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The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn (theatlantic.com) 302

An anonymous reader shares a report (condensed for space): Online streaming is a win for the environment. Streaming music eliminates all that physical material -- CDs, jewel cases, cellophane, shipping boxes, fuel -- and can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent or more. Scientists who analyze the environmental impact of the internet tout the benefits of this "dematerialization," observing that energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions will drop as media increasingly can be delivered over the internet. But this theory might have a major exception: porn. Since the turn of the century, the pornography industry has experienced two intense hikes in popularity. In the early 2000s, broadband enabled higher download speeds. Then, in 2008, the advent of so-called tube sites allowed users to watch clips for free, like people watch videos on YouTube. Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of the adult company Evil Angel, calls the latter hike "the great mushroom-cloud porn explosion of 2008." Precise numbers don't exist to quantify specifics, but the impression across the industry is that viewership is way, way up. Pornhub, the world's most popular porn site, provides some of the only accessible data on its yearly web-traffic report. The first Year In Review post in 2013 tabulated that 14.7 billion people visited the site. By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion, and those visitors watched more than 4.59 billion hours of porn. And Pornhub is just one site. Using a formula that Netflix published on its blog in 2015, Nathan Ensmenger, a professor at Indiana University who is writing a book about the environmental history of the computer, calculates that if Pornhub streams video as efficiently as Netflix (0.0013 kWh per streaming hour), it used 5.967 million kWh in 2016. For comparison, that's about the same amount of energy 11,000 light bulbs would use if left on for a year. And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes.
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The Environmental Cost of Internet Porn

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  • by jawtheshark ( 198669 ) * <slashdot&jawtheshark,com> on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:34PM (#55734013) Homepage Journal
    ... and also think of ...
    • the thousands of gallons of sperm wasted
    • The thousands of tonnes of kleenex and toilet paper
    • Millions of gallons of clean water for cleanup
      • Not to mention the contamination of keyboards, mice and touchscreens.
    • by sabri ( 584428 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:35PM (#55734021)

      ... and also think of ...

      The amount of reasons some people will find to ban things they "don't like".

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:50PM (#55734153)

        My "takeaway" from the article is the opposite: The energy used by internet porn is completely negligible. They used scary analogies like "11,000 light bulbs", but since this is something used regularly by BILLIONS of people, that is an astonishingly small amount of energy.

        If these people stopped watching porn, and instead increased their social interaction, and maybe even went on a date using a gasoline powered car, the environmental consequences would be far, far worse.

        • My "takeaway" from the article is the opposite: The energy used by internet porn is completely negligible.

          The internets are a big consumer of electricity and pr0n is a big consumer of the internets. We wouldn't need so much internet if it weren't for internet porn, so it would use less power. QED, etc.

        • it would be if they used these [google.com].
        • How about the 'environmental consequences' of date-rape when some desperate dude with a weak moral compass to begin with just can't stop himself from keeping his hands off some woman? Some people I'd rather be fapping to internet porn in the privacy of their homes rather than roaming the streets looking for a piece.
        • by blind biker ( 1066130 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @06:09PM (#55734655) Journal

          If these people stopped watching porn, and instead increased their social interaction, and maybe even went on a date using a gasoline powered car, the environmental consequences would be far, far worse.

          Not to mention the far more devastating environmental costs of procreating.

        • There's also the energy taken up running the computer systems used to view all that porn. That's a considerably larger amount.

        • My "takeaway" from the article is the opposite: The energy used by internet porn is completely negligible. They used scary analogies like "11,000 light bulbs", but since this is something used regularly by BILLIONS of people,

          Apparently by more than 14 billion people, or twice as many as there are currently alive on Earth. With interstellar porn-service I am surprised it doesn't use MORE power.

      • It's more like, "one thing isn't everything" . Context.
    • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:41PM (#55734065) Homepage

      ... and also think of ...
      the thousands of gallons of sperm wasted

      Waste more! Way too much of that stuff is becoming people. There's no people shortage.

    • ... and also think of ...

      • the thousands of gallons of sperm wasted
      • The thousands of tonnes of kleenex and toilet paper
      • Millions of gallons of clean water for cleanup
        • Not to mention the contamination of keyboards, mice and touchscreens.

      "the thousands of gallons of sperm wasted" -- They're not wasted if they were never going to be used to create a child. The male body recycles them after a preset period anyways.

      "The thousands of tonnes of kleenex and toilet paper" you forgot about socks.

      "Millions of gallons of clean water for cleanup" why could you need all this water to clean up if you're using a kleenex or paper? Besides, it's not wasted if it's going in to someone's mouth.

    • by clovis ( 4684 )

      ... and also think of ...

      • the thousands of gallons of sperm wasted
      • The thousands of tonnes of kleenex and toilet paper
      • Millions of gallons of clean water for cleanup
        • Not to mention the contamination of keyboards, mice and touchscreens.

      I suppose that could be true, if one takes the doubtful stance that those guys (and gals) are washing their hands afterwards.

    • I always thought it was odd that in porn they don't concern with cumming on the couch or bed or whatever. The actors don't need to clean up, so I get that. In real life, are people seriously cumming on mice and keyboards?
    • ...and all the diapers saved!!

    • by leonbev ( 111395 )

      If you think of all of the waste that hundreds of millions of children produce, it kind of evens out. Before guys had porn to watch, they usually screwed their wives and had 5 or 6 kids during their lifetimes. If we still did that today, North America would probably have a billion people living in it now, with all of the problems that come with that population.

    • The children that evangelical christians doomed to a sock, due to the lack of a 14 y/o receptacle. Or the 14 y/o receptacle being male.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:37PM (#55734033)

    the impression across the industry is that viewership is way, way up.

    Phrasing!

  • So nothing then? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:37PM (#55734035)

    You had me all worked up about the amount of electricity used, but then - just 11k bulbs?

    That's not even enough to light a single wing of Al Gores' mansion (here's I'm just speaking about the primary mansion, not all of the secondary ones).

    Think I'll skip the outrage on this one, especially considering the vast benefit that pro brings humanity. You wonder why there's not been a WWIII? Internet porn.

    • by gnick ( 1211984 )

      A pittance of power spent very well.

    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Right but that is the hosting and distribution side. Those servers that are just pushing bits down a wire, probably returned from cached memory should not consume much juice doing any specific operation. Remember on that side of the equation its encode once, server many.

      Now the 125W CPU you are idling way, but keeping out of low power mode because the decoding has to happen, the 23" monitory that is lighting your moms basement, you are using to display that stream X the other 30,000 viewers is probably qu

    • That's not even enough to light a single wing of Al Gores' mansion (here's I'm just speaking about the primary mansion, not all of the secondary ones).

      Al Gore is a patriotic American and "does" it in proven American Traditional Style:

      "Do it in the dark . . . with your clothes on."

      No light bulbs necessary.

    • Think I'll skip the outrage on this one, especially considering the vast benefit that pro brings humanity. You wonder why there's not been a WWIII? Internet porn.

      That would explain ISIS.

      Actually, as i tried making the joke, the htought of all the depraved things ISIS did to yazidi and other non-Sunni Muslim women, including young girls, made my stomach turn. ISIS are the scum of the world.

      • by zlives ( 2009072 )

        what kind of porn, heck internet access does an average ISIS fighter has in war torn iraq and syria?
        OP might actually have hit the nail, i would totally trade porn for killings.

    • by shess ( 31691 )

      Think I'll skip the outrage on this one, especially considering the vast benefit that pro brings humanity. You wonder why there's not been a WWIII? Internet porn.

      IMHO the problem is implying that this is somehow wasteful in the first place. One can probably make a solid argument for Game of Thrones or House of Cards being more worthwhile then Random Porn, but ... Jersey Shore? Floribama Whatever? Various Kardashian shows? The non-porn streaming places are FULL of utter shit shows, if one were really worried about waste, that's probably a better place to start.

    • by Osgeld ( 1900440 )

      I would be more concerned about how many tons of paper waste it produces

  • This just in! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zorro ( 15797 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:38PM (#55734041)

    NO ONE CARES!

  • by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:39PM (#55734047) Journal

    "And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes"

    I'd like to know why. I am not fan of the Internet Porn industry, i think its harming society and based on this article the planet but to say, "And operating with Netflix's efficiency would be a best-case scenario for the porn site, Ensmenger believes"

    Seems just nakedly prejudiced. I mean does Netflix have the help of data center angels, that don't lend their divine intervention to pornhub? Do you subscribe? I thought Internet porn was almost universally free as in beer? Why would think a pornhub a sophisticated marketing machine that has to derive its revenue primarily form razor thin ad impression payments would be doing anything other than in the most efficient way possible?

    • I have yet to hear of pornhub shipping those Open Connect Netflix type boxes so ISP'S can serve locally. I bet a few of those would go missing, if they did.
  • So what is there revenue stream that allows them to serve up this much content? It seems like most folks streaming free videos wouldn't make the best customers for their advertisers, not to mention adblocking software.

  • by Seven Spirals ( 4924941 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:40PM (#55734059)
    What about the fact that folks have a *right* to do whatever they want with their computer, their bandwidth, and their fucking life! Jezuz, did this come from the same assholes who were shaking their fingers at us over Bitcoin energy consumption? Here's a hint: go fuck yourselves. Nobody gives a two small shits about your opinion on what's "okay" for them to be using resources they paid for. If you think it's a waste, well, then we have something in common because I think all the watts/joules put into SJW hot air is a big waste of energy, too. Judgmental pricks what they are.
    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      The fact is many conservatives love this kind of article because, the very same "progressive" degenerate retard who wags his finger at me for enjoying my 17mpg sports car and tells me I am destroying the earth turns around and "wastes" energy playing at nonsense like bitcoin and watching porn. Its important to remind them they are really terrible people too!

      • Put a cam in that and stomp that throttle. 17mpg is far too high.

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          Sports car not muscle; its tough to get fuel injected 2litre to do worse than 17mpg but I try. With my 4.5:1 rear end though i have the fuel economy nearly flat! it will do about the same auto-crossing all day as the highway drive getting there!

          • Sports car not muscle; its tough to get fuel injected 2litre to do worse than 17mpg but I try. With my 4.5:1 rear end though i have the fuel economy nearly flat! it will do about the same auto-crossing all day as the highway drive getting there!

            Way to go!!

            I lost my '86 Porsche 911 Turbo to Katrina...but when it ran, I was quite often lucky to get 10mpg in city with that thing. But it was the most FUN per gallon I'd ever had!!!

            After katrina for awhile, I got a 2005 turbo miata...I seem to always avg abou

    • Nobody gives a two small shits about your opinion on what's "okay" for them to be using resources they paid for.

      I agree 100%! I do however also think that it's important that nobody is getting a "free lunch" by causing a tragedy of the commons. By this I mean those "hidden costs" like polluting the environment need to be paid for so that someone can get paid to clean it up. We can drop 100% of subsidies on energy, charge for the amount of CO2 given off by each and then let the free market decide who the winner is. Just a hint: it's not fossil fuels.

  • by PinkyGigglebrain ( 730753 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:42PM (#55734073)

    Did they also work out the environmental impact of all the cute kitten, epic fail, stupid human tricks, vBlogs, etc., videos as well?

    Bet it is much, much higher than just porn.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:47PM (#55734121)

    So, watching porn uses ONLY 0.0013 kWh per streaming hour. Just about ANYTHING else will use heaps more...like watching TV (~110W), making tea (~2 KW), driving a car (tens of KW).......
    THEREFORE watching porn saves a huge amount of energy that you'd otherwise be using instead.

  • by Jarwulf ( 530523 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:47PM (#55734127)
    The vanguard of the antiporn antisex puritan movement has shifted from the old stodgy religious right to the new left. You can see it as the arguments have gradually shifted from destruction of morality and family values to the exploitation of women and harm to their psychological health and ridiculous appeals to the environment that porn, sex and prostitution entail according to them. Harlotry is now sex slavery. The sunday school marm has transformed into the wizened womyn's studies professor. One argument they both seem to use is the crime factor though. The more things change I guess.
  • okay, now compare that to pulling oil out of the ground, cracking it, chemically treating it, turning it into plastic, moulding it, and shipping it across the world half a dozen times

    for each stream

    hull hypothesis schmull schmypothesis

  • A quick check with my calculator shows that the 11000 number assumes 60W incandescent bulbs.

    Which is all well and good, but do people still use incandescent light bulbs?

    • A quick check with my calculator shows that the 11000 number assumes 60W incandescent bulbs.

      Which is all well and good, but do people still use incandescent light bulbs?

      Nope. I just recently replaced the last incandescent bulb in my house to LED. If a cheap bastard, like me has switched then everyone must have switched. :)

  • they could be streaming Buzzfeed videos.

  • by amiga3D ( 567632 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:51PM (#55734159)

    It's a porn shift. Trees are spared because magazines not published anymore. All the books that once populated shelves in "adult" book stores. Then there's the peep shows that are gone as well with their dark booths. I knew one Tech Sergeant when I was in the Air Force who have over 500 8mm (the old reel type) films. The simple fact is that streaming is replacing traditional porn materials. I can't help but believe it's environmentally better.

  • ...all the kleenex waste going into landfills (can spooge be recycled?) or tube socks needing extra washing.

  • by flargleblarg ( 685368 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:54PM (#55734181)
    Thought this article was going to be about all the kleenix in landfills...
  • please..... (Score:5, Informative)

    by sdinfoserv ( 1793266 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:58PM (#55734213) Homepage
    What hogwash "By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion, ".... there's only 7.4B people on the entire planet..... Only 3 billion people have internet access today.. I'm fairly certain my 90 year old grand mother has never (on purpose) been to pornhub... and given the punishment of Muslim countries... there's no way it's in the billions of visitors. This means of those who do visit are really, really active..
  • "We'll leave a light on for you!" I never understood before!
  • by grnbrg ( 140964 ) <slashdot&grnbrg,org> on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @04:59PM (#55734225)

    wasting all the power?!!

    • Oh, it is. For reference, at the current estimated energy cost of BTC, 6 GWh is roughly power equivalent to mining 12.2 blocks (2 hours).
  • or, in more readable scientific number, about 6GWh, which is not that much really, for a entire year for a worldwide service.
  • "By 2016, the number of visitors had almost doubled, to 23 billion" There are only 7.6 billion people on the planet, half don't have internet much less pornhub. How can 23 billion visitors or really is it a repeat business. And so what, it's porn or hookers, what uses more fuel?
  • by poached ( 1123673 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @05:04PM (#55734257)

    23 billion visitors, totaling 4.59 billion hours (275.4 billion minutes), which means on average each visitor only spent 11.97 (~12) minutes per visit.

    That checks out, considering it takes like 5 minutes before finding something I want to fap to.

  • It is very interesting, but they never do a cost/ benefit analysis when they do this kind of thing. When I buy alcohol I spend money, and I may damage my health to some degree, but I get relaxation and possibly social interaction. I get a respite from brutal reality. What does mankind get from its energy use from pornography? They never ask. Ask.
  • Hey, some of us old-timers used to sneakily buy copies of Playboy or Oui. Those cost like $10 in today's money each. And the environmental costs of 200 pages of glossy paper and ink (about 1.5 pounds ) is a whole lot more than the 0.0014 kilograms of CO2 used to run an iPad for 20 minutes.

  • I agree that network transfers are better for the environment than hunks of plastic, esp. with the associated costs of transport. However, streaming is needlessly wasteful when you could have local copies. Streaming is a choice dictated by businesses who want to control every single listening experience -- we already had our environmentally friendly (pirate)? copies before that.

    Oldskool radio is great in that you don't need to waste transfer capacity for every single copy received. Live streaming with br

  • The first Year In Review post in 2013 tabulated that 14.7 billion people visited the site.

    Something keeps telling me that this number may be a little bit inflated.

  • There is no environment cost to internet porn. People are going to watch porn. Instead of all the plastic wrap, cases, CDs, DVDs, traffic to blockbuster/other porn renting store, gasoline, emissions....now there is just streaming porn. Yes, data centers use electricity. So does everything else.

    You can't bloody well note that online streaming is a win for the environment, then claim the exception is porn because people stream a *lot* of it.

  • Is that billions of people or visits to the sites? There is a big difference.
  • Only 6GWh/year ??? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Ecuador ( 740021 ) on Wednesday December 13, 2017 @05:44PM (#55734499) Homepage

    Seriously, this is VERY little power, especially for 4.6 billion hours of (exciting) entertainment! I mean, just my country house solar roof produces 15MWh/year - just 400 of those relatively small solar roofs are enough to power world porn! Or compare to the bitcoin network's 32TWh consumption - that's more than 5000 times the claimed amount of streaming porn (without the actual benefits!). I mean, the summary tries to say one thing, but the numbers seem to indicate the exact opposite!

    Also, it is not "23 billion visitors", it is "23 billion visits". Unless our streaming porn is popular among extraterrestrial civilizations with populations numbering in the dozens of billions...

    • Or about 500 gallons of gas. That is enough to get a tractor trailer loaded with dvds across the USA.....
  • Visitors != visits. English. Learn it, motherfuckers.
  • ... what would the people be doing if they were not surfing the porn sites? How detrimental to the environment would what ever they might be doing be? In other owrds, you cannot just take the environment cost or surfing porn sites as if it were an isolated event, it is not. It is part of a person's day lifestyle and should be analyzed as such.
  • I thought this was going to be about all the extra tissue and paper towels used, and extra wash cycles for socks and towels.

  • through all these fucking years taken into account?

  • It seems like a thinly veiled attempt to win points by "proving" something unpopular should be even more unpopular because it consumes energy. Would porn be more OK for the author if it defied the laws of thermodynamics and actually produced more energy than it consumed?

    I'd go out on a limb and guess that any given year of porn in the VHS distribution era consumed more energy and resources than the last 3 years of porn streamed online. The video cassettes, the packaging, the shipping, the trips in the car

  • There's nothing better on a cold winter's night than a freshly home brewed coffee and beating his dick to free porn like it just stole his microsoft dividend check.
  • Go back to porn newspapers, for environment sake! Paper is a carbon sink, all you have under your bed is not in the atmosphere.
  • it's a rounding error
    5.967 million kWh is about 6GWh
    Bitcoin uses 29,000GWh according to PowerCompare.co.uk, other estimates are higher.
    That's about 0.02%

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