Don't watch Netflix in HD if you want to save the planet, say scientists
Akarsh Verma December 3, 2020
With the advent of Reliance Jio 4G network in late 2016, the data prices dropped significantly in India. In fact, Indians enjoy one of the lowest data charges in the world. With dirt-cheap data prices, it is no surprise that streaming high-definition (HD) movies, shows, and music have become a common practice. However, one seldom contemplates the environmental impact of such reckless overuse of data.
According to research done by scientists at the prestigious Royal Society in the UK, HD video streaming on a smartphone generates about eight times more emissions than standard definition (SD). This number is especially important as on a small screen, the viewer might not even notice the difference between 480p and 720p streaming.
The authors of the report urged online platforms and regulators to limit streaming resolution and set the default to SD to reduce per capita carbon emissions and combat climate change. "Arguably decisions on limiting streaming resolution should be taken by platforms and regulators," the report says, rather than consumers.
The report adds that the digital sector's estimated contribution to global emissions ranges from 1.4% to 5.9% of the global total.
Another simple way to save energy, according to the report is for people to turn off their screens while streaming music if they're just listening and not watching, the authors say. They estimate such small moves could save up to 5% of the emissions from a streaming service, a reduction compared to what's achieved by running YouTube's servers on renewable energy.
The report further recommends ways that consumers, the government, and industry can reduce their impact on the sustainability of the planet.
Manufacturing phones, laptops, tablets, and smart TVs is a carbon-intensive process. However, people often replace their smartphones every other year or so. But keeping a mobile phone for two years means that the carbon emissions used in manufacturing represent about half of all of the emissions it will generate throughout its lifetime.
"If individuals keep their phones for four years instead of two, this contribution is halved," said the Royal Society.