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Increasing Internet use means higher energy costs

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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: The Internet, as most of us know, can be an amazingly valuable tool. It can also be a colossal waste of time. All told, we watched 700 billion YouTube videos this year. That's according to the company itself. It's also a whole lot of Justin Bieber and random cat videos. But all those songs, bloopers and bad comedy come at a price.

We asked Marketplace Sustainability reporter Adriene Hill to find out just how much energy the Internet uses.


Adriene Hill: 17 million people have watched a three-year-old cry over a YouTube pop star.

Toddler: 'Cause I love Justin Bieber.

Woman: You're crying because you love Justin Bieber?

Toddler: Yes.

But, watching that gem and doing all the other things we do online -- from paying our bills to downloading movies -- takes electricity. Electricity to power data centers, servers, computers and iPhones.

Author Stan Cox estimates that next year the U.S. digital network will drain as much energy as the whole country of Mexico produces.

All that energy creates CO2. According to Molly Webb of The Climate Group, information technology systems globally account for 2-3 percent of total carbon emissions. And...

Webb: It is growing and it's growing mainly because of the new applications, video.

But, Rich Brown from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says it's important to keep it in perspective. The Internet is still a relatively small energy suck, compared to things like cars.

Rich Brown: That shouldn't be the primary focus of where we're trying to cut energy use. There's a lot bigger fish to fry.

Which means I don't have to feel too guilty about spending a few minutes watching the latest Taylor Swift video... except maybe that it's Taylor Swift.

I'm Adriene Hill for Marketplace.

About the author

Adriene Hill is the senior multimedia reporter for LearningCurve.

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