Are your internet habits killing the planet?

Arielle Samuelson, HEATED

The internet is quickly becoming a major contributor to climate change. Here’s how to understand the problem—and what can be done to fix it.

This weekend I binged Bridgerton, Netflix’s raunchy, Regency-ish romcom. Along with 45 million other people, I tuned in to find out if incisive, socially-awkward gossip columnist Penelope Featherington could win the heart of her lovable, pirate cosplaying neighbor.

But as I was watching, I had a nagging feeling. Because lately, I’ve been reading a lot about how the internet contributes to the climate crisis. And I’ve learned that the web pollutes more than I ever would have guessed.

Everything we do online has an environmental impact, just like the clothes we buy, the food we eat, and the way we travel. But unlike fashion, burgers, and cars, you can’t touch the internet: it seems to exist in an abstract, disembodied place beyond the physical world.

But the internet is physical. It exists in fiber optic cables, cell towers, transformers, and especially data centers: huge concrete buildings housing tens of thousands of computer servers cooled by trillions of liters of water. And data centers require a constant supply of electricity.