Google accused of cutting carbon emissions in flight search results
A change to the search engine essentially cuts the stated environmental impact for each journey in half.
Following a tweak to its flight search engine that reduced the amount of CO2 emissions associated with each journey by halving them, Google has been accused of airbrushing aviation emissions.
The BBC was the first to notice the change, which has an impact on a Google Flights tool that displays the anticipated carbon emissions of each route. The business indicates routes with emissions that are greater or lower than average and also gives the overall CO2 emissions per passenger for each trip.
However, Google pushed through a modification in July of this year that cut the total emission data it published in half. The company had previously reported emissions in kilograms of "carbon dioxide equivalent" (CO2e), a measure that accounts for the harm to the environment caused by other aviation emissions, such as water vapour released as part of a plane's contrails at high altitudes, which can have a much higher warming effect per tonne than pure CO2.
The supposed environmental impact of each individual flight was virtually cut in half after Google started only reporting the CO2 emitted on each voyage.
The corporation contends that until its models are improved, it would be more accurate to just report CO2 as it is hard to determine CO2e for a specific flight because the impact of water vapor on heat varies depending on the time of day and location of emissions.
In a statement, the company said: “We strongly believe that non-CO2 effects should be included in the model, but not at the expense of accuracy for individual flight estimates. To address this issue, we’re working closely with leading academics on soon-to-be-published research to better understand how the impact of contrails varies based on critical factors like time of day and region, which will in turn help us more accurately reflect that information to consumers.”
Except for a single remark posted to a developer account on the code-sharing website Github, Google did not publicly recognize the modification when it was put through.
Celebrities have recently been facing a lot of criticism because of their short private jet trips.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) August 9, 2022
A few weeks ago, #British sustainability marketing firm, Yard, listed the celebrities who are the "worst private jet CO2 emission offenders."
Here are the top 5. #ClimateCrisis pic.twitter.com/Gj0xsGtKcs
Critics argue that this is insufficient and that, notwithstanding the difficulty of assessing the overall environmental impact, there are more effective alternatives available than simply "airbrushing" the harm. One such critic is Dr. Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace UK.
“The last thing it should do is quietly greenwash the planetary impacts of one of the world’s most stubborn polluters,” said Parr.
“We’re in the middle of a full-blown climate emergency that airlines continue to fuel – it’s absolutely vital that the world’s biggest search engine gives decent information about this industry’s climate footprint.”