Telecommuting's carbon footprint isn't so small

It's easy to sit at your desk at home, telecommuting and think how much you're saving the environment by not driving one of those fossil-fueled cars on the Interstate.

Today, New Scientist had this to say about that: Not so fast. Estimates quoted by the magazine were that it may take 152 billion (yes, with a B) kilowatt hours per year to power just the data centers that keep the Internet from turning off. That doesn't include the energy used by, say, your laptop and router and printer and everyone else's computers, routers and other peripherals.

All said and done, New Scientist said the Internet could be responsible for, perhaps, 2 percent of manmade carbon dioxide emissions. That's as much as the aviation industry. You know, jet planes.

A previous study by security-technology company, McAfee, and technology-research company, ICF International, stated that the 62 trillion (yes, with a T) spam e-mails sent last year helped contribute to the problem. Google also said a while back that a typical search generates .02 grams of carbon dioxide. According to New Scientist, that means 1,000 searches produce as much "as an average European car travelling 1 kilometre."

More people are going online all the time - from 2000 to 2008, world Internet use increased an enormous 342 percent. So that carbon footprint will only increase as well, though Google, for example, has been adding so-called "green" data centers to reduce its carbon footprint by using more energy-efficient means to cool its computers.

And, if telecommuting (instead of driving cars) and video conferencing (instead of flying to a location for a meeting) manage to reduce the carbon footprint from traditional fossil-fuel transportation, it could end up at the very worst a zero-sum game and at the very best, a lot less carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere.