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Scientists uncover ‘significant’ problem with Zoom meetings, Netflix

Lucy Dean
·2-min read
Zoom meeting
Image: Getty

The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a tidal wave of Zoom calls, distance learning video chats.

However, the surge in video calls has led to Zoom fatigue and according to a new study from Purdue University, Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers, environmental challenges.

The study, published in the Resources, Conservation & Recycling journal found that while global carbon emissions fell in 2020, the shift to remote meetings and streaming entertainment presents challenges for the future.

It found that one hour of videoconferencing emits 150-1,000 grams of carbon dioxide. For comparison, a car burning a gallon of gas (3.78 liters) emits around 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide.

That hour of videoconferencing also requires around 2-12 liters of water and needs a land area of an iPad Mini to run - an amount the research described as “significant”.

However, simply turning off the camera can reduce those costs by 96 per cent.

Similarly, streaming content in standard rather than high definition also cuts 86 per cent of the footprint.

"Banking systems tell you the positive environmental impact of going paperless, but no one tells you the benefit of turning off your camera or reducing your streaming quality," said Yale MacMillan Centre visiting fellow Kaveh Madani, who led the study.

The researchers noted that some countries saw internet traffic increase as much as 20 per cent, while Australia’s NBN experienced surges in demand of up to 80 per cent.

The study found that if that trend continues until the end of 2021, that would require the equivalent of a 115,229 square kilometre forest to sequester the carbon.

And the extra water needed to process and transmit the data would fill 300,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

While the researchers said their study was limited by the data made available by service providers and third parties, they believe it’s a start in documenting how data transmission affects the environment.

"These are the best estimates given the available data. In view of these reported surges, there is a hope now for higher transparency to guide policy," said Roshanak Nateghi, a Purdue professor of industrial engineering.

So the next time your hair is a wreck or your office is messy - there’s your excuse. Turn off the camera.

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