stream?
  • What about podcasts?
  • Which is most energy-efficient: listening to a CD, listening to the playlist I’ve made on my phone, downloading a song? (Obviously this depends in part on how often I want to listen to that song.)
  • Which consumes more energy: watching a Youtube church service (for example) after it’s been put up, or livestreaming it? What about the production energy costs of each?
  • I believe a hard drive has a limited memory capacity, which therefore means the electronic data I store may fill it up, and I may have to delete old items. If I store items on the cloud, this appears to have infinite capacity, but isn’t it in fact “stored” in huge energy-guzzling bases in California or somewhere? If so, why am I encouraged to waste energy by storing everything on the cloud? Can I avoid doing this?
  • Is deleting old emails good for the environment as well as tidy?
  • If I have several different web-pages or documents open at the same time, does it use more energy than just one? What if some documents are minimised?
  • Does it take more energy to send or copy an email to ten people than to one? Which uses more energy: to “reply” to a long email chain, or to start a new chain? (I’ve heard people ask recipients not to print the long chain, but that’s different.)
  • I read somewhere that Google searches use less energy on a phone than a laptop (why?) I try not to do internet on my phone. What about Google searches on a desktop?
  • It seems likely that I am using energy every time I click or stream anything online. So shouldn’t we start limiting our viewing of Youtube videos, our Likes on social media and our downloading of family photos to the world?
  • What about posting Christmas cards versus sending electronic ones?
  • Online meetings are plainly much more eco-friendly than lots of flying. But could they be more eco-friendly? How do they compare with long email chains between committee members?
  • Since it seems plain that bit-coin mining serves no purpose other than a) to make people rich without work; b) to encourage gambling; and c) to waste colossal amounts of energy, why hasn’t it been banned? Where are the campaigns?

And finally:

  • Why am I almost never challenged by environmental campaigners not to use the internet and the cloud more than I can help?

(Please no one feel they need to use their time painstakingly answering all the questions above. There probably is an Idiot’s Guide…)

Love from the PPI Blogger


1 Comment
  • Stephen Hall

    14th April 2022 at 8:45 am Reply

    I’m afraid I don’t know the answers to your very sensible questions Penny, but I have wasted my money on battery operated digital radios in the past, which (it turns out) use five times more power than AM/FM radios. They’re basically mini-computers. I was changing batteries every other day.

    So now I listen to the radio (and increasingly podcasts) over my phone via Wi-Fi. Which may be even worse, but I don’t notice so much as I’m not constantly having to replace batteries.

    On the subject of batteries, these are themselves terrible for the environment, whether of the replaceable variety (AAs etc) or embedded as in your mobile phone. I assume it’s much better to own and use devices that run directly off mains power (e.g. desk top computers) rather than via battery power (e.g. laptops), but I don’t know.

    On the general point, I agree with the worthwhile-ness of taking personal action on climate change. It may make little difference in the scheme of things (as could equally be said of voting) but it does make it easier to live with yourself.

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