Photo: Olesya Kuznetsova/Shutterstock

Is Your Computer Killing the Planet?

Sustainability Activism
by Julie Schwietert May 14, 2009
If the answer to that question is “Yes,” as the New Scientist suggests it is, then I’m in a whole heap of trouble.

There are a lot of lifestyle changes I’ve made for the sake of the planet.

I recycle. I got rid of my car a few years back and walk or use public transportation. I carry reusable bags so I don’t need plastic bags from the grocery store. I turn off the lights when I leave a room, unplug appliances that aren’t in use, take quick showers though I prefer long ones, use rechargeable batteries rather than disposables, and try to remember to carry a travel mug.

And that’s just the daily stuff.

But am I about to confront the limits of my environmental friendliness?

A recent article in the New Scientist reviewed research on the impact of computer and Internet use… and the results aren’t encouraging.

First: “the energy used by all… computers and peripherals…could be responsible for as much as 2 per cent of all human-made CO2 emissions, putting [computers] on a par with the aviation industry.”

And we gripe about the massive carbon footprint of air travel.

But that’s not all:

“According to Google, the production of the electricity needed for a single internet search generates 200 milligrams of CO2. This may not sound much, but it adds up: 1000 searches produce the same CO2 emissions as an average European car travelling 1 kilometre. Worse, internet traffic is currently growing at around 50 per cent each year. According to the international environmental coalition The Climate Group, total emissions from computers will increase by 280 per cent, to the equivalent of 1.4 gigatonnes of CO2, by 2020.”


I don’t know about you, but my computer is a pretty important part of my life. As a full time writer, editor, and researcher, I spend hours on my computer every day; it’s how I make a living.

So if the news about the negative environmental impact of computers and the Internet is true, what’s a girl like me– or you– to do? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Community Connection:

Beyond your daily computer use, do you travel with your laptop? If you’re considering a laptop-free trip, check out these tips in “Laptop Travel: To Bring or Not to Bring.

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