Google artificially understated emissions from air travel, which was called manipulation

Google artificially understated emissions from air travel, which was called manipulation

Last month, the technology giant undetected the algorithm to rule out a critical component of the overall impact of air travel greenhouse gases, which means that flight emissions are now much lower than they were before.

"Google's got a huge amount of information on the impact of the aviation industry on climate on its pages," Dr. Doug Parr told BBC.

The change, as Google reported in its Github public post last month, was made after consultation with the "academic and industry partners" of the technology giant. Google also reported that it had decided to calculate only carbon dioxide emissions from flights, rather than the combined effect of all greenhouse gases known as CO2E or "carbon equivalents", in terms of climate, and in particular, Google decided to suspend calculations of inversional footprints, clouds that could have a major impact on flight emissions.

While carbon dioxide represents most of the greenhouse gas emissions from flights, the exclusion of inversion traces that occur after freezing the water vapour in the jet fuel, creating clouds remaining in the sky after the flights, is curious.

The warming effect of individual inversion tracks is rather short-lived, as the clouds disappear within hours, but given that thousands of flights take place in the sky at any point in time — only the U.S. Federal Aviation Authority handles more than 45,000 flights daily — these "timely" heating clouds can cause real damage.

Google says it's too difficult to compute an inversion trail for individual flights, and although it's worth it, they want to develop a mechanism to make more accurate forecasts for specific flights.

"We strongly believe that the model should include effects other than CO2 emissions, but not the accuracy of individual flight estimates," the representative of Google stated in Earther's e-mail. "In order to address this problem, we are working closely with leading scientists on a study that will soon be published. It will help to better understand how the influence of inversion traces varies depending on critical factors, such as time of day and region, which in turn will help us to accurately reflect this information for consumers."

However, some of the findings on the overall impact of air travel are frightening: an analysis conducted in 2011 showed that the heating effect of inversion traces could be greater than that of aviation fuel itself; another study predicted that the effect of heating from inversion tracks could triple by 2050, as air traffic continued to increase.

By changing the calculation of carbon emissions, Google could radically reduce its estimates for some flights. The BBC estimated that before the equation was changed, the tool could show that 1070 kg of carbon dioxide equivalent per person was emitted from Seattle to Paris; after a change, it was only 521 kg CO2-eq.

Let us recall that when Google launched a carbon tracking tool in the fall of last year to enable consumers to see individual emissions from each voyage, it received wide attention and praise from both industry leaders and climate scientists.