Some green-minded folks have championed music streaming services as better for the environment: less plastic CDs are manufactured, the argument goes, so that means there’s less unbiodegradable plastic hanging around the world.
Not so fast, says a new report by the British site Music Tank. In fact, streaming services could be more harmful for the environment than CDs, largely due to the vast amounts of energy consumption needed to provide and maintain the streams. Yes, less trucks carrying CDs and vinyl are on the road these days, but report author Dagfinn Bach writes, “Streaming or downloading 12 tracks, without compression, just 27 times by one user would, in energy terms, equate to the production and shipping of one physical 12-track CD album.” Conceivably, users are streaming a lot more than that these days.
Bach also theorizes that global data traffic will hit one yottabyte by 2027, the equivalent of one quadrillion gigabytes. That mind-boggling number could require more than a fifth of the world’s energy consumption, meaning it will need to be maintained by “sprawling server farms” that would have a negative impact on the environment.
Bach’s solution is certainly not advantageous to the music industry. Citing the fact that information storage options are getting cheaper and cheaper, he proposes the selling of harddrives with a petabyte of music already loaded on there–essentially, every song ever recorded at your fingertips, which you could access with a monthly usage fee. It would drastically reduce the carbon footprint of streaming forces, but it’s hard to imagine music industry executives would go for such a radical plan.