With our interaction with the internet being often superficial or surface-based, the environmental impact of the internet can easily be ignored. After all, we never have an opportunity to see what makes the internet run, beyond the devices that use it and the routers and modems that support it.
As the concern over environmental change ever increases, it is important to ask if the tool that we use without thought is impacting the environment, as well as what we can do to help improve our own carbon footprint.
Modems and Routers
To begin with, let’s take a look at the devices that you use within your home that already are present. A modem is a device used by your internet provider to supply your home with internet. If you have a fiber connection, you will have an ONT box instead. The router is what directs your internet throughout your home. Most of us use a wireless router so that we can easily access the internet on our wireless devices.
The easy answer here is no. The modems and routers present in our homes are not causing any adverse environmental effects, outside of the plastic and production of them. The amount of radio output that these devices have is 100,000 times less than using a microwave. So you can safely peruse the list of best routers for Comcast or Spectrum without guilt.
The use of servers is essential to the operation of the internet and, unfortunately, they can be harmful to the environment. It is not that a server by itself is dangerous or harmful, but instead, the amount of electricity that is required to power the thousands of servers all around the world is harmful. It is estimated that the internet use causes the CO2 equivalent of 1.6 million petrol cars driven around the world every year.
Servers are the only way that we have that the internet can operate. They are essential to the process and cannot be ignored or dropped.
While we have so far focused on all of the negative impact that comes from the internet, let’s also look at the positive. The internet has eliminated the use of paper in many forms. Correspondence, either personal or work-related, is now done electronically, without the use of ink and paper. This cuts down on the impact to trees as well as the production of ink itself.
Additionally, we no longer have to physically travel somewhere to see something or learn something. Much of what we need to know about can be discovered through the internet. We do not need to drive to the library to see if a book is in. We can look it up online first or can even download it digitally.
There are some steps that we can take to improve our overall environmental impact without losing the usefulness that comes from the internet. Working from home a day or two a week is one possibility. Not driving into work will reduce the greenhouse gases produced by your car.
The other big help that we could do is to confirm where our power is coming from. Through the use of alternative energy sources, even for servers, we can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that are currently being produced from the sheer volume of servers. Sustainable energy solutions such as solar and wind are excellent options.
For now, all we can hope is that technology will produce servers that do not require the amount of power that is needed to work the internet. In our constant desire for faster, better internet, there is always a struggle to maintain the status quo. With that, servers of the future should hopefully be smaller and more energy efficient.
Until this kind of progress is made, however, we need to focus more on our carbon footprints beyond just the internet. Buying electric cars instead of petrol cars is one way, recycling is always necessary, and purchasing items second-hand rather than new can help reduce your carbon footprint overall. This is a universally team effort, however, and it is going to take all of us to succeed.