The real problem with your Netflix addiction? The carbon emissions | Arwa Mahdawi | Opinion

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Binge-watching Netflix doesn’t just fry your brain; it may also be frying the planet. The streaming service’s global energy consumption increased by 84% in 2019 to a total of 451,000 megawatt hours – enough to power 40,000 average US homes for a year.

Netflix disclosed these figures in its inaugural environmental, social and governance report, noting it matched 100% of its 2019 non-renewable power use “with renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets”. While these may help the brand, they don’t address the inconvenient fact that our love of streaming has unfortunate side-effects – most of which we are only starting to comprehend.

Digital technology has ushered in an age of inconspicuous consumption. It is easy to understand the environmental impact of buying “stuff” or flying across the Atlantic. It is harder to wrap your head around how much energy it takes to fly data across the web. We may feel that we are consuming less thanks to the internet, but digital technologies account for more carbon emissions than the aerospace industry, according to a study by the Shift Project, a Paris-based thinktank. Transmitting and viewing online video accounts for a large portion for this, generating nearly 1% of global emissions. Similarly, a study from the universities of Glasgow and Oslo found that streaming music has led to “significantly higher carbon emissions than at any previous point in the history of music”.

Being a conscientious consumer does not mean you have to turn off your wifi or chill with the Netflix. But we should think more critically about our data consumption. Apple already delivers screen-time reports; perhaps tech services should start providing us with carbon counts. Or maybe Netflix should implement carbon warnings. Caution: this program contains nudity, graphic language and a hell of a lot of energy.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian columnist

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