NPR frets the big questions: ‘How Much Do Your Text Messages Contribute To Global Warming?’ (32,000 tons of CO2e per year)

What did you include in the estimate of the carbon footprint of a text message?

We took into consideration the energy used by both the sending phone and the receiving phone, and a proportion for the embodied carbon in the manufacture of the phone, which is a bit of an unknown because you have to make an estimate about how many text messages that phone is going to (handle) over its lifetime. And also the network.

So cell tower, data transfers, data centers?

That’s right.

In that sense, if we do what the reader asked us to do and set us aside the carbon footprint of manufacture and transport of the device, so that’s an even smaller portion of that already tiny amount.

It’s really tiny. The other thing about texts is that they’re so simple and basic, aren’t they, all you’re doing is transmitting a very simple message, you’re not even putting any fonts on it or anything. But the minute you start doing things like, “Oh, I’ll send a photograph while I’m at it,” that dramatically changes it. Suddenly you’re sending a lot more data — up goes the footprint.

But what about emoji?

Well, the emoji is all right, that’s just like a character.