Arthur C. Clarke once stressed that any sufficiently advanced piece of technology might as well be magic. Take phone and TV screens, for example, the medium by which we consume almost all media. Many of us will be aware that screens use lights – LEDs or OLEDs – to light up the pixels to show detail and contrast but how many people can say they’re truly aware of how those lights let us watch Disney+ on our mobile phones? Here’s a clue: it’s not magic.
The more sophisticated technology gets, the less likely we are to understand how it works. This creates quite a difficult problem as far as environmental awareness is concerned. If we can’t see or smell that choking smog, does that mean that it doesn’t exist? Of course, the answer is no. Regardless of how sleek its products are, technology is still one of the biggest contributors to pollution worldwide.
According to research from the United Nations, building a computer and a monitor to go with it requires 530lbs of fuel, almost fifty pounds of chemicals, and 1.5lbs of water. Those figures only consider the physical parts of computing, though. What about electricity and all the supplementary services that we receive through our machines? A good example involves the cryptocurrency bitcoin, which continues to gain a foothold among more traditional forms of money.
Bitcoin’s carbon footprint is enormous. Just a single transaction requires enough energy to power a standard home for 78 days. That’s to say nothing of mining the cryptocurrency and replacing the burned-out hardware the process produces, which causes 30,000 tons of metal and waste plastic each year. So, for all its high-tech posturing, bitcoin is so energy-intensive behind the scenes that it borders on barbarism.
Now, here’s the good news. Streaming services like Netflix are comparatively friendly to our beleaguered planet, coming in at about the same energy spend as boiling a kettle for six minutes per hour. Webcam streaming has grown in popularity over the past few years, such as through the Twitch gaming platform and in much simpler areas like wildlife watching, tourism, and DIY entertainment.
One of the major growth areas for streaming has been in the casino industry, where webcams depicting human dealers add an extra level of realism to classic games such as blackjack, roulette, and craps. When players place a bet on live casino games, all the action happens in real-time, with cards dealt by hand rather than by a random number generator, otherwise known as RNG.
It’ll come as no surprise that entertainment, overall, still has quite a large impact on the climate. Hollywood, alone, creates 140,000 tons of ozone and other dangerous emissions each year, while the British film industry is responsible for 13 metric tons of CO2 per hour, something which Vice magazine describes as “environmental wreckage”.
Netflix’s low pollution levels are perhaps a little unexpected given its worldwide popularity, but they’ll certainly be reassuring for fans and society in general.