Airlines and livestock farmers disagree with Google’s climate math

10 months ago
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Flying premium from A trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a common commute for some Californians, could emit 101 kilograms of carbon, or maybe 142 or even 366 kilograms, depending on which source you search the Internet for.

The wide range of estimates is due to what some climate experts see as a growing problem with Google at the center. More and more people are trying to factor the effects of climate change into their life decisions, such as where to go on vacation or what to eat. However, scientists are still arguing about how to accurately estimate the impact of many activities, including flying or meat production. While the math is being worked out, some industries are condemning emissions estimates as unfair.

Google has taken the lead among big tech companies in trying to educate users about their potential carbon footprint while traveling, heating homes and, more recently, cooking dinner. But airlines, ranchers and other industry groups have countered, saying Google’s push could hurt their sales. They demanded—successfully, in the case of airlines—that the search giant rethink how it calculates and presents emissions data.

The United Nations Climate Group has begun to talk about the importance of individual decisions, noting, for example, in last year’s report that train travel and avoiding long flights could result in a 40% potential reduction in global aviation emissions by 2050 due to changes in the way people choose to travel. But for consumers, getting a personal view of their carbon footprint is difficult, as large studies tend to focus on global or regional averages rather than personalized metrics, emissions researchers say.

Scientists and start-ups working on emission estimates fear that exposing buyers to heterogeneous data will lead them not only to be misinformed about the impact of their choices, but also to distrust emissions estimates for years to come. This could hinder efforts to slow the release of planet-warming gases.

“It’s a concern when there’s fragmentation and inconsistency,” says Sally Davey, chief executive of Travalyst, a nonprofit that brings together travel players including airlines, Google, Expedia and Visa to standardize emissions formulas. “If we create noise instead of clarity and consistency, people will turn off and we won’t behave the way we want to.”

climate promise

Google has emerged as a potentially powerful force in consumers’ personal climate footprint. since the public goal setting in September 2020. to help 1 billion people make smarter choices by the end of 2022 through their services. This commitment has resulted in several new features across Maps, Flights, Search, Nest thermostats, and other Google services that collectively have over 3 billion users. According to the company, last year brought Google record high searches for “rooftop solar”, “electric bikes” and “electric vehicles”.

Competitors such as Apple, which optimizes iPhone charging based on a combination of LAN energy sources and Microsoft, which emphasizes eco-friendly shopping products Bing launched its own “green” features. But no consumer tech company can match the breadth or size of Google’s climate features audience or the granularity of the data it provides to consumers, down to a tenth of a kilogram of emissions in the case of protein sources.

However, Google’s Chief Sustainability Officer Keith Brandt admits her mission to educate users about less polluting choices is not yet complete. “We see that people need information, but they don’t know what is the most meaningful choice they can make,” she says. “Data will constantly change and improve. They are not static.” Brandt declines to say whether Google has reached its goal of helping 1 billion people by the end of 2022, but says the company plans to showcase its progress with its work. annual environmental reportwhich should be in the middle of this year.

Joro, a startup that offers Appendix to track and offset emissions from card purchases recently reviewed four online calculators for estimating emissions from flights to help consumers. His analysis, based on recommendations from scientific advisers such as Yale environmental researcher Reed Miller, found large differences on routes including San Francisco and Los Angeles.

International Civil Aviation Organization (UN aviation body) and international airline trade group IATA offer different formulas for calculating aviation emissions, says Yoro. The trade group is focusing on flight time per distance traveled and is using airline data on average aircraft fuel consumption and load taken from actual flights, instead of what the group considers less accurate estimates used by other calculators.

Yoro also discovered that Google was parting ways with the Swiss nonprofit. Myclimate, which consults with companies seeking to calculate and reduce emissions. Unlike a search company, Myclimate includes emissions from start to finish, including jet fuel production, aircraft idle at airports, and picking up passengers from gates. Myclimate also adds some non-carbon effects, including the warming effect on the atmosphere of contrails, which are clouds formed by aircraft exhaust.

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