Google has removed one of the key drivers of Global Warming from its online carbon flight calculator. This misleads people to believe that flight emissions are much lower than before.
“Google has airbrushed a huge chunk of the aviation industry’s climate impacts from its pages,” says Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist of Greenpeace. As Google hosts nine out of every 10 online searches, this could have a major impact on the flying decisions made by people. The company has clarified this by saying that it has made the changes followed by consultations with its “industry partners”, which affects the carbon calculator embedded in the Company’s Google Flights tool.
Google flights is a flight search tool by Google. If one searches for flights on Google, it appears in the top results. It also offers to calculate the emissions generated by your journey. Google has said that this feature is designed “to help you make more sustainable travel choices”. However, the significance of the move blurred when the Company decided to exclude all the global warming impacts of flying except CO2.
Flying affects the climate in lots of ways in addition to the CO2 produced by burning aviation fuel. These include the development of long, thin clouds called contrails in the upper atmosphere, which trap heat released by the Earth and cause net warming of our planet. Because of these additional warming effects, even though aviation only contributes to around 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions, it is actually responsible for about 3.5% of the warming brought on by human activity. Over and above this, it is a sector that will continue to expand.
According to the International Energy Agency, emissions have increased by 50% since 2000, and for the next two decades, the industry is anticipated to grow by more than 4% annually (IEA).
Google Flights Represent only half the total impact
Several experts have claimed that currently, the Company’s calculations represent only over half of the real impact on the climate of flights. “It now significantly understates the global impact of aviation on the climate”, says Professor David Lee of Manchester Metropolitan University, the author of the most comprehensive scientific assessment of the contribution of air travel to global warming.
Google has acknowledged that these factors are “critical to include in the model” and cites the emphasis given to them in the latest report by the UN’s climate science body, the IPCC. However, the company has clarified on another platform that “the details of how and when to include these factors requires more input from our stakeholders”. The reason for this is that the company’s priority was the “accuracy of the individual flight estimates” it provides to its consumers.