Example of Why Climate Science is Becoming a Laughingstock

From the Thin Green Line, a reliable source for any absurd science that supports environmental alarmism:

Sending and receiving email makes up a full percent of a relatively green person's annual carbon emissions, the equivalent of driving 200 miles.
Dealing with spam, however, accounts for more than a fifth of the average account holder's electricity use. Spam makes up a shocking 80 percent of all emails sent, but most people get rid of them as fast as you can say "delete."
So how does email stack up to snail mail? The per-message carbon cost of email is just 1/60th of the old-fashioned letter's. But think about it "” you probably send at least 60 times as many emails a year than you ever did letters.

One way to go greener then is to avoid sending a bunch of short emails and instead build a longer message before you send it.

This is simply hilarious, and reminds me of the things the engineers would fool the pointy-haired boss with in Dilbert.  Here was my response:

This is exactly the kind of garbage analysis that is making the environmental movement a laughing stock.

In computing the carbon footprint of email, the vast majority of the energy in the study was taking the amount of energy used by a PC during email use (ie checking, deleting, sending, organizing) and dividing it by the number of emails sent or processed. The number of emails is virtually irrelevant -- it is the time spent on the computer that matters. So futzing around trying to craft one longer email from many shorter emails does nothing, and probably consumers more energy if it takes longer to write than the five short emails.

This is exactly the kind of peril that results from a) reacting to the press release of a study without understanding its methodology (or the underlying science) and b) focusing improvement efforts on the wrong metrics.

The way to save power is to use your computer less, and to shut it down when not in use rather than leaving it on standby.

If one wants to argue that the energy is from actually firing the bits over the web, this is absurd. Even if this had a measurable energy impact, given the very few bytes in an email, reducing your web surfing by one page a day would keep more bytes from moving than completely giving up email.

By the way, the suggestion for an email charge in the linked article is one I have made for years, though the amount is too high. A charge of even 1/100 cent per email would cost each of us about a penny per day but would cost a 10 million mail spammer $1000, probably higher than his or her expected yield from the spam.


  1. Dr. T:

    Each member of the anthropogenic global warming cult generates as much carbon dioxide per day as ~75 e-mails (assuming a typical source of electricity, a typical desktop computer, and an average e-mail creation time of five minutes). If the typical AGW cult member has a life expectancy of forty more years, then that person would generate the CO2 equivalent of approximately one million e-mails. Therefore, an appropriate CO2 cap-and-trade plan would be to monitor e-mail creation and "cap" one AGW cult member for every one million e-mails.** After all, since they are the ones most concerned about global warming, they should be willing to make sacrifices instead of forcing others to do so.

    ** The "capped" cult member should be sealed in an airtight, nonbiodegradable bag to prevent the decomposition that could generate greenhouse gases.

  2. Mark:

    The only problem with trying to tax spammers is that spammers rarely use their own computers to send out the copious amounts of junk email. They use other people's computers that have been infected with trojans, and viruses and can be activated to send email to thousands of mailboxes.

    I guess the positive effect would be that the person whose computer is being used to spam would get a $1000 bill in the mail from the ISP - and this would get them to realize they need to fix their computer. I am sure the ISP might wave the fee as soon as the computer has its trojans and viruses removed, and protection is added to the computer in question.

  3. Mesa Econoguy:

    And, from a pure functionality standpoint, if I were to eliminate email altogether, but retain all other computer functionality, I would spend more time on my computer, and more time in the office (lights & HVAC), and print more emails, pdfs and spreadsheets (more trees, power), just to accomplish what I currently do via email.

    So my "carbon footprint" (lol) would be gigantic.

    This is a completely spurious, inane, and hilarious pseudo analysis.

  4. Gil:

    Or is the laughingstock the way the answer is always to "use less"? Using less means accepting lower standards of living, i.e. accepting poverty. Our standard of living has continued to improve because we use more of everything and everything is more cheaper relative to over a hundred years ago. Many of the people who lived a hundred years used considerably less water than today by bathing rarely. They also used considerably less electricity because they went without modern appliances and lighting. And so forth. To have more whilst consuming less violated the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

  5. epobirs:

    Creating email gateways that placed a minute charge on your ISP bill was one of the applications for micropayment systems like DEC's Millicent. Back when that was being developed my daily spam was in the hundreds. Today, it is less than 5% of my messages. So, the problem was addressed by other means, mostly applied intelligence for filtering.

    The idea of measuring email for carbon emissions is silly to the Nth degree. The power efficiency of the PC used matter far more than the applications being run, especially something as minuscule in its use of processing power as email. The monitor, for one thing. Is it an old CRT or a newer flat panel? A luxurious 24" LED-lit LCD can be vastly more power efficient than a CRT of much lesser dimensions. Just getting people to buy a nice new monitor for $100 will instantly make far more difference in their power draw (leaving aside the manufacturing of the new monitor) than any conscious control of their emailing habits.

    A new PC can make a lot of difference, even if it runs rings around the machines it replaces. Aside from gaming rig or heavy duty workstations, new PC can be amazingly low power draws will delivering great performance compared to a top end system of five years vintage.

    Upgrading the tech makes far more sense than adding additional hassles to something simple as email. The consumer doesn't even need to care about power consumption to make it a selling point. PCs that require less cooling also require less fans and other sources of noise that can make an office unpleasant or disrupt a home theater setup.

  6. frankania:

    All humans' lack of knowledge about physics is astounding.
    People fret over e-mail sending, then drive to a gym and excercise, or for instance, in Warsaw Poland (and many other European cities),open their windows to regulate the temperature in wintertime, since the heat is centralized oil=burning source.
    Stores everywhere run their A/C and leave the front doors open. Well, you get the idea!

  7. Dave:

    Computer users have long asked for spam to be taxed but that is a bad idea. Just think about all the junk mail we used to get before the internet. Remember that was slick mail with color photos and return envelopes. The cost of those mailers was much higher than any of the proposed taxes for spam but not one of the junk mailers was deterred by the high cost of their slick brochures. A penny or two will not stop spam but will open the door to taxing our e-mail and other internet activity.

  8. Henry Bowman:

    Dave is 100% correct. Once you start taxing email, you'll be amazed at how many other taxes on internet activity appear virtually overnight.

  9. DrTorch:

    Math is hard.

  10. Judge Fredd:

    Oh, god. I nearly spewed my coffee when I read this tripe.

    It also reminds me of when Ratbert said in that strip that they shouldn't use bold lettering, as it eats up more electricity.

    Man, who knew Ratbert was a climate scientist?