But Hazas is more optimistic. “The carbon footprint of playing multiplayer games like Fortnite isn’t too bad,” he says. “They are designed to be responsive so they don’t require too much data traffic. For example, you get a position of a character on a map, or the fact someone’s shooting, but it doesn’t take too much data to communicate that.”
However, updating games is more carbon intensive. “Flagship games like Fortnite or Call of Duty require lots of updates so you’re looking at gigabytes every couple of weeks for downloads, which add new features.”
For those who enjoy flicking through their social media, there is some good news. It is arguably the least carbon intensive form of digital entertainment. According to Facebook’s sustainability report, a user’s annual carbon footprint is 299g CO2e, which is less than boiling the water for a pot of tea. But if you consider the platform has more than one billion users, that’s a lot of pots of tea.
It’s possible to save carbon by disabling some features for social media and other apps.
“We’ve found that app updates and automatic cloud backups are about 10% of traffic from mobile phones,” says Hazas. “So, switching off unnecessary cloud backups and switching off automatic downloads for app updates are good things to do.”
But while changes in our personal online behaviour will only take us so far, there also needs to be change within the industry to ensure that carbon emissions can be reduced, says Elizabeth Jardim, a senior corporate campaigner at environmental campaign group Greenpeace. The IT industry’s greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to reach 14% of global emissions by 2040 but at the same time the UN’s International Telecommunication’s Union has set the industry the target of reducing its emissions by 45% over the next decade.
“It’s more important to make sure the companies building the internet are switching to renewable and phasing out fossil fuels,” says Jardim. “That’s when searching will be more guilt free.”
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