A McAfee study estimates 62 trillion spam e-mails equal 33 billion kilowatt hours of electricity or about as much carbon as 3.1 million cars consuming 2 billion gallons of gasoline. In January, a study by Harvard University claimed two Google searches produced the same amount of CO2 as bringing water to a boil on your stovetop.
From these headlines it appears computer users should be shamed into joining drivers of gas-guzzling Hummer SUVs when it comes to feeling green guilt. It makes me wonder how the Internet's creator, former Vice President Al Gore, feels about these digital carbon statistics. Could a sequel to An Inconvenient Truth be in the works?
Here's a list of digital activities I think digital-carbon-footprint scientists should look into next.
Facebook: ComScore says 200 million people logged on to Facebook in December 2008 to check out photos, enter status updates, play Mafia Wars and answer endless mundane quizzes. Facebook may connect friends, but how much carbon is that zombie army of yours really spewing into the atmosphere?
Twitter: Ashton Kutcher is trying to beat CNN to one million followers today, and millions around the world are tweeting to whoever is listening. But at what cost? I'm sure that double yoke you found in your egg this morning was quite gratifying, but did Tweeting this tidbit of information just push us closer to ecological disaster?
AOL Discs: AOL subscription discs aren't around anymore, but what was the impact of millions of discs dropping into North American mailboxes every day? Some people have turned old AOL discs into art, but how many discs are sitting in landfills right now? Maybe you can start a massive salvaging campaign and turn those junked discs into solar panels. Get over to the local dump and start digging kids.
Porn: First there is oodles of tasteless bandwidth hogging stuff. Then there is the never ending pop-ups, malware, and Web page re-directs (or so I'm told).
Online Pranks: Hackers are rumored to be manipulating Time.com's poll to determine the world's most influential people. Take a close look at the top 10 and you'll see it spells out "marble cake." One hacker has already voted 10,000,000 times and another plans to run an entire server dedicated to manipulating the Time poll. Can we blame these hucksters for the meltdown of polar ice caps?
IM: How many chat windows do you have open during the day? Two? Five? How much is that costing the environment? What are you really talking about all day, anyway? Question: How much carbon does it suck up to produce every LOL on the Internet a day? Now here is a ban I can get behind.
Blogs: Social media may be advancing the way we communicate via blogs. But is the environmental cost of millions of blogs on topics as exciting as floor wax worth the price?
Did I miss anything in my list? Don't you feel guilty now for spewing up all that digital carbon? Just remember, you might be able to Pwn an iPhone, but there's no hacking Mother Earth once she is gone.