THE BLOG

Google's Champion Carbon Footprint: An Alert on the Unfairness of it All!

Sep 17, 2007 | Updated May 25, 2011

None of us are perfect, and that applies as well to the founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. This in spite of their singular achievement and many good works. In an eye opening, almost comical article in the Thursday's New York Times, "Google Claims Ultimate Perk: NASA Runway," that read more like an expose than the usual stodgy New York Times news feature (Go Times, you could use more of that!). We were entertained by the "Oh My Gosh" news that Page and Brin had worked out a special arrangement with NASA to acquire landing and parking rights for their two wide-body 767-200 Boeing jets as well as two humble Gulf Stream V's at NASA's Moffet Field in close proximity (four miles, seven minutes travel time) to their offices at Mountain View, California. The airfield is otherwise closed to all commercial and private aircraft. The Google boys nonetheless worked out special arrangements with the authorities who would chortle "It seemed like a win-win situation," whereby the planes are made available for 'science missions' and subject to a nominal fee (in comparison to what similar rights would cost at commercial installations) in order to secure access to the airstrip.

Now what kind of planes are these 'science mission' behemoths? One of the parked Boeing 767-200s has already been the focus of a 'cause celebre' when The Wall Street Journal advised its readers about the flare up between the Google guys and their contractor who had been hired to refurbish it. The contractor was all too forthcoming, advising the Journal and the world at large about requests to modify the plane to include California king size beds. He went on to quote one of the company's senior officers having described the jet as a "party airplane."

That's all well and good. Page, Brin and company have all earned their money and given back to all of us value in kind. They are entitled to spend their fairly gotten gains as they see fit, and more power to them. This in glaring contrast the oil cabal that have manipulated supply and price of energy, lining their own pockets, in effect taxing us to the oil patch's gain, without delivering an iota of additional economic benefit (sorry, just had to get that in).

But there is a problem. Those planes. And the humungous carbon footprint they represent. As example, a Gulfstream G-II with two passengers traveling 1,000 miles consumes some 1,220 gallons of fuel and emits 12.8 tons of CO2. Now this is not an altogether fair comparison but I'll make it anyway. A Prius traveling the same distance consumes approximately 25 gallons. Extrapolate a Gulfstream G-II emissions to that of a wide bodied Boeing 767-200's, and it begins to boggle the mind.

Now the sad part is that Page, Brin and the Google Team are doing so much to address the issue of climate change through their philanthropic arm, Google.org. Climate change and energy policy initiatives are a major focus of their philanthropic concerns. When they focus on a problem, they bring out the heavy artillery. So to see them squander the moral high ground which they have fought for and deserve to reach, for the material temptations of party planes is a sad disappointment. Here is a company that deserves kudos for having successfully reduced its energy consumption and maximized energy efficiencies, and for having invested heavily in renewable energy sources. Then there is their policy of purchasing carbon offsets for the emissions that they can't reduce directly. But that is the key, "...can't reduce directly." Gentlemen and ladies, party all you want, but on a carbon spewing Boeing 767-200? Come on guys and gals, you can't buy absolution with carbon offsets for that! It just won't wash. But worse, it puts all your other good works in question.

Yet wait! There's more to this story. The Times is always there for the underdog. They point out gamely, that not only can't the other Silicon Valley billionaires not park nor land their jets at Moffet Field, but sad to say, "... have to fight traffic to get to their large jets parked at the San Francisco or San Jose International airports, or (now get this -- my emphasis here) farther away. The unfairness of it all is mind bending. Citizens, to the barricades!!