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How Netflix is Hurting the Environment

How Netflix is Hurting the Environment

Netflix may be one of this generationís most popular ways for people to zone out and forget the world around them, but it may be time to wake up to the streaming serviceís environmental impact.

Count me amongst the Americans who have assumed that the amount of energy required to stream Orange Is the New Black on Netflix was fairly negligible, or not much different than keeping the TV on. In fact, behind the scenes, it requires way more power to wirelessly send those moving images to the comfort of your own living room.

As Salon points out, streaming just half an hour of Netflix content burns the equivalent amount of energy necessary to fuel a refrigerator for a full week. Considering that the average Netflix subscriber watches far more than 30 minutes a week, that figure deserves more attention than it receives. At the rate my household goes through films, we would need several more kitchens to store all of those hypothetical refrigerators.

Still, that stat may be too small to convey the full scope. Nearly 10% of the earthís electricity is allocated toward cloud streaming, wireless networks and the devices that play this technology. To put that figure in further perspective, thatís the same amount of energy that was necessary to light the entire planet just 30 years ago.

Itís unfortunate that Netflixís streaming technology advanced well before clean energy has been implemented on a broad scale. Sadly, Netflix relies primarily on coal to energize its operations, resulting in a lot of carbon emissions. Knowing its ultimate impact, streaming a climate change documentary on Netflix doesnít seem nearly as satisfying.

The good news is that not all digital content providers are as dependent on coal. One-third of Googleís power comes from renewable energy, while Apple relies 100% on renewable sources.

For as long as Netflix has been around, people have questioned its environmental impact. Starting back when it was just a DVD-rental-by-mail delivery service, researchers concluded that Netflix was greener than driving to a video rental store to pick up a movie. Things got more complicated, however, when Netflix introduced home streaming options. Although intuitively it may seem like streaming would be the better option as it eliminates the shipping process, the fact is that the energy it takes to power the streaming at the Netflix facilities exceeds the energy necessary for the USPS to deliver a DVD to your house.

While I canít say Iím prepared to cancel my Netflix subscription, having this knowledge will not only make me a more informed consumer, but also a more responsible inhabitant of planet earth. Next time I have a hankering to turn on a mind-numbing B-movie, itíll be valuable to remember that my brain isnít the only thing streaming the film will be hurting.

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164 comments

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7:09PM PDT on Apr 5, 2014

And what proof do you have in human terms of this? And what / who are your sources?Please note i'm not being argumentative, i'm just trying to have a really good debate. I really appreciate you taking your time to answer :-)

5:59PM PDT on Apr 5, 2014

Low level, medium and high level nuclear waste is radioactive and chemically toxic. When a person ingests radioactive nuclides released in the nuclear fuel cycle - uranium mining, milling and processing uranium, making fuel bundles these radionuclides can be ingested either by breathing them in or drinking them in water. Once in the body they can damage your DNA causing sterility, cancers and birth defects For example breathing in radon gas is the 2nd leading cause for lung cancer. Uranium in your tap water can cause kidney damage. The nuclear fuel cycle is complex and involves many different radionuclides and specific damage. Many have heard because of Fukushima of iodine 137 that causes thyroid cancer. These radionuclides are not found in nature and are increased through the use of nuclear energy. Tritium is another radionuclide - radioactive hydrogen that is released into water. I suggest researching this subject as it is so vast and difficult to explain thoroughly in one paragraph.

4:34PM PDT on Apr 5, 2014

Can you elaborate more on why the waste is so toxic? And thanks to the person who started this thread too, I find the discussion really interesting :-)

1:33PM PDT on Apr 5, 2014

Nuclear energy is not the answer as stated in Pandora's Promise - high level nuclear waste - we don't want any more and we don't want to pay the billions of dollars it is going to take to bury this toxic waste. Renewable energy please!

8:21AM PDT on Apr 5, 2014

On the other hand, Netflix has a great variety of content when it comes to Documentaries about climate change and I for one have learned much more surrounding the discourse of this topic. Its cheap, accessible form can also be used as a tool to educate people as they search for or stumble across content about the environment that would be more expensive or difficult to access elsewhere. I would also rather give my money to netflix than Murdoch and Sky who's papers alone misled the public on Climate Change.
Energy from coal is a problem across the globe, not just to netflix and I came across a doc on netflix addressing this problem called 'Pandora's Promise'. Take a look :-)

12:23PM PST on Feb 1, 2014

Really?

1:14PM PST on Jan 23, 2014

I think the best response in this case is to pressure Netflix into using more renewable energy. I wouldn't jump on Apple just because I have issues with their DRM policies and restrictions. It certainly is something to think about.

Thanks for the perspective Jon T. Sometimes just because something is printed or published it automatically has this aura of truth and people forget to question everything. "Never stop questioning!" You may be right about DVDs too. I actually have severely limited my collecting of DVDs now because I feel like it cannot be green to be collecting all that plastic.

5:23AM PST on Jan 22, 2014

Yes it means that millions are sitting on their asses and doing nothing constructive while they burn up energy and power to watch silly ass movies. The human race is doomed.

2:22AM PST on Jan 22, 2014

Thanks for sharing

2:21PM PST on Jan 21, 2014

Sorry to say, John C, but no candles allowed. Bee's wax is bad for the bee's and the environment, soy is GMO, and plain ol' candles are petroleum products. Matches to light them are bad for trees, lighters use propane and can be linked to fracking. Besides, we don't want anyone to have to go into the closet ever again! ;o)

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