If you're looking for a way to save money, find a way to cut down on e-mail spam.

The same amount of energy that was used to transmit, process and filter the 62 trillion spam e-mails sent last year was enough energy to power for a year all of the homes foreclosed in the United States in 2008, according to a recent study on the carbon footprint of spam.

Granted, the study was done by McAfee, which sells anti-virus and anti-spam software. But the figures clearly point out that spam has a bigger carbon footprint than mailing a letter the old fashioned way with a stamp across the country.
Globally the annual spam energy use totals 33 billion kilowatt-hours, or the equivalent to the electricity used in 2.4 million homes in the United States, or with the same emissions as 3.1 million passenger cars using 2 billion gallons of gas.

The study found that 52% of the energy consumption associated with spam comes from end-users deleting spam and searching for legitimate e-mail. Spam filtering accounts for 16% of spam-related energy use, it found.

While spam filters help, getting rid of the junk e-mailers provides the most relief. You may remember the date -- Nov. 11, 2008, when McColo Inc., a web host in the United States notorious for its prolific contribution to e-mail spam, was taken offline by its upstream Internet Service Provider, according to the McAfee report. Overnight, global spam volume dropped by 70%, causing junk messages to stop clogging inboxes around the world. It was the equivalent to taking 2.2 million passenger cars off the road.

Imagine how cleaner the world would be if all ISPs did that to the junk e-mailers clogging the Internet. With Earth Day upon us, it's a wish worth making.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net

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