Opinion Free-content advertising giant Facebook has released comprehensive data on its carbon emissions, revealing that a person who uses the giant website causes rather less damage to the planetary ecosystem by doing so than he or she can expect to cause by simply farting.
According to the new Facebook data, each user who is active on the site monthly or more frequently - so furnishing the corporate behemoth with vast amounts of mostly uninteresting but extremely cheap content around which to hang the ads which bring in its multibillion-dollar revenues - is thereby responsible for a total of 269 grams of carbon dioxide emissions (equivalent) annually. This figure is principally derived from fossil fuels burned in order to power the company's various data centres, but also includes figures meant to account for corporate travel, office space etc.
Some have claimed that this is "equivalent to a cup of coffee", though they'd get some argument on that from the University of Edinburgh's senior lecturer in carbon management, Dave Reay, whose figures would suggest that this is actually equivalent to two cups of filter coffee or maybe three-and-a-half of instant.
No matter: I have a much more effective yardstick by which to measure these kinds of basically insignificant carbon burden. The question one must ask oneself here is this:
Would I benefit the planet more by ceasing Facebook use, or simply by lighting my farts?
Regular readers will of course be well aware that the stuff which makes a trouser cough flammable is the methane produced in our guts: a hugely more powerful greenhouse gas than comparatively innocuous CO2. (We also emit CO2, but we can give ourselves at least a partial eco-pass on that as the food we eat absorbs carbon as it grows - we are biofuelled as far as that goes).
Previous Reg research has revealed that a typical human's bottomnal methane emissions - if not burned off at the source into CO2 and steam, so reducing their planet-wrecking impact by a factor of 20 or more - are equivalent to 2g of CO2 each day, for an annual total of perhaps 730g - almost triple the eco-burden inflicted on a suffering world by being a Facebook user.
In short, yes, the true eco-citizen will prioritise lighting his or her farts over giving up Facebook use. Or to put it another way: if it's OK to fart, it's also OK to use Facebook.
Greenpeace is - as one would expect - overjoyed by this news, with the organisation's IT-biz spokesperson David Pomerantz issuing the following comment:
Facebook has shown today it is serious ...
Facebook has also pledged to push the utilities currently selling it dirty energy to move toward cleaner sources; that is the kind of leadership that IT companies will need to embrace in order to build a clean cloud.
That growth can be the engine that creates a global clean energy economy, but first other companies have to join Facebook in accepting the challenge to move toward clean energy.
Greenpeace's continued strong public-relations focus on IT and cloud business seems strange at first sight, as the entire IT sector is generally estimated to be responsible for barely 3 per cent of human energy use and carbon emissions. It would seem to make more sense for Greenpeace and similar organisations to take aim at hugely more carbon-intensive sectors such as heavy industry, construction, transport, food or health.
But the truth is that none of those other industries can benefit from any of the things Greenpeace wants, and they would all be massively hurt by rises in the cost of energy - which would be huge and inevitable in the low-carbon, non-nuclear future that the hippies want to see. None of those industries will give Greenpeace the time of day.
The IT biz, however, doesn't actually use that much energy: even a vast cloud like Facebook has basically negligible energy impact, as we've seen above. The cloud and IT in general would cope comparatively easily with energy price rises, carbon taxes etc. Better, IT firms could make big money if supplies of energy - in particular, of electricity - became scarcer and more expensive as this would allow vast sales of networking and computing technology for use in "smart grids" and other such energy-efficiency ploys.
So IT is an area where the Greenpeace can perhaps get some traction for its ideas. And better still, several of the cloudy IT giants are not just technology companies but advertising ones with giant audiences - Facebook and Google being prime examples. As such they have potentially enormous political clout, which may go some way to explaining why politicians tend to laud them and cosy up to them at every opportunity, despite the generally rather limited economic benefits they offer.
And this in turn probably explains why Greenpeace is so interested in IT companies, and the IT companies are so much more willing to enter into a dialogue with the organisation than other large concerns are. The cloud sector can benefit from a green agenda, and some of it at least has the political muscle which can help push that agenda forward. ®