It Looks Like E-Mail Isn't Good For the Environment, Either
According to their estimates, a year's worth of regular e-mail use -- including sending, filtering and reading -- results in a carbon footprint of roughly 135 kilograms (about 300 pounds). To put that figure in context, a year's worth of e-mailing generates as much CO2 as taking a 200-mile car ride.
A big part of that footprint, it seems, can be blamed on spam. According to McAfee, 78-percent of all incoming e-mails today are spam. All this spam requires 33 billion kilowatt hours (KWh) of electricity, resulting in 20 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. 80-percent of this electricity, McAfee claims, is consumed when we read or delete spam, or even search our spam folder for e-mails that were incorrectly flagged. All incoming messages as a whole, however, only comprise 22-percent of the footprint; the most environmentally unfriendly e-mails are the lengthier, more detailed messages we exchange.
E-mails, of course, still comprise only one-sixth of the carbon footprint created when we send traditional letters -- but it's still a footprint. Berners-Lee and Clark propose a novel approach to minimizing e-mail's environmental impact: a tax. They admit that a small, one-penny tax on each e-mail may be difficult, if not impossible to implement. But the authors claim that it would go a long way toward reducing widespread spam. According to their figures, the tax would result in an extra £170 billion ($267 billion) of revenue, which could go toward green-government initiatives. And, as a bonus, we'd all cut our carbon emissions by about 20 million tons. It sounds like a win-win-win situation, but, unfortunately, we doubt any election-conscious politicians would ever go for it.