Is Spam Really Threatening Planet Earth? I Don't Believe It

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Just when we thought the world was facing about as many threats as any one planet should have to contend with comes word that spam could be a source of global warming.

"The Carbon Footprint of Spam," a study commissioned by McAfee, found that in 2008 the transport and processing of spam contributed the same greenhouse gas emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using 3 billion gallons of gasoline.

But, on reflection, I must question the claim. Unless your computer would otherwise be turned off or in a very low power state there should be no incremental power usage as the machine would be chugging along anyway.

I spend time each day deleting a certain about of spam--most I just ignore, which the study suggests is more environmentally friendly--but if I wasn't doing that the machine would still be on and its power consumption would be the same.

Most people don't have such wonderful power management to begin with and businesses are even worse. If your computer could really drop its power consumption as soon as your fingers left the keyboard and wake up when you touched it again, then the study's finding might have more validity.

I am not saying that the study's conclusions are totally off, but since it doesn't explain the precise methodology used, I am discounting the finding by half. That's still a lot of energy, but the actual energy waste could be even less. (A study consultant, Richi Jennings, takes a shot at not quite explaining the methodology here.)

My guess is this is one of those oh-so-bogus "studies" created to sell a product, in this case McAfee's "energy saving" anti-spam server software. The study is easy to believe because it reenforces something most people already believe, that spam is evil.

But, want to know something? I'm not buying it--neither the study nor the software it's trying to sell. Sure spam is evil, but so are questionable studies used to sell stuff--and generate more spam.

David Coursey hates spam as much as the next guy, but he's not fooled by these commissioned studies. He tweets as @dcoursey and can be e-mailed using the contact form at

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