Data Tax - Think before you click!

CO2 Carbon Footprint

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A tweet is estimated to have a footprint of 0.2g CO2e (although Twitter did not respond to requests to confirm this figure) while sending a message via a private messaging app such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is estimated by Freitag to be only slightly less carbon intensive than sending an email.


What if we told you that the harmless 'Good morning' forward and the gifs that your unassuming Dad or uncle sends you in that WhatsApp message contributes to global warming?  If you are intrigued, read on...

-   In 2020, people created 1.7 MB of data every second according to www.techjury.net
-   We created 2.5 quintillion data bytes daily in 2020
-   Every time you click on a page, it creates a data 'footprint'
-   One estimate from British environmental consultancy Carbon footprint puts it between 1g and 10g of CO2 per Google search

While 'carbon footprint' is a key word, 'data footprint' is an underestimated data statistic.  Saving and storing 100 gigabytes of data in the cloud per year would result in a carbon footprint of about 0.2 tons of CO2, based on the U.S. electric mix.  

While cloud takes the data off your hands physically, it is not exactly in thin air.  Your data is actually stored in structures filled with thousands of hard drives, using a mind boggling amount of energy.  There are millions of data centers around the world and some take up nearly 200 acres of land.  A good example would be our office.  We host a plethora of hard drives which use energy to run the servers.  Where you are reading this information, it comes with the use of energy!

So how much energy is used to saving anything to the cloud?  It is not as straight forward.  However, let's simplify it.  The data travels miles of fibre optic cables. To read this information, for all you know, the data may have reached the Pacific Ocean and back at the blink of an eye.  That requires power.  This data is stored multiple times over in hard drives which creates a lot of heat, which requires cooling.  The Carnegie Mellon University study indicated that the energy cost of storage and transfer is about 7 kwh per gigabyte.  It is enough to charge an electric car to run a mile a minute!

Image: climatecare

Companies do have a moral responsibility to green their cloud.  One of the most popular and sustainable way to go green would be to pledge using 100% renewable energy.  Companies like Apple already use 100% renewable energy.  

It is only a matter of time that everyone will have to start thinking about how much data is consumed or shared as all of data sharing may be taxable.  Like Value Added Tax, Carbon footprint tax may become the norm.

Carbon Tax is an eco-tax that associates with each tonne of carbon dioxide discharged.  The purpose is to encourage individuals and businesses to consume more sustainably to combat global warming. India does not levy an explicit carbon price.  Fuel excise and other charges are levied, however, industries that consume the services do not directly pay towards carbon emissions.  Before introducing carbon tax, India needs to have clear policy and framework to make effective use of the tax collected. Many of the countries have signed up to tax carbon emissions.  As time progresses, individuals may need to also start paying taxes for consumption of digital resources directly.

The data footprint is also essential to be tracked to ensure that data security is managed as well.  We inadvertently leave a footprint every time we search on google or any other search engine.  The cookies and other tracking send targeted marketing based on the data saved.  Everything that we do on the internet digitally is valuable data, and hence uses energy!  The way we are paying back, is through consuming targeted advertisements.  It's a very simple but effective digital ecosystem.  The consumption is more than the carbon footprint generated by the airline industry to view the scale.

A tweet is estimated to have a footprint of 0.2g CO2e (although Twitter did not respond to requests to confirm this figure) while sending a message via a private messaging app such as WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger is estimated by Freitag to be only slightly less carbon intensive than sending an email.

Global greenhouse gas emissions from the tech sector are on par or larger than the aviation industry, at around 3% for ICT and 2% for aviation respectively. Within ICT, data centers consume around 1% of greenhouse gas emissions and global electricity usage. Currently, most cloud providers do not disclose energy or carbon emissions from cloud usage to their customers (at an aggregate or individual level), which can be a challenge for organizations who want to baseline and reduce their carbon footprint. This application is a starting point to enable organizations to have greater visibility into their emissions across multiple cloud providers. – Source

So, what can you as an individual do about it?  The answers are very simple and quite easy to do and it is all about getting into good habits.

-   Clear your mails regularly of junk emails.
-   Stop having multiple back up of photos and files in different clouds.
-   Try and avoid video streaming when not needed.
-   Delete all your unnecessary WhatsApp chats regularly.  Try and set a cleanse window for the data.
-   Educate your contacts to avoid sending the random forwards, limit sharing and messages.
-   Limit use of cloud for storing redundant data.
-   Choose a conscious provider where possible.  List of conscious data providers here.
-   Your phone is perfectly good if you can read this article.  Change it only when you absolutely need to or hand it down to someone who requires it!
-   Where possible, don't chat, pick up the phone or better, go meet in person!
-   Switch off your devices when you can.

About the author:
Uma currently works as a delivery lead in a leading bank managing anti-money laundering projects. She started her career setting up and managing data centers and disaster recovery centers moving on to setting up niche healthcare business analysis teams. She would like to share her experiences and best practices across industries in view of a common user. The comments reflect the author's views and not the bank or Sify's.

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