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Infographic: How Bad is Spam for the Environment?

October 21, 2011

Spam email is a merely a nuisance to some people, a productivity drain to many others, and a potential disaster for a very, very gullible minority of us. There's really not a lot to like about spam at all, but at least all that annoying digital data being pushed around comes without much negative impact on the environment, right?

Not so fast, warns WebpageFX, which claims to have calculated the carbon footprint of the world's spamming activities and has presented those findings in the infographic below.
It turns out that a single spam email doesn't do all that much to bring us closer to an environmental Armageddon. WebpageFX reckons one such message generates greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions equivalent to driving a car three feet (we're assuming it's a standard gas guzzler and not a hybrid).

But add all of the world's spam up and all of a sudden, you're talking about a much more substantial environmental impact.
We're not talking about pollution generation on the scale of the world's vehicle emissions or maybe even that waste produced by a small city, but the 95 trillion spam emails sent in 2010 caused an impact equivalent to driving a car around the world 200 million times, according to WebpageFX. That's no small potatoes.

And the trouble with spam is that it's very much on the rise. As we've documented before, the botnets that generate all those exabytes of spam annually are nasty and growing—massive criminal botnets such as Rustock, Bagle, and Festi send literally tens of billions of spam emails a day, according to Check Point Software. The explosion of mobile devices has only added yet more fertile platforms for the purveyors of malware, scareware, and spam to target with their malicious tools and scams.

The good news: WebpageFX figures that while spam filtering software accounts for 16 percent of spam-related energy use, if nobody used such solutions, spam's GHG emissions would rise 270 percent.

Author:  PC Magazine


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