Friday, December 12, 2014

Week Three: Another unintended victim of streaming services - Mother Nature

Mother Nature has never dropped any albums, produced any singles or dominated any Billboard charts. But she, too, is not exempt from the repercussions of online streaming in the music industry.

Few people consider just how environmentally damaging online streaming is, especially since the digital transfers take place exclusively online. A report by  Norwegian engineer Dagfinn Bach, however, found that streaming an album required 27 times the energy of producing and distributing a CD to a consumer.

This, as Bach said, runs contrary to the popular misconception that digitalization will curb the environmental footprint. "An expected by-product of digital growth has always been a decrease in the perceived heavy environmental cost associated with physical products," he said in a report commissioned by MusicTank. "Depending on how you listen, CDs may be the environmentally sensitive choice."

So what's to blame for this massive use of energy?

Well, streaming services are housed in data centers, enormous storehouses of storage systems which look to my untrained eye like dozens of giant black refrigerators with poking wire jutting out from their maws.

These data centers, according to a New York Times report, always run at maximum output, regardless of consumer demand. This means that 90 percent of the electricity sourced from the power grid is wasted - and that doesn't take into account the "diesel-guzzling backup generators to guard against power failure... [which] are frequently cited for violating clean air regulations."

And these data centers constitute no small part of energy emissions - information centers such as the ones which house streaming data account for 10 percent of the world's electricity, most of which is generated by burning coal, a devastatingly harmful pollutant.

What's most disconcerting to me is that I, much like the majority of the public, assumed that streaming was a far more ecologically sustainable method of music consumption. But I unwittingly have been an accomplice in the environmental degradation of the planet as a result of my penchant for streaming music.

The key, of course, is to educate consumers about the environmental consequences of streaming, though I'm sure that at first these revelation will at first be met with a tidal wave of apathy. However, I think that if activists launch an effective enough campaign, streaming services will cave into pressure and start lowering their electrical output to match demand.

Though access to music should be a fundamental experience for everyone, I don't believe it should come at the expense of the planet. Streaming services have known to skimp artists on their earnings, but the buck stops at swindling Mother Nature of her keep.

Barnes, T. (n.d.). The One Thing Everyone Is Missing About Streaming Music. Retrieved December 11, 2014, from

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