Expert View

Digital pollution: every little helps

Birte Jürgensen

There once was a time when our resources were limited in the most obvious way and waste was simply not an option. Back in those days, a colour film consisted of 24 frames, 36 at most, and 3 films for one holiday trip were quite an amount. With a capacity of 100 pictures for a 4-week holiday (yep, back then, that was the actual length of our summer holiday) – you obviously had to decide on each motif before taking the picture. 100 shots for 4 weeks, how is that supposed to work? Well, it worked really well. And today? The digital world has made us all too comfortable: I’ll just save everything, and then (perhaps, later, sometime in the future) I’ll choose what to keep. But who cares, because that’s nobody else’s business …

… um, not quite: 3.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 were actually attributable to digital technology (i.e. manufacturing and operation of devices). In 2013, the share was 2.5%. And at the heart of this increase is the boom in streaming services and instant messaging, which have caused data traffic and thus electricity consumption to skyrocket (source: Süddeutsche Zeitung, 30/11/2019). Now you may say: 3.7% is not that much. Just for comparison, in 2020 Germany was responsible for a total of 1.85% of CO₂ emissions worldwide (

But this is only a tiny share of the total, isn’t it? There’s no good in changing my behaviour while there’s an upward trend in other countries, right? Possibly. But as the world’s technology leader, isn’t Germany in a position to lead by example? (aka: leapfrog). Data is energy, and data waste is polluting our planet just like any other waste. So what would be the harm in refraining from doing something that isn’t important to us and doesn’t add value to anyone’s life?

So next time we’re on holidays, how about not sharing 20 random pictures with 15 friends (who probably won’t look at them anyway)? … Or just cut down on smiley faces?