We must educate ourselves and our youth about the cautious use of cyberspace. Our careless and redundant resorting to social media and e-communication apps enhances cyber traffic and causes digital pollution. It must be ingrained in our minds that unbridled use of anything triggers its auto-destruction.

It so happens very often that posts are shared at the drop of the hat without checking their validity, authenticity and originality. We are hellbent on being noticed, liked or commented upon. The following paragraphs would dawn upon us that we must observe restraint before it’s too late.

The staggering amount of energy needed to power the infrastructure and use of the Internet leads to more “digital pollution”. The entire ecosystem that revolves around the Web, including the devices used to navigate it, causes 3.7% of our planet’s total greenhouse gas emissions. This is greater than the number of gas emissions generated by the airline industry. Although a single email consumes very little (about 4 grams of CO2 if there are no attachments), this small sum must be multiplied by the more than 300 billion emails that are sent and received every day all over the world. The same is true for the 3.5 billion daily Google searches, and in general for all the more trivial activities carried out by 4.1 billion Internet users (53.6% of the population), which in the developed world are each responsible for producing around 80 kilos of greenhouse gases per year.

The most active email users can create 1.6 kilograms of CO2 every day, just by using email. The situation is more or less the same for other instant communication tools: a single tweet generates 0.2 grams of greenhouse emissions, while messages sent via WhatsApp or Messenger have a slightly higher impact than emails, although their frequency is much higher. Obviously, the number of attachments, photos and even emojis sent also plays an important role.

Over time, the relationship between technology and pollution has only become worse. By 2025, digital emissions will double, reaching 7%. It is estimated that around 2040 they will reach 14% of global emissions, slightly less than the energy consumed by all of the US. If we want to prevent our use of the Internet from further contributing to the climate crisis, the way forward must be digital sobriety.

Companies that use the Internet, especially the Web must play their own role in reducing cyber pollution. Auto-run option for videos must be removed. For music, MP3 must be preferred to MP4. Only low-definition versions of films and TV series must be allowed to be downloaded.

On an individual level, we must refrain from sharing unnecessary audio and videos. We should keep chatting and commenting on social media concise and precise. Binge use of social media should be shaken off. We should bank upon apps that run offline. For instance, instead of looking up word meanings in Google, an offline dictionary once downloaded can do what is needed. We should download videos if we want to multi-watch them instead of watching them online again and again.

If left unmonitored, this digital pollution would endanger the future of the digital world of which we are so proud now, in the same manner as environmental pollution has threatened our healthy existence on this earthly abode. The day is not too distant when we would be talking about digital smog. It’s high time that parents, teachers and media had started inseminating digital sobriety among all the internet users, especially our youth.



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