The Mother Jones article from last Monday entitled “Are Email Attachments Bad for the Environment?” is certainly getting a reaction. The article is still circulating the twitosphere, even one week later.
The story features some interesting quotes from Matthew Yeager, identified as a data storage expert from the UK, including:
“sending an email attachment of 4.7 megabytes creates as much greenhouse gas as boiling your tea kettle 17.5 times.”
You have to hand it to the English – they can reduce the complexity of the Internet and the global debate on greenhouse gases down to the topic of brewing a cup of tea.
While Yeager didn’t go into the details of his tea kettle calculation – many commenters have, including Anonymous, who provided the following:
According to PBS Roughscience, a standard kitchen kettle takes about 2000 Watts of electrical power. Thus, 17.5 × 2 kW = 35 kW. But that’s power (P), not energy (E = P×T) over time period T. If it takes about 10 mins to boil a kettle then, 2 kW / 6 = 0.33 kWh per boil.
If a typical British kitchen kettle is assumed to hold 1.5 liters, that’s about 6.34 US coffee cups, according to Google convert. According to General Electric, brewing 3 pots of coffee (6 cups) requires 1 kWh of energy. So, 1 brew (or 1 kettle boil) takes about 0.33 kWh, which seems consistent.
The controversy seems to arise from whether the claimed 35kW per email is a reasonable number or not. As one IT manager commented
“Now I know our server room is warm, but the damn thing would melt if it was using that much energy.”
While nobody disputes that email attachments take up storage, and that redundancy, backups, and sharing of email attachments explodes the storage requirements, what does seem to be up for debate is the scale of the energy consumption. As of today, Mr Yeager hasn’t come forward to explain or revise his estimate, which might explain why this story keeps circulating.
I think I need to sit down with a cuppa to think this one through.
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