The World’s Digital Carbon Emissions Per Minute

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When you hear the words “carbon footprint,” you probably think of traffic-clogged highways, overused plastic packaging, and hallway lights left on all night. Maybe your company has gone paperless, using email and digital downloads instead to be more eco-friendly. Maybe you’ve started carpooling to save gas on your commute. Indeed, these are valiant efforts… but these activities are actually contributing to your digital carbon footprint. Check out the CO2 that some of our global daily internet habits emit per minute:

Global CO2 Emissions per Minute

Internet habit Usage per minute CO2 emitted per minute (kg)
Netflix Over 1.1 million hours streamed 4,120,000
Email 203.9 million emails sent 815,556
YouTube Over 694,000 hours streamed 4,167
Google 3.8 million searches conducted 760
Text messaging 16 million messages sent 160
Twitter Over 511,000 tweets sent 10

So, how can we think about that much CO2 in terms of a traditional carbon footprint? Based on the amount of CO2 each of these digital mediums produces per minute worldwide, you could also have:

Medium used per minute Equivalent to [X] Los Angeles to London flights (one-way) Equivalent to [X] cars on the road for a full year Equivalent to raising a child [X] times over
Netflix 2,497 896 11
Email 494 177 2.2

Of course, some actions have greater consequences than others. We’ve used some different comparisons to help visualize the impact of internet habits that emit less CO2, such as watching YouTube videos or sending tweets. Below are some more equivalents of our digital carbon emissions per minute:

Medium used per minute Equivalent to producing [X] plastic bags Equivalent to producing [X] polyester t-shirts Equivalent to producing [X] beef steaks
YouTube 20,833 758 139
Google 3,800 138 25
Texting 800 29 5
Twitter 51 2 0

But how did we work all of this out?

First, we researched the CO2 emissions of each individual medium (in other words, their carbon footprints):

Action Unit measure Amount
Netflix per 30 minutes viewing 1.6kg
Email per standard email 4g
YouTube per 10 minutes of viewing 1g
Google per search 0.2g
Text messaging per message 0.01g
Twitter per tweet 0.02g

Here’s an example of what we worked out, in terms of text messaging:

If there are 16 million messages sent per minute at the “emission cost” of 0.01g per message, this means that texting emits 160,000g of CO2 per minute, or 160kg. This is the equivalent in CO2 that 7 trees sequester in a full year, since each tree absorbs 22kg of CO2 per year.

Then, we found the carbon footprints that it takes to create each of the following items in kg and tons, to serve as a comparison:

Here’s the math for the rest of the mediums we’ve covered:

  • Netflix – since there are 1.1 million hours streamed per minute at the “emission cost” of 1.6kg per 30 minutes of viewing, then watching Netflix emits 4,120,000kg of CO2 per minute. This is the same amount of CO2 that over 187,000 trees will sequester each year.
  • Emails – since there are 203.9 million emails sent per minute at the “emission cost” of 4g per send, then emailing emits 815,556kg of CO2 per minute. This is the same amount of CO2 that over 37,000 trees will sequester each year.
  • YouTube – since there are 694,000 hours of YouTube consumed per minute at the “emission cost” of 6g per one hour of viewing, then watching YouTube emits 4,167kg of CO2 per minute. This is the same amount of CO2 that 189 trees will sequester each year.
  • Google searches – since there are 3.8 million Google searches per minute at the “emission cost” of 0.2g per search, this means googling emits 760kg of CO2 per minute. This is the same amount of CO2 that 35 trees will sequester each year.
  • Twitter – since there are 511,000 tweets sent per minute at the “emission cost” of 0.02g per tweet, this means tweeting emits 10kg of CO2 per minute. This is the same amount of CO2 that 0.5 trees will sequester each year.

Now, let’s take a closer look at each medium.

The Carbon Footprint of Netflix

netflix carbon footprint

Netflix had 167 million users at the end of 2019 – and as we’ve seen, Netflix streaming emits over 4 million kg of CO2 per minute. Here’s a look at the impact of streaming the full series of our top 15 favorite Netflix shows:

Show Hours needed to complete full series CO2 emitted (kg) Equivalent to producing [X] plastic bags Equivalent to [X] trees' annual CO2 sequestration
13 Reasons Why 37.2 134 669 6
Atypical 14.8 53 266 2
Better Call Saul* 37.5 138 690 6
Black Mirror 21.6 78 389 4
BoJack Horseman 32.7 118 588 5
Designated Survivor 39.4 142 709 6
Grace and Frankie 38.7 139 697 6
Orange is the New Black 91.2 328 1,641 15
Peaky Blinders 23.0 83 413 4
Queer Eye 24.9 90 449 4
Star Trek: The Next Generation 136.5 492 2,458 22
Stranger Things 22.0 79 396 4
The Crown 28.7 103 516 5
The Good Place 20.0 72 359 3
You 15.7 57 283 3

*This series is currently airing. This calculation covers season one, episode one through season 5, episode 7.

This means that by watching all seven seasons of Orange is the New Black, for example, we’re emitting the same amount of CO2 that it takes 15 trees to sequester in a year.

The Carbon Footprint of Emails

email emissions

We know that a standard email emits 4g of CO2 on its own. But we can also look at projections for the coming years to figure out just how much damage our emails are doing collectively.

We’re expected to send 306.4 billion emails per day in 2020, and that figure is expected to rise to 347.3 billion emails per day in 2023, ultimately adding another 164 thousand tons of CO2 into the air per day. Let’s visualize these figures:

Email activity CO2 (tons) LA-LON flights Cars
2020: 306.4 billion emails per day 1,225,600 742,788 266,435
2023: 347.3 billion emails per day 1,389,200 841,939 302,000
Difference 163,600 99,152 35,565

We’d need a plot of land roughly the size of Ohio to fit the 55.7 million trees needed to sequester the projected 2020 emissions, and for 2023, we’d need a plot the size of Louisiana.

How much does the US contribute to the global email carbon footprint overall? Well, 75.5% of Americans use email – and that’s out of a population of 327.2 million. Therefore, we can estimate there are 247.7 million people using email in the US. The average American sends or receives 121 emails per day, and if each person sent one less email a day, it would save the US 362,000 tons of CO2 a year – equivalent to nearly 220,000 flights from LA to London. Sending five fewer emails a day would save the US 1.8 million tons of CO2 a year.

Now, let’s visualize these figures:

Email activity CO2 (tons) LA-LON flights Cars
Average emails per year in USA 43,756,986 26,519,385 9,512,388
Average emails per year, if every American sent one less email per day 43,395,358 26,300,217 9,433,773
Tons of CO2 saved 361,628 219,168 78,615

The Carbon Footprint of YouTube

youtube emissions

YouTube is the world’s second most visited site after Google, and the average mobile viewing session on the platform lasts more than 40 minutes. YouTube has reached one billion hours of global viewing per day. Let’s visualize what this means:

CO2 (tons) LA-LON flights Cars on the road for a full year Raising a child
One billion hours 6,000 3,636 1,304 5,871

So, what exactly does it mean to go viral? Let’s take a look at the top 10 most viewed YouTube videos, as of March 2020:

Luis Fonsi: Despacito ft. Daddy Yankee 6.5 billion views 4:41 minutes
Pinkfong Kids' Songs & Stories: Baby Shark Dance 4.7 billion views 2:17 minutes
Ed Sheeran: Shape of You 4.6 billion views 4:23 minutes
Wiz Khalifa: See You Again ft. Charlie Puth [Official Video] Furious 7 Soundtrack 4.4 billion views 3:58 minutes
Masha and the Bear: Recipe for Disaster 4.3 billion views 6:39 minutes
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars: Uptown Funk 3.8 billion views 4:31 minutes
PSY: GANGNAM STYLE 3.5 billion views 4:13 minutes
Justin Bieber: Sorry 3.2 billion views 3:26 minutes
Maroon 5: Sugar 3.1 billion views 5:02 minutes
Katy Perry: Roar 3.0 billion views 4:03 minutes

Check out how those digital views translate to material carbon footprint examples:

CO2 (tons) LA-LON flights Cars on the road for a full year Raising a child
Despacito 3,068 1,859 667 8
Baby Shark Dance 1,066 646 232 3
Shape of You 2,034 1,233 442 5
See You Again 1,757 1,065 382 5
Recipe for Disaster 2,873 1,741 625 8
Uptown Funk 1,707 1,035 371 5
GANGNAM STYLE 1,488 902 324 4
Sorry 1,116 676 243 3
Sugar 1,575 955 342 4
Roar 1,219 739 265 3
Total - Top 10 Videos 17,904 10,851 3,892 48

The Carbon Footprint of Google Searches

google emissions

Globally, we make more than 2 trillion Google searches per year, which creates 40,000 tons of CO2. That amounts to 24,242 LA-London flights, or 8,696 cars on the road for a full year.

So, what exactly are we searching on Google that takes up all of this energy? Here’s a look at the most searched keywords, and the CO2 they each produce per year:

CO2 per year (tons) Plastic bags Beef steaks LA-LON flights
facebook 36 181,800 1,212 22
youtube 34 170,640 1,138 21
amazon 21 104,928 700 13
gmail 17 85,488 570 10
google 15 76,608 511 9
ebay 10 52,080 347 6
yahoo 10 49,212 328 6
weather 9 47,004 313 6
craigslist 8 38,364 256 5
yahoo mail 8 38,256 255 5
Total 169 844,380 5,629 102

These calculations are based on keyword search volume as of March 2020.

The Carbon Footprint of Tweeting

At this point, we know a bit more about what our individual tweets are doing to the environment. But what about all of the times we simply engage on Twitter? Unfortunately, every funny retweet or witty reply comes at a cost. Check out the environmental impact of the top ten most-retweeted tweets ever:

Tweet CO2 emitted (kg) Equivalent to [X] plastic bags Equivalent to [X] polyester shirts
1. Yusaku Maezawa (4.2 million retweets) 84 420 15
2. Yusaku Maezawa (3.9m) 78 390 14
3. #Nuggs4Carter (3.4m) 68 340 12
4. Ellen's Oscar Selfie (3.1m) 62 310 11
5. One Direction’s bromance (2.5mi) 50 250 9
6. El Rubius (1.6m) 32 160 6
7. Obama quotes Mandela (1.5m) 30 150 5
8. El Rubis second giveaway (1.3m) 26 130 5
9. MrBeast (1.1 m) 22 110 4
10. BTS (1m) 20 100 4
Total 472 2,360 86

So, what do our top retweets say about us? Well, they range from money giveaways, to funny jokes, to fangirl favorites. The number one most-retweeted tweet is from Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, promising a money giveaway to 100 randomly chosen people.

most retweeted tweet

In a sharp contrast, the fifth-most retweeted tweet is from One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson, who sent a very bro-mantic message to bandmate Harry Styles:

5th most retweeted tweet

Never underestimate the power (or in this case, the carbon footprint) of fangirls!

The Carbon Footprint of Texting

On a global scale, we send more than 8.3 trillion texts per year, which creates 83,000 tons of CO2. That’s the equivalent of 50,303 LA to London flights, or 180,445 cars on the road for a full year.

The US alone is responsible for 45% of the world’s text volume, which translates to the following:

CO2 (tons) LA-LON flights Cars on the road for a full year
Texts sent in the USA per year 37,350 22,636 8,120

Per year, the amount of trees that the US would have to plant alone demands a plot of land one and a half times the size of Gibraltar.

So, What Can We Do?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re definitely aware of the severity of our digital carbon footprint. But it’s not all bad news – there are things we can do to lessen our impact.

There are small, ethical choices that we can make daily. If the data behind Google searches surprises you, you can try searching with Ecosia instead – this is a search engine that donates 80% of its profits to reforestation efforts.

If the email numbers are what sobered you up, try out Posteo, an email service powered by 100% green electricity that offers email accounts, calendars, and address book functionalities.

There are also even smaller things you can do, with no disruption to your daily routine. These include:

  • Lowering the brightness on monitor screens
  • Putting computers on “sleep” mode during breaks, or turning them off
  • Block video autoplay (this not only saves the planet, but also your sanity)

For ecommerce stores, bloggers, and local businesses alike, one of the best moves you can make to reduce your digital carbon footprint is to make sure that your website is eco-friendly. This applies to everything from choosing green web hosting, to uploading printer-friendly content. But we’d say choosing a green hosting provider is the best place to start! A physical web server generates a lot of heat, and in turn, web hosting companies need to invest in a lot of air conditioning. Some web hosting providers are more responsible than others when it comes to solutions like renewable energy, so you’ll want to make sure your provider is on the right side of history!

If you’ve read the stats above and feel discouraged – don’t be! Now that we’re in the know, the best thing to do is to start taking action. And the good news is, there are little things we can start doing right now that will help reduce our digital carbon footprints.

About Maura Monaghan

Maura Monaghan

I grew up scribbling in notebooks, and until recently the thought of relocating my writing to the digital world seemed like an impossible goal. But when I finally took the plunge and created an online portfolio, I immediately saw the benefits of having my work out on the web. Since then I’ve learned everything I can about creating different websites, so that I can help those in a similar situation get online without a similar headache.

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