Google Flights removes contrails from the carbon calculator

Google has changed the way it calculates the climate impact of air travel in a way that dramatically underestimates key factors in aviation’s contribution to climate change.


Report from the BBC revealed that the company had begun to exclude all global warming impacts of flight in addition to carbon dioxide from its climate calculation tool from July.

This may not seem like a big change, but as a result the estimates of carbon emissions per passenger are now considerably lower than they were before the change. Indeed, carbon dioxide emissions and effects such as drag formation contribute more than half of the actual climate impact of flight. Google itself acknowledged the problem when it quietly announced the change on GitHub last month, saying it was essential to include factors other than carbon dioxide in the model, given the emphasis on them” in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. climate.

“Google has erased a lot of the aviation industry’s climate impacts from its pages,” Greenpeace chief scientist Doug Parr told the BBC.

Contrails are trails of ice crystals that form in the wake of an aircraft. They also contribute enormously to the climate impact of flight and are responsible for more than half the climate impact of flights and until 2% of total global warming. That’s a big number, and one that academics and some in the aviation industry are working to reduce.

Being able to accurately estimate and predict the climate impact of contrails remains a challenging task given the time of day, temperature and altitude of a flight can all play a part in the severity of the impact. Yet Google chose to exclude the factor entirely from its flight emissions calculator.

Public knowledge of the climate impact of contrails is already low. But Google’s new changes to its flight computer put them even further out of sight, out of mind. The scope of the calculator extends beyond Google pages; the BBC notes that it is used by Skyscanner, Expedia and other major travel sites.

Eleanor C. William