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How digital carbon footprint can be reduced

New Zealand’s Victoria University of Wellington recently held a “Data deletion 101” event during its Toitū te Ao–Sustainability Week in order to discuss personal data and wresting control of it to reduce its environmental impact and protect privacy.

According to a recent press release, the Director of the Data Science Programme in the School of Mathematics and Statistics warned that when items are deleted from the computers they are not actually deleted.

The blocks on the disks are not overwritten until they are needed even if the option ‘permanently delete this file’ is selected.

The space is simply marked as available. Thus, forensic investigators can find files even after they have been deleted out of the recycle bin.

To be really sure files are deleted, there is a need to electronically scribble over the unused part of a disk.

Digital carbon footprint

According to one estimate, each email sent can add anything from 4–50 grams to a person’s carbon footprint. Streaming a movie adds another 300g.

Data transfer as well as data storage take resources. Every gigabyte stored in the cloud requires between 3 and 7 kilowatt hours of energy.

Storing personal data in the cloud costs resources. But as energy hungry as the personal cloud storage is, it is nothing compared with the appetite for data transfer.

Streaming and high-density image content drives the huge and growing amount of carbon that is being pumped out by the ICT industry.

ICT constitutes 4%–5% of global emissions. Cryptocurrency mining is a new energy-hungry industry that relies on computers solving complex numerical problems to find new digital ‘coins’.

The largest cryptocurrency, Bitcoin, uses an estimated 70 terawatt hours of electricity a year worldwide, which is around half of the electricity consumption for all of New Zealand.

The Director of the Media Design Programme in the University’s School of Design then spoke of the many ways in which websites and others can track and store people’s data.

If they choose to do so, websites can adopt an interface design that helps reduce unnecessary data.

Reducing personal digital carbon footprint

Several tips for people to reduce their personal digital carbon footprint were enumerated. These are:

  1. Use Wi-Fi more if possible since the mobile network uses more energy than Wi-Fi
  2. Sign up for fibre broadband as pushing data along a fibre network uses less energy than copper lines
  3. Limit what is stored in the cloud
  4. Send links rather than attachments in emails
  5. Limit streaming. Use SD rather than HD so that only half the amount of data will be used
  6. Use a smaller or more efficient TV
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