The footprint of the internet, a tragic loss and moving earth with spacecrafts
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Dear Climate Pioneers
Did you know that the internet causes twice as much emissions as the aviation industry? When I first read this here, I said wait a moment, what is the carbon footprint for this publication? These are the stories for today:
Digital footprint: The CO2-emissions for sending emails and running websites
Knowledge snack: Carbon offset and carbon removal
How they do it: Logitech will carbon-label all their electronics
Best picks: Mourning a pioneer
Crazy future fantasy: The crew who moved the earth
Spoiler: the digital footprint of this publication has been removed with a soil carbon certificate and I got to visit the site of the sequestration (more about the dirt that stores CO2 in the next issue).
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The footprint of websites, emails and videos
Just like greenhouse gases, the internet seems immaterial. The climate impact of the virtual world is very real though. Digital technology currently contributes 3.7% of global GHG emissions, twice as much emissions as the aviation industry.
As kids we were told to clean up our own backyard first. But can I calculate the digital footprint not just for this publication, but for different channels of Project Oasis? And how to track it over time? It’s trickier than I thought. Let’s start.
Websites: There’s a tool for establishing the footprint of a website, right? Kind of. The website carbon calculator spits out between 0.04g to 1.49g of CO2e(carbon dioxide equivalents) as amount produced every time someone loads a particular page of projectoasis.ch. The calculator also states that the average website produces 1.76 grams CO2 per page view.
Email: According to the Carbon Literacy Project a standard email causes 4 g CO2e. Fun fact: the source of this number is Mike Burners-Lee, the brother of the inventor of the internet, Tim Burners-Lee.
Video: the footprint numbers for streaming videos vary too. Geroge Kamya’s fact check calculated 0.056-0.114kg CO2e per hour, contra 0.42kg CO2e by a study he cites and the 3.2kg CO2e established by the Shift Project. Video is a rapidly growing format and represents 20% of the total digital footprint.
And that’s not all. Even though we listen no longer to music on plastic discs, streaming music has actually a worse footprint and is responsible for emitting 200-350 million kilograms of CO2e in the US alone. This podcast estimates to emit in average 1,160 kilograms of carbon dioxide per 30-minute episode they produce. Plus, think about mobile apps (1250kg CO2e for a year's phone usage at 1 hour per day) and web searches (0.2 grams of CO2e for each query). Downloading a file of 500 megabytes results in 0.61 kilos of CO2 emitted. For further reading, this book, guide and magazine are dedicated to the topic of web sustainability.
As the internet use will unstoppably increase, we will hopefully also increase in energy efficiency and decrease the environmental impact of the web. In the meantime, what can users and creators of web services do about it?
After optimizing to the best, I can remove the rest. There are two options for compensating the footprint: removal and offset.
Knowledge snack: Carbon offset and carbon removal - eat less or stock more?
To limit temperatures at +1.5 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels, already-emitted CO2 must be removed from the atmosphere. The difference between carbon offsets and removals is, that offsets reduce emissions and removals take them out of the atmosphere. If the carbon budget was a pot, offsets are like eating less and carbon removals are like adding more to it. We need to do both, eat less and add more to the pot. Depending on the success of our diet, hundreds to thousands of gigatonnes of CO2 will need to be removed in the coming decades. Luckily there are a number of negative emission technologies.
To remove the footprint from this project and publication, I choose soil carbon sequestration. It belongs to the most promising climate solutions with an annual capture potential of up to five gigatons. And has benefits that resonate immediately with someone like me, who is biased from growing up on a farm. I found a company called Carbocert and bought a soil carbon certificate for 1 ton of CO2. It compensates for the following actions:
671’140 pageviews with 1.49g per visit or
250’000 emails with 4g per delivery or
2’380 hours of video with 420g per hour of streaming
That’s not all. My browsing footprint analyser, also estimates an hourly average of 30g of CO2e for the last 80 hours of work. A ton would provide 33’333 hours of carbon neutral work. But how can I keep track of the carbon footprint? Basically I need to do accounting of website traffic, video views, email opens and online work. Here is a demo of a website certificate and monitoring page.
Since July 20 running channels of Project Oasis produced 6.40471Kg of CO2e. This publication alone has generated 32.43g of CO2e so far from views and will add at least another 108g for the emails sent with this issue.
The “How they do it” section explores how businesses are tackling climate change
How they do it: Logitech launches a carbon label
Logitech’s customers can soon read product carbon footprints on the packaging. The firm will roll out carbon footprint labelling on all their products. The first labels will appear on gaming products later this year, as was announced in their press release.
“Just like calories went on the packaging in the food industry years ago, we believe that carbon content level should be a choice factor for the consumers who are interested in it,” Logitech’s CEO Bracken Darrell in The Verge.
Logitech works with several third parties to back-up their internal calculations, one of which is iPoint. According to Martina Prox from the iPoint group “the biggest value in communication related to sustainability is credibility and transparency, therefore further documentation on the calculation rules used by Logitech can be expected."
The “Best picks” section presents selected articles, podcast and videos
Best picks: Forecast, fruits and tragedy
The future of carbon removal
The Economist published an article that forecasts three things:
Oil companies turn towards carbon capturing activities.
International marketplace for carbon credits will emerge.
Biggest concern remains how securely carbon dioxide is stored underground.
Apple announces carbon neutral supply chain by 2030
Apple CEO Tim Cook pledges on Twitter: “By 2030, Apple’s entire business will be carbon neutral – from supply chain to the power you use in every device we make. The planet we share can’t wait, and we want to be a ripple in the pond that creates a much larger change.” You might also want to meet the woman behind the mission.
A true climate leader lost his life in the fight against climate change
Swiss scientist Konrad Steffen fell into a crevasse in Greenland’s melting ice. On August 10 his institute announced his death. What a sad loss! Steffen leaves a clear call to action behind "Make your contribution – big or small – to create the difference."
The “Crazy future fantasy” section provides a fictional short story
Crazy future fantasy: The crew who moved earth
We write the year 2048 and the world is about to miss the climate targets by far. The head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declares "despite all the efforts, we simply haven't made an effective breakthrough to stop global warming". Hope is fading and surrender is near. People are about to accept the inevitable apocalypse. Amongst the very few who remain hopeful is a subunit of a space agency, that has mastered interplanetary mobility in the meantime, but strongly desires to keep a link to earth. The subunit discovered that a tiny change of the planet's position would result in a cooling factor. People came up with tons of crazy ideas: attach earth to the moon, shoot it with a meteorite rocket or hit it with a giant wrecking ball. It is 3th February 2049 when the first attempt is taken to pull planet earth with seven cargo spacecrafts. The mission crew launches the heavy Space Invaders X32. At 4100 feet the captains ignite a boost that should move the earth by 1 meter north and alter its temperature and future forever. Less than a year later we see positive effects. Temperature starts to normalize. The mission is accomplished. For now.
In the next issue: The dirt that stores CO2
Wolfgang Abler, Joe Santo and Benjamin Zweig are obsessed about the soil. In the next issue they will answer seven questions about soil carbon sequestration.
Besides the main story, Knowledge snack, How they do it, Best picks and another Crazy future fantasy will wait for you. Subscribe now, if you want to receive the next issue. Together we can help reverse climate change.
About the author, the project and the publication
My name is Samuel Bühlmann and combining ecology and business is my passion. I still know little about climate action. But every day I’m learning something new and I get better in finding questions worth answering and stories worth sharing. I served in large and small companies, launched an organic meat brand and worked for a farmers newspaper. I studied international management and information systems, where I recently delivered a thesis on a platform to remove carbon and help reverse climate change. At Projectoasis.ch we support executives in climate action that positively affects their business and the planet. Climate Pioneers is our first service. Every month readers receive freshly filtered findings at the intersection of business, sustainability and climate change. I think we are living in fascinating times and I'm thrilled by the idea to build bridges between capital, climate and the community.