When you think about the impact of climate change, what comes to mind first? Whether it’s failing crops due to erratic weather patterns, an increase in the range and duration of forest fires, rising sea levels, or something else, what it boils down to is loss of life. Not just life as we know it—a catastrophic death toll.
The World Health Organization predicts that, between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause an additional 250,000 deaths per year. That is five million deaths in those 20 years, and that figure does not include the years before or after those two decades.
Five million is the entire population of Los Angeles, but climate change will not impact the entire population the same way.
Every effort matters
At this point, we are unfortunately on a path that we cannot divert from. Climate change is already underway and will continue. However, we can make efforts to reduce the speed and intensity at which climate change occurs.
There is a significant difference between 1.5 degrees of warming and 2.0 degrees of warming. Twice as many people will suffer from water shortages from that extra half degree of warming. A warmer Earth means decreased crop and livestock production and an increase in disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Every effort matters. Even small changes can slow global warming. But what does that have to do with web developers like me?
The impact of web technology
Every file stored or transmitted, every minute someone spends viewing a website, takes energy. Let’s face it—most of the energy being consumed in that process is dirty energy (natural gas, coal, etc.), with the result that internet technology accounts for 7% of global energy consumption. Seven percent is significant!
Every click has an impact. Using the Web Carbon calculator, you can get a good approximation of exactly what that impact is. For a given page, the calculator estimates how many grams of carbon are produced by viewing that page, whether the page is cleaner or dirtier in comparison to the average, among other stats. Not surprisingly, e-commerce and news sites tend to consume more energy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference.
At Stride, one of our core values is, “Think of more options.” Sometimes, the option isn’t to write code—it’s meeting users’ needs in the best way possible. Creating a smooth user experience—making it quick and easy for a user to get what they want—isn't something people think about very often for sustainability, but every second a user spends on your website, their laptop is burning energy. If we can find a way to do so with existing technology (fast rendering, making a website accessible) or even no technology (improving the UX design), that is typically less carbon-intensive.
Change starts with communication
As consultants, my colleagues and I have our hands on a lot of different companies. At Stride, we pride ourselves not only on delivering quality work but doing so with an eye toward social impact and the common good. And as Striders, specifically, we have the potential to make an outsized impact on climate change, given our size and the size of our clients.
For us and for other consulting companies, make climate change impact a priority topic when talking to clients. Chances are, we’re interacting with big companies with big-footprint websites. Encourage clients to host green servers, but do your research to make sure you’re not using a vendor that greenwashes their infrastructure—carbon credit offsets have been shown to be ineffective in these cases. Create awareness of the costs of websites on the environment and the practices that can mitigate that cost.
We won’t stop this train, but we can slow it. Every effort matters.