62 Trillion Spam E-mails = ?

Energy spent on spam could have powered 2.4M homes, 3.1M cars and more.

ByABC News
April 15, 2009, 1:41 PM

April 16, 2009— -- All of those junk e-mails that clutter up your inbox aren't just a massive annoyance but a colossal waste of energy.

According to a report released this week by computer security company McAfee, spammers last year generated a whopping 62 trillion junk e-mails.

What does that mean in terms of energy?

Instead of sending messages asking for money or marketing Viagra, the electricity used sending the e-mails could have powered 2.4 million homes for a year or driven a car around the planet 1.6 times, according to the report.

That waste of energy is also polluting the environment.

Anything powered by electricity also emits greenhouse gases. McAfee researchers say each junk e-mail emits 0.3 grams of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2). That may not sound like much, but when you consider the volume of global annual spam, it all adds up.

Spam-related emissions for all e-mail users around the world in 2008 totaled 17 million metric tons of CO2, according to ICF International, the consulting firm that partnered with McAfee on the study. That's .2 percent of the total global emissions.

"The amount released into the atmosphere is significant," said Dave Marcus, director of security research for McAfee. "Spam has a big carbon footprint. It's something people should be aware of."

The report said that nearly 80 percent of the spam-related greenhouse gas emissions came from the energy burned by PC users viewing, deleting and searching for legitimate e-mail under mounds of junk. To view and trash a piece of spam takes about 3 seconds, McAfee said.

Marcus said about 85 to 91 percent of all e-mail is spam, but consumers can decrease their spam load by surfing the Net with a bit more care.

For example, anytime you use a Web site to participate in online discussions or post comments, make sure your name is nothing like your e-mail address. And think twice before using the auto-complete feature on your browser because it may allow spammers to harvest personal information. Some experts also advise changing your e-mail address yearly.

But, what else could all that wasted spam-related energy do? Click on to the next page to find out these estimates based on McAfee's report and Carbonfund.org.