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Monday, August 16, 2010

The Hidden Cost of the Internet

By Margaret Deller, Extension Specialist

  • In 2009 247 billion emails were sent daily (Radicati Group)

  • One tree makes 8,333 sheets of paper (Conservatree)

  • Assume that every email sent to one person would use only one sheet of paper if printed, One tree = 8,333 emails

  • Divide the 247 billion emails by 8,333

  • 10,819,032,761 trees saved every year just by sending emails

10,819,032,761 trees! Just by sending emails! Yea for the internet! What a great win for the environment! We are so green! Right! Right?

Every action we complete in the virtual world has a measurable green house gas producing effect in the real world. In fact, according to Dr. Alexander Wissner-Gross, an Environmental Fellow at Harvard, just reading this post this far will produce 100 milligrams of carbon dioxide. Not a lot and definitely less than producing and distributing a paper version. But do you know someone else who has read this post? Do they read slower than you? Did you forward or download it? All those actions have effects as well. Jay Walker, the founder of, in his December 2008 TED Talk said the energy in one lump of coal is what it takes to move 1MB of information on the Internet.

  • Average song is about 3.5MB

  • Average video 750MB

  • With the energy in one bag of charcoal you can download 57 songs or 25% of a movie.

  • A single Google search produces .2 grams of CO2. This includes only the energy used to receive the request, get the answer, and send it back to you.

  • A single avatar in the Second Life virtual reality requires 1752kw of electricity per year; almost as much as an average live Brazilian.

By themselves one Google search, one song download, one YouTube video viewing, or one avatar not so bad. It is the additive effect of millions or billions of each of these actions we need to pay attention to.


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