Before the Environmental Protection Agency was established at the national level, Senator Gaylord Nelson was fighting for environmental rights and protections in his state. When his colleagues in Wisconsin wouldn’t support his efforts, Nelson looked to the people. He organized a grassroots effort to plan a day that’d celebrate and educate citizens about the environment. In the spring of 1970, people across the United States celebrated the very first Earth Day.
Every year on April 22nd, we continue the tradition set by Senator Nelson. Earth Day is a time to educate ourselves on how our behavior impacts the world and to reevaluate our relationship with nature.
Today, it is more important than ever to consider how our rapid dependence on technology impacts the environment. Between 2013 and 2020 alone, digital technology energy consumption increased by almost 70%. According to a study by Shift Project in 2019, the world’s digital carbon footprint (CO2 emissions resulting from the production, use, and data transfer of digital devices and infrastructure) accounted for about 3.7% of all greenhouse emissions. This is comparable to the emissions globally released by airlines. Luckily, there are a few ways we all can reduce our carbon footprint.
Ways to Reduce or Offset Your Carbon Footprint Online
- Try a different browser
Instead of using your default browser, try a search engine like Ecosia that gives back to the environment. Ecosia donates 80% of its profits to nonprofit organizations that are fighting deforestation.
Ocean Hero is another browser extension that is giving back. Using money generated by ads on their browser, Ocean Hero pays poverty-stricken areas to recover ocean-bound plastics. They also build recycling infrastructure and educate people about pollution and solutions.
Using extensions like these change your daily behavior minimally while passively helping the environment.
- Delete old emails
Many people don’t realize their emails can have a carbon footprint, but it takes energy to store and display such data. Electricity and fossil fuels power cloud storage centers. Deleting spam and other unnecessary emails or unsubscribing from mailing lists you don’t read can greatly reduce the number of fossil fuels used to power these storage centers. Another option is to send fewer emails, especially those with large attachments. An article in Science Focus estimated that sending about 65 emails is equivalent to driving a mile in your car in terms of energy. Sending fewer unnecessary emails or swapping email attachments for links is another way to reduce your digital carbon footprint. Though it may seem like a small difference from one person, it can add up quickly.
- Upgrade technology less often
A study from the University of Edinburgh found, “by extending the lifetime of a single computer and monitor from four years to six years, approximately 190 kgCO2e of carbon emissions are avoided.” Emissions from technology come from every stage of the process, from production and distribution to the actual use and disposal of the product. Greenpeace reported that almost 80% of the carbon footprint during the lifespan of PC devices occurs during manufacturing. Although many companies have tried to switch to renewable energy in their offices and data centers, few have tried to fix the supply chain that forms the base of production. By upgrading technology less often, we encourage a reduction in the amount of tech being produced, transported, and wasted.
- Support alternative energy sources
Supporting solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal power helps diversify energy sources. These renewable resources can loosen our dependence on fossil fuels that hurt the environment and have unsteady prices. By putting renewable energy sources at every level of the supply chain, companies can reduce their environmental impact and maintain a more stable price of production.
- Try browser extensions that calculate your digital carbon footprint
Offset Mode is a browser extension that monitors your browsing, streaming, and downloading data to calculate your carbon footprint. It then gives you an option to donate the amount needed to offset your digital carbon footprint. The donations will go towards Tree Canada’s National Greening Program, “a carbon compensation and mass seedling planting program” across Canada. Donation or not, it’s important that we as individuals understand our impacts on the environment and look for ways to mitigate that harm.
Written by Tanner Rubino ‘22 // Professional Writing