Mar 31, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Your coronavirus-fueled Netflix binges won't cook the planet

Illustration of polar bear walking in front of a TV with the Neftlix logo
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An International Energy Agency analysis finds that carbon emissions linked to streaming video aren't a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but are nonetheless important to track as use grows.

Why it matters: Streaming video is one of the few entertainment options for those living under coronavirus lockdowns. Even before the crisis, services like Netflix and Hulu had ballooned in use.

Catch up quick: "[C]ontrary to a slew of recent misleading media coverage, the climate impacts of streaming video remain relatively modest, particularly compared to other activities and sectors," writes IEA analyst George Kamiya.

What they did: Kamiya unpacks a widely circulated study by the Shift Project, which claimed that streaming video created about 300 million tonnes of CO2 in 2018 — an amount Kamiya notes amounts to emissions from all of France.

  • The size of your carbon footprint created by watching a half hour of Netflix is equal to driving roughly 200 meters in a standard car, Kamiya found — and even that figure can drop, depending on if your region uses more low-carbon energy.
  • What's more, rising internet traffic has not increased data centers' energy consumption.

Yes, but: Although laptops, phones and TVs are becoming more efficient — as well as data centers and networks — it's increasingly likely that tech will be unable to offset growing data demands from 5G and machine learning.

The big picture: Americans almost doubled their streaming consumption from 2018 to 2019, and are poised to continue that pace as movies are released directly to streaming services to entertain those staying at home.

Go deeper: 10 ways coronavirus is changing energy and climate change

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