Googling your carbon footprint

I decided to have a cup of coffee rather than randomly searching Google for a few minutes. For the good of the planet.

The Sunday Times reported that 2 Google searches have the the same carbon footprint as boiling water for a cup of tea. (I am hoping the same applies to coffee but I’m erring on the side of caution by forsaking half a dozen notional searches.)

These statistics aren’t completely convincing, being generated, as they were, by a guy who’s set up a website to sell a clean conscience to websites.

People want websites they visit to be eco-friendly. CO2Stats helps you attract and retain those visitors.
CO2Stats is the only service that automatically calculates your website’s total energy consumption, helps to make it more energy efficient, and then purchases audited renewable energy from wind and solar farms to neutralize its carbon footprint – all for a flat, affordable monthly fee. (from co2stats)

The estimated carbon footprint of your search varies wildly between

[Wissner-Gross's] research indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 0.02g of CO2 per second. This rises tenfold to about 0.2g of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos. (from the Sunday Times)

So, “stick to really dull webpages and don’t visit YouTube or sites that use Flash” sounds more immediately effective advice than buying spurious energy credits.

In any case, this turns out to be at the low-end of the carbon footprint estimates:

….. carbonfootprint.com, a British environmental consultancy, puts the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g, depending on whether you have to start your PC or not. Simply running a PC generates between 40g and 80g per hour, he says. Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, estimates the carbon emissions of a Google search at 7g to 10g (assuming 15 minutes’ computer use).
Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch, Rewiring the World, has calculated that maintaining a character (known as an avatar) in the Second Life virtual reality game, requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That is almost as much used by the average Brazilian.

Wait, if using a PC at all emits ~60g an hour, ie, 1g a minute, doesn’t that mean you are saving 0.8g a minute by looking at complex websites?

And that bit about “depending on whether you have to switch your PC on” is really confusing. (When I work out how to use my PC without switching it on, I’ll post the information here.)

I am sure that computer use is mostly a waste of energy. I am sure that big powerful servers are even greedier than my PC.

However, I’m not convinced by the idea that you can buy your way out of responsibility for ecological damage. Paying to generate some less-polluting-energy doesn’t mean that the more-polluting-energy you used before suddenly disappears.

Congestion charges, aviation carbon taxes and so on. They all suggest that you won’t cause ecological damage if you can afford to pay for it. It’s like buying and selling medieval indulgences.

This would be great if the Earth was susceptible to bribery. I think these schemes are usually just ways for us to avoid taking any real steps to stop destroying the Earth. In some ways, they are worse than doing nothing, because they give us the illusion that we are taking serious steps to save the environment and that we can do this without any major inconveniences.

And they give the climate-change deniers some pretty obvious strawmen to direct their denying at. For example, here are some of the comments on the Times article:

When does this global warming hysteria end. It seems like all these die-hard environmentalists would like us all living in huts with no electricity, comforts, or heating. Especially considering this freezing winter (against all predictions), I’d like to see them go first.

Like a mouse climbing up the leg of an elephant with rape on its mind. Global warming at/isn’t going to happen

I call for a moratorium on publishing articles like this one. The amount of CO2 generated when my head starts to steam is much higher than a Google search. Multiply that by the millions of sane people who agree with me that GW is a crock and GW might actually come true.

(Replace the misused “sane people” with a more accurate “Americans” and you get the flavour of a lot of these comments. What is it about living the USA that makes some people unable to see beyond their own carports?)

The calculations are ridiculous and blatantly misleading.
But no surprise, it appears that this will be another cold year and the “environmentalists” are running up and down in a total panic that they failed to fully socialize the world while for a few years was a bit warmer.

And why should we care how much energy Google uses…because of the myth of Global Warming that is being forced down our throats.
2007 was the warmest year on record, no wait, we were wrong about that, the warmest year was 1945. Artic sea ice will be gone soon, no wait, we were wrong about that

It looks as if even people who are too monumentally stupid to see that a cold year doesn’t in itself invalidate climate change are still bright enough to see that these figures are a bit bogus.

Why give them ammunition? The idea of a “carbon footprint” as an individual moral issue, susceptible to individual guilt and contrition is just mistaken. It’s obviously good to do whatever we can as individuals, but it’s a social and political issue, which needs serious social and political solutions.
(end opinionated rant.)

Baseless Creationist Arguments Find a New Home

Blimey, yesterday, Heather wrote about some empty nonsense being spouted by a blog on the atheist blogroll. In a nutshell, Tom Stelene, writing on the Al-Kafir Akbar blog, has spent a few days recently, ranting about how environmentalism is a “secular religion,” how global warming is a scam, how people who care about about the environment are dirt worshippers and so on. Over the last few days, Heather, Blacksun Journal and Salient have drawn attention to the nonsense he spouts.

Sunrise in AutumnTom Stelene has tried a comeback blast with a post titled “Deniers” (Blog Action Day Continues), and it is well worth reading if only to see the logical holes presented as “argument” and the good rebuttals from BlackSun and Salient. They have both done an excellent job of taking his nonsense to task.

Not being grown up enough to be bothered engaging in reasoned debate, I am simply going to point out some of the more obvious bits of nonsense Tom has turned into bits on the internet. Fisking is fun. If we start with the opening paragraph:

Amidst the latest politically-correct trend of environmentalists to throw out the smear, “global warming deniers,” I sense that by and large they probably have little familiarity with the science and reasoning as to why some deny “global warming” – as most narrow-minded religionists are unfamiliar with the reasons and arguments of atheists – or, better still: “God-deniers.”

Sunrise in Autumn 2By Toutatis, that is a difficult sentence to read. It is completely meaningless but it is still difficult to read. It makes a single attempt at a real claim and, personally, I doubt that this (basic) claim is true. If he is saying, as it seems to read, that his detractors have little understanding as to the science about why the detractors deny global warming. After the headache (caused by trying to resolve this tortured line of attribution) cleared, I decided he must be talking about the psychological reasoning as to why some people will pathologically deny the evidence which is presented to them and disproportionately give value to the minority evidence which can be interpreted as arguing against the mainstream. I am sure that there is a term for people who evince this weird behavioural trait, but I am not a psychologist so I have no idea. Generally, most of the people who do this seem to be arguing for the creationist brand of woo.

After I realised where I had seen this idiotic type of “argument” before, it suddenly became clear that pretty much all of Tom’s “arguments” against AGW fall from the Intelligent Design is Science school of idiocy. Blimey. Loki must have been having a field day letting this one out into humanity.

Tom claims his area of expertise is philosophy, so we can look at the first type of argument he uses and critique it with a philosophical point of view attached.

Swan in flight - Vignette addedOne of his oft-repeated claims is that those who advocate action to combat human-influenced climate change are following a “secular religion” – he uses such entertaining terms as “dirt worshippers” and so on. All very clever. This is the same as the ID / Creationist claims that “Darwinism” is a religion. The reality however is different.

Religion, in its normal use of the term, tends to mean people are holding to a belief either without any evidence or will hold to the belief in the face of evidence to the contrary. In keeping with the creationists, Tom holds to his beliefs without any evidence and retains the belief in the face of contrary evidence. Yet he still claims it is his detractors who are holding to a religion. Yeah, seems odd to me as well.

The next issue I have with his claims is, still in keeping with the creationist ideal, the idea that the isolated – often badly interpreted – data which may be interpreted as contradicting Anthropogenic Global Warming is so significant and Earth shattering it means more than the mountains of data which support AGW. Here Tom shows he doesn’t understand science – something he freely admits – and really should try to learn some more before demonstrating his ignorance. The fact of the matter is there is nearly always some data published which can be interpreted as contradicting a scientific theory.

Little Burrowing MammalMost of the time this data is the result of experimental issues – poorly designed experiments, mistaken conclusions, equipment issues and so on – but some times the data is valid and does pose a contradiction. What happens next is part of the broader scientific method – something Tom seems to neglect – the data is double checked, additional experiments are conducted and, if it is verified and repeated, the theory is adjusted to account for the new information. Despite the greatest wishes (and prayers) of the creationists, isolated findings do not count as evidential falsification. Likewise, Tom has fallen into the layperson’s trap of finding isolated contrary reports and attributing to these much greater weight than they deserve.

Here is a quick quiz question: If 99 reports conclude humans are responsible for climate change and one doesn’t, which should you go with?

The most blatant example of Creationist-Inspired woo-nonsense comes in this little gem:

Precisely because science is not my area (that being philosophy) I have to carefully consider both sides, and for some twenty years as a curious observer (if man causes global environmental problems I obviously want to know) I have read and listened to environmentalist claims – which get plenty of publicity – yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.

Chimpanzee on a TreeThis is seriously worthy of some further examination. It reeks of the same lack of understanding which tries to push ID into the classroom. There are not “two sides” to the argument (if anything there are dozens), so considering “both sides” is meaningless. In the past, I have commented on the debate problem which creates the illusion there are “both sides” regarding evolutionary theory. It seems the same fallacy applies with regards to AGW.

The idea that some one completely ignorant of the methodology and theories of climate science can accurately assess the validity of any competing theories (and there are dozens) is interesting – strictly speaking the layperson can go through the published data and draw their own conclusions, but the chances of that conclusion being a valid expression of the reality are not great. It would be better for Tom to say that, because science is not his area he would be better off listening to the scientific consensus.

For my, cynical, mindset, the reason why he has not gone down this route is borne out by the last part of that sentence. It reeks of the conspiracy-theories pushed by all kinds of deviant scientists.

“…yet the science that challenges them gets ignored.”

Utter nonsense. The “science” that challenges the various AGW theories is not “ignored” by any stretch of the imagination. Where science does challenge the theory it is investigated – sadly most of the claims of “science” which challenges turn out to be bad science at best. This, as with most of Tom’s arguments, is straight from the ID School of non-science. When people from wildly unrelated scientific disciplines (at best, often it is complete non-scientists) write a pile of nonsense about Evolution / AGW, it is quite rightly ignored. The pro-ID / Anti-AGW crowd then pick on this nonsense and scream about some hidden cabal who are suppressing the “alternative theories.” Total nonsense.

If some one can prove AGW is false they will be in line for the Nobel, along with all the people who can invent perpetual motion machines, prove ID, falsify GR, falsify SR etc., etc.,

Until then, science is science. You can rail against the findings all you want, but remember it is akin to shouting at the sun that your “research” shows it should be dark…