What is the carbon footprint of twitter?

Inspired by this article, we’ve decided to take on a question that before May 19th we would probably never have bothered trying to answer but thanks to Wolfram Alpha we’re going to give it a go. One thing we learned on our travels is that there aren’t many solid numbers on anything, so at best we’re seeing this as a good estimation and at worst, entirely wrong. We’d love your insight into this question, have a look at the figures we dug out and offer some feedback on how it might be calculated more accurately. Are there any additional figures that need to be put in? Is there a less crude way of calculating it? Despite our concerns, we have come up with an answer.

Before we can do the maths, we need to go on a fact finding mission:

How many people worldwide use the internet?

worldwide-internet-traffic

1.018 billion

http://www25.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=internet+use+worldwide

How many people use twitter?

twitter-traffic

19,443,288

http://siteanalytics.compete.com/twitter.com/

How much carbon does a computer produce?

A report by the European Social Investment Forum suggests that the entire ITC sector causes about 2% of worldwide CO2 emissions, which is as much as the aviation industry.

This estimate includes the in-use phase of PCs, servers, cooling, fixed and mobile phones, local area networks (LANs), office telecommunications and printers.

Twitter relies on most of these things to work but this is a figure we could do with breaking down further to remove the contribution of fixed phones and printers. Have a browse through the report yourself and see what you can discover.

How much Carbon Dioxide is produced worldwide annually?

Wolfram Alpha has no idea. Scarily, it’s quite difficult to get recent figures.  We had to use that other source of endless information, Wikipedia, which states that as of 2004 the world produced 27,245,758,000 tonnes of CO2 annually. That’s a big number so let’s break it down, it’s 24 billion, 245 million, 758 thousand tonnes per year….as of 2004. It’s 4.2 tonnes a year for every single person on the planet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_carbon_dioxide_emissions#cite_note-7

Looking for figures on what the world is producing in 2009 only turns up “oh my god look how much it grew between 2000 and 2004” kinds of results. Wolfram Alpha doesn’t know the figures, and the only hint at what we’re producing now was based projections using 2004 figures put together by the Energy Information Administration for the United States Government.

World carbon dioxide emissions are projected to rise from 28.1 billion metric tons in 2005 to 34.3 billion metric tons in 2015 and 42.3 billion metric tons in 2030

Based on these growth projections we can assume that in 2009 the world will be producing an estimated 30.58 billion tonnes of CO2 unless we change our course. Now we’re getting somewhere.

A bit of wolfram alpha maths.

If the ICT sector contributes 2% of global CO2 emissions, we can calculate that as 2% of 30.58 billion. If I’ve done my sums correctly that is 611,600 million tonnes.

If the whole ICT sector is equal to 1.018 billion people online, and 19.4 million people use twitter that’s a measly 1.906% of worldwide internet users, so what is our contribution to the 611,600 million tonnes produces by the entire ICT sector?

11,412 tonnes per year

That’s quite a lot less than I thought it was going to be, considering the mammoth numbers of worldwide co2 production I was expecting a larger slap to the face, but as it turns out tweeting doesn’t so dangerous. It’s 0.00058 tons of co2 per year per tweeter, so you can all sleep easy unless I’ve got it all horribly horribly wrong. Please let us know…

Update

We’ve got our hands on some better figures, twitter has an estimated 31.2 million users, not the 19.4 million which Compete suggests. That means that twitter users make up 2.91% of internet users worldwide!

That increases our carbon footprint from 11,412 tonnes a year to 17,798 tonnes a year.

Phil Harper - Social Media Consultant
  • numbercruncher

    If if the number of Twitter users is actually Twitter accounts, you can probably reduce that number some more because of multiple accounts run on the same machine.

    I think our government work out figures that way too.

    • http://blog.fluidcreativity.co.uk Fluid Creativity

      It’s the number of people who visit twitter.com monthly…I figured it was as good an estimation as any as to the number of twitter users.

  • numbercruncher

    If if the number of Twitter users is actually Twitter accounts, you can probably reduce that number some more because of multiple accounts run on the same machine.

    I think our government work out figures that way too.

    • http://www.fluidcreativity.co.uk/fluid-thinking fluidcreativity

      It's the number of people who visit twitter.com monthly…I figured it was as good an estimation as any as to the number of twitter users.

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  • http://www.write-concepts.com/ Vince Love

    If I read correctly, Twitterers take up 1.906% of the ICT sector. But they do lots of other things apart from Twitter – blogging, browsing, applications, music etc. That means they should only share a small portion of the 17,798 tonnes of CO2 per year produced and be glad their Tweets are even more ecologically sound …

    You could go even further and discount a big chunk of the monthly visits to Twitter as many sign up and don’t post thereafter. In fact, some research puts “committed” Twitter users at only 10% of the total community.

    Take all that into consideration and you could probably fit all of Twitter’s carbon emissions on the back of a small truck :-)

  • http://www.write-concepts.com/ Vince Love

    If I read correctly, Twitterers take up 1.906% of the ICT sector. But they do lots of other things apart from Twitter – blogging, browsing, applications, music etc. That means they should only share a small portion of the 17,798 tonnes of CO2 per year produced and be glad their Tweets are even more ecologically sound …

    You could go even further and discount a big chunk of the monthly visits to Twitter as many sign up and don't post thereafter. In fact, some research puts “committed” Twitter users at only 10% of the total community.

    Take all that into consideration and you could probably fit all of Twitter's carbon emissions on the back of a small truck :-)