Does HD Video Pollute the Earth?

Zachary Horvath

Zachary Horvath 2021-01-22 3 min read #technology

I recently came across this article detailing the climate impact of HD video streaming. The headline, "HD video streaming on phone 'creates eight times more emissions than SD'", was incredibly striking. As a developer and nature-lover, I feel compelled to comment on the issue. 

Our world is being impacted, quite significantly, by human interaction. Climate change is as real as the air we breath. The denial of this fact is catastrophic. Financially motivated parties have done this for generations without much consequence. We are now at the finish line of our ability to alter this destruction. We must change our habits today. One way to do this: watch more standard definition videos while on your mobile device.

This change is easier than most may think. The fact is: SD video is barely distinguishable from HD video on mobile devices and most content is now viewed on mobile devices. As such, I think most people should watch SD video while on mobile. Platforms, like YouTube, could stream SD video to mobile devices by default, but this change would likely frustrate viewers keen to HD streaming resolutions. An easily accessible option to enable SD streaming while on mobile would be a welcome addition. Platforms could also add an audio-only mode to make it easier for people to listen to audio tracks without having to stream video at the same time. This would reduce data usage and emissions. I believe the latter to be the more suitable option for everyone. Combine this with consumer education and you've got a win for Earth and for people.

The authors of the research, the Royal Society, also suggest that owning and using devices for longer can benefit the planet. They specifically argue that changing a mobile phone every four years instead of two years could halve the carbon footprint. I think the current cycle of mobile phone technology would allow for this change. Mobile technology produced today is capable of maintaining working status for many years, given proper care.

The main message in all of this: "Transparent technology can benefit consumers." I challenge you to think more closely about your personal impact on the world. When you are deliberate and conscious of your own actions, everyone and everything benefits. Lowering your streaming resolution while on mobile is certainly one way to do this without much personal sacrifice. The earth, along with future generations, will thank you.