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Taking TV for a 500 mile drive?
(Nicolas J Leclerq on Unsplash)

Taking TV for a 500 mile drive?

This works out at a daily working return commute of only 2 miles per day - suggesting the impact of watching TV for a year is small. However, taken globally, the number of individuals doing that same activity is large and that soon adds up to something meaningful.

Summary: In Mike Berners-Lee’s book, "How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything", there is a statement that watching TV for a year has a similar carbon footprint to driving a car for 500 miles. This works out at a daily working return commute of only 2 miles per day - suggesting the impact of watching TV for a year is small. However, taken globally, the number of individuals doing that same activity is large and that soon adds up to something meaningful.

Why this is important: Sometimes our human activities are big and obvious - industrial processes need heat and pressure, from burning of fossil fuels, and emit greenhouse gases as byproducts. Sometimes they're small and not so obvious - streaming content from the cloud. Understanding the impact of activities can influence design, policy and marginal consumption choices.

The big theme: Greenhouse gases emitted by human activity are impacting the amount of heat that escapes our atmosphere and driving global warming. Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (NO2) have increased by more than 40, 150 and almost 20 percent respectively since pre-industrial revolution times. Over half of the CO2 rise has happened since 1970.



The details


In Mike Berners-Lee’s book, "How Bad are Bananas?: The Carbon Footprint of Everything", there is a statement that watching TV for a year has a similar carbon footprint to driving a car for 500 miles.

The carbon footprint from watching TV comes from:

  • Manufacturing and delivering the TV to the consumer
  • Powering the TV
  • Accessing/receiving the content from your provider

There are a number of assumptions / questions in the '500 miles' assertion:

  • What kind of TV or device are you watching on?
  • How are you receiving the content?
  • What kind of car are you driving that 500 miles?

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