Air Clean Up

  • Is Binge Watching Causing Pollution?

Is Binge Watching Causing Pollution?

Aug 27 2020 Read 1172 Times

The French government has signalled its intention to lead the way in cracking down on emissions caused by streaming videos and TV series online. According to Cedric O, Secretary of State for the Digital Sector, binge-watching videos is “a good place to start” when it comes to cleaning up the environmental profile of the French technological industry.

But rather than introduce taxes or levies onto streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, it appears O is more concerned with changing the attitudes and habits of everyday French citizens with regard to streaming content online. This, he believes, could help transform the country into a role model for others looking to reduce the carbon footprint from their digital sector.

Crunching the numbers

According to the environmental agency ADEME (which enjoys the backing of the French government), digital endeavours currently account for 4% of global carbon emissions. If current trends continue unchecked, that percentage could double within five years, as more and more of our interactions, transactions and leisure activities are taking place online.

As for streaming itself, it’s difficult to quantify the exact impact that the practice has upon emissions, but thinktank The Shift Project believes that it probably equates to around 1% of all carbon emissions from manmade activity. Using advanced air quality monitoring techniques, the thinktank estimated that online streaming was responsible for producing around 300 million tonnes of carbon in 2018 alone. For context, that’s roughly the same as the amount of CO2 generated by the entire country of Spain across all industries.

Charting a greener future

The French President Emmanuel Macron is preparing to unveil a €100 billion economic stimulus package aimed at revitalising the French economy and it’s believed that sustainability is set to form a core pillar of the proposals. While an increase in remote working has caused a corresponding drop in emissions from the transport and industrial sectors, a massive spike in streaming and other digital services could go some way to offsetting those gains.

Indeed, the European Commission has already been forced to step in and regulate streaming companies, albeit for different reasons. At the height of lockdown, the strain placed upon the telecommunications infrastructure was too great and the EC petitioned companies like Netflix to reduce the quality of their streams to compensate. With that in mind, it’s imperative that Macron’s government balances the technological revolution with environmental responsibility.

The situation presents many difficult challenges, including the uneasy relationship between urban air quality monitors and 5G communications providers, but it’s one which O is convinced France can emerge from stronger. “I don’t think this is something that can be fixed with a new tax,” explained O. “As consumers we need to learn to stop watching videos compulsively, the way we learned to shut off the lights or not to leave the water running.”


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