Here's how watching YouTube, Netflix and porn is taking a toll on the environment

Netflix and porn are gouging away at the world's natural capitalAP


  • Video streaming platforms and online porn account for two thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions from video energy consumption.
  • Videos are responsible for 60% of the energy consumption by digital technologies in the world and digital technologies produce more greenhouse gases than the airline industry.
  • Video is poised to grow rapidly in the next few years, which is only going to make the problem worse.
Watching videos online might not feel like a climate change event, but digital technology — your smartphones, TVs, data centers and computers— emits 4% of the world’s greenhouse gases. That’s double of what the airline industry is responsible for.

Streaming videos on Netflix, watching porn and scrolling to YouTube is the main reason why, according to Shift Project — a French non-profit think tank on climate change. Online video consumption accounts for 60% of the emissions from digital technologies.

If you add, Skype and live TV streaming to list, then the contribution from video jumps up to 80%.

Watching videos online accounts for 60% of greenhouse gas emission from digital technology

Video-on-demand (VoD) platforms — like Netflix and Amazon Prime — take the biggest chunk of the pie, accounting to a third of the 300 million tonnes of carbon dioxide produced by the world’s internet video traffic in a year.

Video on demand (VoD) and porn account for two-thirds of the emissions from video consumptionShift Project

Porn isn’t far behind pushing nearly another one-third of those emissions at 82 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

To put this in perspective, the amount of greenhouse emissions from porn as the same as the residential sector in France. And a VoD’s emissions are at par with the country hosting the COP35 this year — Chile.

Together, their greenhouse gas emissions rival those of nations like Bangladesh, Nigeria or even Belgium.

It’s only going to get worse

Video is the heavyweight champion of tech use — and its here to stay. The VoD industry is expected to boom to $72.8 billion, doubling its current growth, by 2023 according to a study by PwC.


Most of that is because of how Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and other streaming services have popularised video on demand — partially due their ‘addictive design’. This means that broadcast platforms are specifically built to maximise the amount of time that a user spends watching videos, like the promise of an unlimited library and the autoplay feature.

Where VoD services are maximising watch time, there has been a boom in new platforms broadcasting porn online. VoD still have a paywall that poses as an entry barrier, but porn is mostly available for free and is simple to navigate.

And with 5G coming into the picture soon, PwC points out that data consumption will sky rocket to 4.4 quadrillion MB by 2023.

The way forward

Video is a dense medium of information. And, more of video that there is, the more is stored on data centers, transferred through terminals and pushed out via networks.

The only way to control the rapid increase in video consumption is to bring is digital sobriety, according to the Shift Project. They recommend bringing in regulation to restrain video consumption by changing how VoD platforms are designed and building awareness around how watching video online is having an impact on the environment.

But, as we wait for this to come into public debate, users can download the Carbonalyser Firefox extension that shows your internet browsing carbon footprint by comparing it to miles driven in a car.

See also:
It has been 6 months since India banned more than 800 porn sites — but people are still using loopholes to get around it

Facebook and Google know what porn you're watching, even when you're in incognito

Netflix with about 5% market reach in India is hoping that Shahrukh Khan's Betaal will win more viewers without having to cut prices
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