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Is The Carbon Footprint of Spam a Threat to the Environment?

written by: Bruno Kos•edited by: Bill Bunter•updated: 1/27/2011

Spam emails hound all email users - be it businesses or private persons. It seems this internet scourge is doing much more damage than causing irritation to recipients. Spam is also attributed to hep increase greenhouse gas emissions particularly carbon dioxide which is harmful to the planet.

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    The Problems with Spam

    Every email user knows the nuisances brought by spam all too well. Companies struggle against this internet scourge that takes away a bit of the business’ precious working time. Private persons also feel the irritation of scouring through the huge pile of spam emails to be able to open legitimate emails.

    The effects of this common everyday nuisance has never been quantified but all agrees that it does take away a bit of precious time from work. Recently, McAfee attempts to paint a clearer picture of the problem by coming up with a report on the effects of spam and relating it to the environment.

    Obviously, global warming is one of the key issues haunting our generation today. In relation to that, McAfee with the aid of ICF International, came up with novel ideal of determining how spam impacts the environment. And as it turns out, it seems that the nemesis of most computer users - spam emails - prove to be the nemesis of the planet too.

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    It's Carbon Footprint

    McAfee’s report "The Carbon Footprint of Spam" contains interesting information on the harmful effects of carbon footprint of spam that could invariably lead to global warming. The study, conducted by ICF International as commissioned by McAfee, says that approximately 62 trillion spam emails are sent each year. These contribute to 33 billion kilowatt hours of electric consumption which translates into greenhouse gas emissions equal to 3.1 million cars on the road using at least 2 billion gallons of gasoline.

    Key findings in the said report include the following equally startling facts:

    - 52% of energy used associated to spam is from recipients deleting spam and searching for valid emails.

    - A single spam message has a greenhouse gas emission of 0.3 grams of carbon dioxide or equal to driving three feet. If the numbers are added up, the annual volume of spam would equal to driving around the earth 1.6 million times.

    - A small business normally consumes 50,000 KWh for emails per year. Around a fifth of that emails, therefore a fifth of the energy used, are for spam.

    - Spam filtering saves 135 TWh electricity every year or equal to 13 million cars off the road.

    - Spam filtering is good but fighting spam at the source is way better. McColo a source of online spam went offline temporarily in 2008. The temporary respite saved the recipients of energy consumption equal to 2.2 million cars taken off the road.

    McAfee's report is indeed very interesting but it fails to address certain issues like how to determine how much energy is being used for other applications in comparison with spam. The methodology used is also subject to questions. However, the bottomline remains the same- that spam emails do not contribute anything good for recipients and now, for the environment as well.