Streaming Carbon Footprint
Streaming media is calculated to contribute a surprising 1% of global greenhouse gases, because most regions of the world obtain electricity from fossil fuels to power their data centers, networks, and devices. Streaming large files in large quantities, then, ethically implicates spectators in the warming of the planet. Bad news — but we have some solutions!
Our research addresses the high and rising electricity consumption of information and communication technologies (ICT), which consume as much as 7% of global electricity (Andrae 2020). Given that globally about 80% of electricity comes from fossil fuels, this means that ICT is responsible for 2.7% to 3.3% of global greenhouse gases (Lorincz et al. 2019, Belkhir & Elmeligi 2018).
Streaming media – video on demand (e.g. Netflix, Crave), porn, YouTube, games, video conferencing, etc. – contributes more than any other sector to this increase (Cisco 2020). People are streaming video at higher volumes and higher definition, and media and telecom corporations cheerfully encourage us to do so. The Covid-19 pandemic is accelerating this crisis, as people are stuck at home and seeking entertainment and relief. Meanwhile, what we might call “streaming impact denial” plays into the notion that online media are “virtual” and do not impact the environment.
Unchecked, the carbon emissions resulting from ICT could exceed 14% of the 2016-level worldwide GHGE by 2040 (Belkhir & Elmeligi 2018, The Shift Project 2019). It is urgent to immediately reduce that figure, and the rising share of streaming media, through education and policy changes.
Our Reasearch Findings
Our research project, supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Knowledge Synthesis grant program, “Living within the Earth’s Carrying Capacity," is complete. Please download the evidence brief and the full report. It's a gripping mystery story set in the labyrinthine world of ICT engineering! Includes recommendations for consumers, telecoms, governments, and more.
- Laura U. Marks, School for the Contemporary Arts, Simon Fraser University
- Stephen Makonin, School of Engineering Science, Simon Fraser University, Simon Fraser University. Principal Investigator of the SFU Computational Sustainability Lab
- Radek Przedpełski, postdoctoral fellow, School for the Contemporary Arts
- Alejandro Rodriguez-Silva, PhD student, School of Engineering Science, Simon Fraser University
- Critically assess engineering research on the environmental impact of ICT and streaming media, identify the most reliable results, and develop streaming media energy usage and carbon footprint calculator
- Measure the electricity consumption involved in streaming media through case studies in British Columbia, and produce tools to accurately calculate its carbon footprint
- Inform policymakers of the most promising policies and practices at governmental, institutional, and individual levels
- Adhere to an open, reproducible science philosophy
- Advocate alternatives to HD streaming, on fronts including carbon taxes for streaming services; simple alternatives like watching television and borrowing DVDs; and low-bandwidth streaming media
- Teach media makers how to make small-file videos, with technical and aesthetic tips
- Share the beauties of appropriate technology through the Small File Media Festival
Azadeh Emadi, Entangled Orb (Glasgow, 2020, 5:07, 4.8 MB, 8:00 processing time)
The First Annual Small File Media Festival (August 10-20, 2020), featuring movies under 5 megabytes each, showed that great cinema doesn’t have to mean great big files! We received over 100 submissions from around the world, with ingenious creative solutions including animation, GIFs, low frame rates, datamoshing, executable files, “obsolete” technologies, and creative compression. More info at smallfile.ca
The Small File Media Festival team is:
- Laura U. Marks, founder
- Sophia Biedka, festival organizer, independent filmmaker
- Joey Malbon, festival organizer, media activist
- Radek Przedpełski, postdoctoral fellow, School for the Contemporary Arts
- Faune Ybarra, visual artist
- Sanjana Karthik, activist and high-school student
Call for work
Second Annual Small File Media Festival
Submission Deadline: June 4, 2021
Movies don’t have to be big to be bingeworthy! All your favorite genres—cat videos, ASMR, reality TV, nü media formalism, sexual emancipation, animism and more!—look and sound great in a tiny file size that streams without damage to the planet.
Streaming media are calculated to cause over 1% of our global carbon footprint and rising fast. During the coronavirus pandemic, folks bingeing on streaming media consumed untold terawatts of electricity and produced choking megatons of greenhouse gas emissions. Large-file media are killing the planet!
Use your artistic voice to contribute to climate change action and cool down the planet. The SFMF makes HD, 4K, and 5G look unnecessary! Unsexy! So pre-pandemic! Immersion is so overrated! Small-file movies are exquisite, intensive, inexpensive, attractive, creative, and fun. We encourage you to experiment with low-energy technologies and deconstruct the fetishization of the pristine image. Small-file movies are not faithful, they’re promiscuous! <3
The Small File Media Festival will be streamed in lovingly curated programs for 10 days in August 2021 from glorious Vancouver, Canada, on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Watuth nations, through data centers and networks traversing Indigenous lands worldwide. We will host exciting lo-fi forums on small-file aesthetics and politics. All works will receive a rental fee. Award winners will receive a tiny certificate and the coveted SFMF Micro Bear!
Come join us and celebrate the beauty of the small file!
category 1: 5 Megs of Fun:
File size restricted to 5 megabytes!
Length: up to 5 minutes
category 2: 22 Megs of Trouble:
Our bingeworthy category! A series of 3-8 parts, total file size 22 MB.
Length: up to 22 minutes
Size to aim for: 1 megabyte per minute
Please record and submit processing/encoding time
Please note the work’s aspect ratio
For aesthetic and technical tips on making small file movies, visit smallfile.ca
Storytelling, Bingeworthy, Sports, Documentary, Reality TV, Nü Media formalism, Compression aesthetics, Small files love the planet, Youth makers (let’s stop asking young people to save the planet!), Animism, Animation, ASMR, Meditative, Cooking shows, Cat videos, Sexual emancipation, Oceanic sound design and small-file beats, Supersmall files (how low can you go!), GIFs, Executable files, ‘Obsolete’ technologies, New Media Idiocy, Cross-platform works (one version for live screening, another for streaming. Please include one minute excerpt of the live work), Anything imaginable!
How to Submit
Submit through firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.smallfile.ca. You can also copy your movie onto a USB and mail it to us. Great for groups! Send to Small File Media Festival, SFU School for the Contemporary Arts, 149 W. Hastings St., Vancouver, BC V6B 1H4, Canada. We will return your USB.
Questions? Contact us at email@example.com
This year, PhD student Yani Kong, with Marks, is working with SFU's IT department to analyze the carbon footprint of online teaching. Check back here for updates about this project!
Best practices for consumers, makers, videoconferencing, and online teaching. Please check back!
- Laura U. Marks, Joseph Clark, Jason Livingston, Denise Oleksijczuk, and Lucas Hilderbrand, “Streaming Media’s Environmental Impact,” Media + Environment.
- Laura U. Marks, “Small-File Movies: Saving the planet, one pixel at a time.” Millennium Film Journal 71/72 (December 2020).
- Laura U. Marks and Stephen Makonin, “Streaming video is overheating the planet.” Op-ed, The Vancouver Sun. August 15, 2020.
- Yani Kong, “Tiny movies at the end of the world,” SFU School for the Contemporary Arts.
- Radek Przedpełski, “The environmental cost of binge-watching,” Science Gallery, Dublin.
- Laura U. Marks, “Let’s Deal with the Carbon Footprint of Streaming Media,” Afterimage 47:2 (2020): 46-52.
- Laura U. Marks, “Streaming video, a surprising link between pandemic and climate crisis,” Journal of Visual Culture and Harun Farocki Institut special issue on Covid-19 (April 2020)
Our research is partially funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council’s program Living within the Earth's Carrying Capacity
- Andrae, Anders. 2020. “New Perspectives On Internet Electricity Use in 2030,” Engineering Applied Science Letters 3:2: 19-31.
- Belkhir, Lotfi, and Ahmed Elmeigli. 2018. “Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations.” Journal of Cleaner Production 177:448: 448-463.
- Cisco. 2020. “Cisco Annual Internet Report (2018–2023).”
- Environmental Protection Agency. 2020. Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.
- Lorincz, J, A Capone, & J Wu. 2019. “Greener, Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Networks: State-Of- The-Art and New Trends.” Sensors 19:4864. 29 pages.
- Summerson, Cameron. 2018. “How Much Data Does Netflix Use?” How-To Geek.
- The Shift Project. 2019. “Climate Crisis: The Unsustainable Use of Online Video.”