Emissions possible: Streaming music swells carbon footprints

In July 2017, Despacito, a popular reggaeton hit from Fonsi and Daddy Yankee, became the most widely streamed record of all time, with a version featuring Canadian superstar Justin Bieber helping the tune to more than 4.6 billion plays since it was released in the January of that year.

A decade ago, reggaeton would have been an unlikely choice of genre for the most popular song on the planet – played in clubs, on radio stations and in dance classes everywhere – with the broadening appeal of previously niche tastes just one aspect in which the music industry has fundamentally changed with the spread of streaming technologies.

But the growth of streaming has had another, often overlooked, impact – it is directly contributing to environmental degradation, even as the environmental byproducts of producing physical products such as clunky CD players or racks full of vinyls has decreased.

A group of researchers from the European Commission, led by Dr Rabih Bashroush, found that those 4.6 billion streams of Despacito had used as much electricity as the combined annual electricity consumption of Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Somalia, Sierra Leone and the Central African Republic.

The greenhouse gas emissions of video-on-demand services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime are equivalent to the emissions of a country such as Chile, according to the Shift Project, a French think-tank which has published several reports advocating for digital sobriety. This body of research is starting to swell, as consumers and companies alike start to reckon with their environmental impact in other areas.


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