Google changed its Google Flights carbon calculator in a way that ‘erased’ aviation’s real environmental impact, experts say

Google changed its Google Flights carbon calculator in a way that ‘erased’ aviation’s real environmental impact, experts say

Aviation accounts for approximately 2-3% of global CO2 emissions from human activities annually

Aviation accounts for approximately 2-3% of global CO2 emissions from human activities annually.Walter Geiersperger / Getty

  • Weather experts say Google has “touched up” the true environmental impact of flights.

  • Google updated the carbon calculator in its Google Flights tool in July.

  • The tool now rules out some of the key drivers of global warming, experts told the BBC.

Climate experts interviewed by the BBC say Google “adjusted” the true environmental impact of airlines when it made changes to its flight carbon calculator in July.

The company has updated the calculator, which is part of its Google Flights tool, to only account for a flight’s direct CO2 emissions and exclude all other global warming effects of flying, the BBC reported.

The tool is used by travelers to calculate the potential impact on weather when selecting different flights. It is also used by major travel sites such as Skyscanner.

While the CO2 produced by burning fuel in an airplane is a global warming factor, a 2021 study led by Manchester Metropolitan University estimated that about two-thirds of aviation’s environmental impact comes from other pollutants such as contrails — droplets of ice, fuel particles and water vapor left in the wake of the aircraft.

These pollutants are no longer included in the number provided to Google users, making it difficult to assess their climate impact.

Critics say the calculations provided by Google’s calculator can now only show about half of the actual environmental impact of flights, according to the BBC report.

“Google has eliminated a large part of the aviation industry’s climate impacts from its pages,” said Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace, one of three climate experts who spoke to the BBC.

“It now significantly underestimates the global impact of aviation on the climate,” Professor David Lee of Manchester Metropolitan University told the BBC.

Aviation accounts for about 2-3% of global CO2 emissions from human activities annually, according to the European Union Aviation Safety Authority, although its total environmental impact is greater.

Google told the BBC the changes were made after consultation with “industry partners”.

A Google spokesperson confirmed to Insider that contrails were included in their estimated Google Flights emissions through this summer. They said Google is working to include other environmental impacts in the calculator again “more accurately” in the future.

“We strongly believe that non-CO2 effects should be included in the model, but not at the expense of the accuracy of individual flight estimates.

“To address this issue, we are working closely with leading academics on soon-to-be-published research to better understand how the impact of contrails varies based on critical factors such as time of day and region, which in turn, will help us more accurately reflect this information to consumers,” the spokesperson said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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