Just How Much of an Environmental Impact Does Watching Netflix Have? The Pebble Browser Extension Gives You the Hard Truth

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With the massive growth of the Internet over the past two decades, things have reached a point where everything we do online has an impact on the environment. The concept of ‘carbon footprint’ is one that we’ve all likely heard of and understand already, but sometimes we choose to be blissfully unaware of just how much of an impact even simple tasks such as browsing the Internet or watching an episode of a series on Netflix might have. Fortunately, taking steps in the right direction can start with something as simple as installing a browser extension.

Pebble is a browser extension developed by Mumbai-based software developer Antarctica Global, which focuses on sustainability and improving the environmental impact of technology. Available to install for free on various compatible Internet browsers, Pebble can calculate the impact that your browsing and Internet usage has on the environment, factoring locational aspects, bandwidth usage, and more. All of this goes into a dynamic, real-time report that equates your digital carbon footprint to real-world effects.

Designed to work on Internet browsers on compatible devices (laptop and desktop computers, for now), Pebble can be installed on your browser of choice (Google Chrome on MacOS for me), and monitors your data consumption and the specific websites that you visit, for the purpose of analysing the impact it has on the environment.

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Pebble monitors data consumption, and estimates your electricity consumption and carbon footprint based on that

 

Measuring your carbon footprint in relatable ways

Your digital carbon footprint – the carbon emissions which can be attributed to your specific activities and usage of technology – is measured in the weight of carbon dioxide. For Internet users, this is further measured by the electricity consumed by your usage. It’s worth noting that this isn’t just the electricity consumed by your computer and Internet connection, but also the electricity consumed in serving you the information or content you want.

This is in the form of operating servers to store all of that data in a way that it’s quickly and easily accessible to you. Streaming services such as Netflix and Prime Video will therefore use a lot more data and energy, and even that one-hour episode will therefore have a greater impact than spending an hour surfing websites or reading text content.

Pebble analyses all of this to give you an estimate of your carbon footprint, the data consumed, and the electricity consumed to serve you that data. It breaks all of this down into specific consumption according to the websites and services you visit. The basic extension view also gives you comparisons such as how many plastic bottles or litres of fuel would generate the same amount of carbon footprint.

Opening up the dashboard gives you a detailed breakdown, including site-wise analytics, community-wise impact by multiplying your use according to the size and population of your location, and more. Fortunately, Pebble does not collect data, and all analysis takes place on your device itself based on the specific parameters attached to your location, and the developer’s understanding of carbon footprint for various websites and services.

Pebble monitors your carbon footprint based on where you are

Interestingly, Pebble also takes into consideration the ‘carbon intensity factor’ that is attached to your location, which is itself based on research into how electricity is generated in those locations. For example, watching Netflix for an hour in India will have a larger impact that watching it for the same amount of time in Europe or some parts of Africa.

This is due to the higher reliance on renewable energy sources, unlike India which is still heavily reliant on coal for electricity generation. The impact of using that amount of electricity is therefore less, and generates a smaller digital carbon footprint in certain places.

We may not be able to change our habits to minimise our carbon footprint overnight, but awareness is the first step on the long road to sustainability. Pebble helps provide awareness of our impact on the environment, and how even the simplest things such as watching videos or surfing the web contribute to the alarmingly increasing carbon emissions across the world.


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