Spam is cooking the planet

Jacob Schor ND FABNO

June 6, 2009


I made an embarrassing mistake this morning.  I opened an email purporting to be from someone I knew that contained a link to photos this individual had sent to me.  I was mistaken and in my attempt to view the photos, inadvertently allowed access to my full email address book.  Before I knew what had happened the website had invited every address on my computer to view photos I had posted.

My attempts to warn people not to be fooled by this scam were frustrating to the point of being ludicrous.  As soon as I realized what had happened I tried to send out messages to everyone.  Well MSN limits the number of addresses for a message to 50.  I buckled down and started sending a ‘warning’ to my mailing list, fifty people at a time.  Just when I was getting the hang of it msn informs me that I had exceeded my daily quota of emails and that I would have to wait 24 hours to send additional emails.  Luckily my wife and daughter kindly lent me their emails and I used them to send out the remainder of my warnings.

This experience brought to mind two recent articles about the internet. 

The internet burns through an enormous amount of power, an estimated 152 billion kilowatt hours a year.   

That 152 billion kilowatt hours of energy is approximately 2 percent of human-caused C02 emissions.  That is about the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions as produced by the entire aviation industry. If the internet keeps growing as expected, CO2 emission will  almost triple in a decade.

Back in 2006 running the data centers in the US burnt up 1.5% of the entire electricity used in the United States.

If you figure in spam then this whole situation becomes absurd.  Back in 2004 spam accounted for about 70% of internet traffic.  Those were the good old days. By 2006   85% of internet traffic was spam.  IN 2007 that number was up to 85% to 90%. 

The most recent Symantec report puts this month’s spam level at 90.5%  

We’ve got a problem.  One of our fastest growing sources of energy expenditure and thus producer of green house gasses is 90% wasted energy.  That’s not considering how much of our lives we waste shifting through spam in the hope of gleaning our actual e-mail that requires reading.

Sure we all have spam filters these days that reduce our time wasted but these do not reduce the amount of energy wasted transmitting the spam before it arrives in our junk mail box.  Antiviral and junk mail filters will limit our exposure but not reduce the amount of energy wasted.  Imagine that if less than 10% of the seats on planes were ever filled.  As if 90% of the seats were always vacant and all that aviation fuel was burnt for no benefit.

That’s where we are these days.  It’s an absurd situation.  Efforts to protect ourselves against spam need to be redirected.  Instead of treating spam at the end stage, when it ends up on my computer, the focus should be stopping it early on, before it wastes the energy.

For those of you who received my unintentional mailing, please forgive me.

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