Google ‘Airbrushes’ Carbon Emissions Info from Flight Computer

A Google Flights logo displayed on a smartphone. Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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Google, the world’s biggest search engine, has changed the way its Google Flights meta-search engine calculates the climate impact of flights, making them appear to have far less environmental impact than before, the BBC has found. .

In addition to providing users with a way to search for flights and fares since October 2021, Google Flights has also allowed users to calculate and compare carbon emissions from air travel, The Independent reported. But according to Greenpeace, in July 2022 Google removed all drivers of global warming from its theft carbon calculator except for carbon dioxide emissions.

“Google has erased much of the aviation industry’s climate impacts from its pages,” Greenpeace chief scientist and policy director Dr Doug Parr told the BBC.

Google said the major adjustment was made after consulting “industry partners”, the BBC reported. The decision could have a huge impact on those who use Google Flights to help with their travel plans.

According to Google, the carbon calculator is designed “to help you make more sustainable travel choices”, the BBC reported.

A number of experts have said that the Carbon Calculator’s estimates now give just over half of the true climate impact of the emissions from the flights it calculates.

“It now significantly underestimates the overall climate impact of aviation,” said the author of the broadest scientific assessment of air travel’s contribution to global warming, Professor David Lee of the Manchester Metropolitan University, as reported by the BBC.

Burning aviation fuel emits carbon dioxide, but that’s not the only harmful environmental effect of flight. It also produces contrails, long, thin clouds that trap Earth’s heat high up in the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.

The aviation sector is responsible for about 2% of global carbon emissions and about 3.5% of global warming due to human activity.

Carbon emissions from the airline industry have increased by half since 2000, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), and are expected to increase by more than 4% per year over the next twenty years.

Google posted a note on the GitHub website stating that impacts other than carbon dioxide emissions were “essential” to incorporate into the climate calculator, but also stating that “details on how and when to include these factors require more input from our stakeholders”.

By calculating the climate and environmental impacts of the flight, the British government suggests that companies multiply the carbon dioxide emissions of a flight by 1.9. The UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has said that despite the formula being uncertain, there is no preferable way to calculate the effects at this time, reports the BBC.

Other travel websites have incorporated Google Flights’ carbon calculator methodology, including Skyscanner, which receives more than 100 million visitors per month and uses data from Google’s partnership with Travalyst, Euronews Green reported.

“We agree that CO2e (equivalent) emissions are a critical factor in calculating the impact of aviation on the environment,” a Travalyst spokesperson told Euronews Green. “However, it is crucial that we strive to align the way these impacts are calculated.”

About 3.5% of human-caused global warming is generated by the aviation industry. Transport & Environment (T&E), a collection of organizations working to reduce the environmental impact of transport, said that according to the latest scientific knowledge, around two-thirds of the total climate impact of aviation could come from the unregulated effects of non-carbon sources.

“The industry hid this problem for decades,” a T&E spokesperson said, as reported by Euronews Green. “Google should show customers the non-CO2 effects for every flight, as the European Parliament has proposed to do.”

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