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Don’t watch Netflix in HD if you want to save the planet, scientists say


With the arrival of the Reliance Jio 4G network in late 2016, data prices dropped significantly in India. In fact, Indians enjoy one of the lowest data rates in the world. With extremely cheap data prices, it’s no surprise that streaming movies, shows and music in high definition (HD) has become common practice. However, the environmental impact of such reckless overuse of data is rarely considered.

According to research by scientists from the prestigious Royal Society in the UK, streaming HD video on a smartphone generates approximately eight times more broadcasts than standard definition (SD). This number is especially important, as on a small screen, the viewer may not even notice the difference between 480p and 720p streaming.

The report’s authors urged online platforms and regulators to limit the streaming resolution and set the default to SD to reduce per capita carbon emissions and combat climate change. “Arguably, decisions on limiting streaming resolution should be made by platforms and regulators,” the report says, rather than consumers.

The report adds that the estimated contribution of the digital sector to global emissions ranges between 1.4% and 5.9% of the world total.

Another simple way to save energy, according to the report, is for people to turn off their screens while streaming music if they are only listening and not watching, the authors say. They estimate that such small movements could save up to 5% of a streaming service’s emissions, a reduction compared to what is achieved by running YouTube’s servers on renewable energy.

The report further recommends ways that consumers, government and industry can reduce their impact on the sustainability of the planet.

Making smart phones, laptops, tablets, and TVs is a high-carbon process. However, people often replace their smartphones every two years or so. But keeping a mobile phone for two years means that the carbon emissions used in manufacturing account for about half of all the emissions it will generate during its useful life.

“If people keep their phones for four years instead of two, this contribution is cut in half,” said the Royal Society.