back to article Forget Google rationing: Only lighting farts can save the planet

Assertions by a Harvard University environmentalist and green-website promoter that two Google searches cause carbon emissions equivalent to boiling a kettle appear to be based on questionable numbers. Building on the new research, the Reg can also exclusively reveal that three days of normal human farts cause the same amount of …


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  1. Martin
    Thumb Up


    I for one welcome our....


    Wrong thread - sorry.

  2. Jerome

    BBC coverage

    The BBC News page covering this was hilariously stacked with factual inaccuracies and general idiocy, over and above their usual standards - and that's on top of Wissner-Gross's laughably wonky figures. Sadly they managed to cleanse the page of the worst offenders before I'd even had a chance to fire off a vitriolic carbon-guzzling email in their direction.

  3. Efros
    Paris Hilton

    Kangaroo Gut Bacteria

    Apparently Kangaroos don't fart due to the inability of their gut fauna to generate CH4, consequently we need our gut fauna to be gene spliced with those of a Kangaroo.


    Paris... cos queefing don't count!

  4. TeeCee Gold badge

    Lies, damned lies and.....

    The discrepancy between Google's opinion of the CO2 cost and the Prof's (however un-kettle like the results may actually be) looks quite simple to explain.

    The way I read this when I first saw it, Google are saying "we use x" and the Prof is saying "the cost is y". The fact that x and y are different numbers is because x=apples (Google's 'leccy consumption) and y=pears (Google + your PC + all those other bits in between that make it work).

    I think I'd rather do my bit for the planet by burning a facsimile of a Tudor Rose on the wall......

  5. dervheid

    They'll be putting a tax on that next...

    you know!

    Using the newly developed F.L.A.T.T. tables (Flatulence Linked Anal Taxation Tariff), all foods will be labelled with one of 5 categories, from 5 to 1, with 1 being the highest taxed bracket (Baked Beans, Brussel Sprouts, Cabbage, lentils etc; that's payback for the veggie-munchers!) NuLabour expects to raise BILLIONS over the next two years, as more and more people find themselves reduced to living off baked beans coz they can't get credit for anything else!

  6. jim


    ...that's bound to put the wind up someone.

  7. Tim Spence


    I'm glad El Reg has finally covered this - I saw it on the BBC earlier and was fuming by the end of it.

    Given that Google's data centres are running and consuming electricity 24/7 regardless of whether anyone is searching or not, how much CO2 do we cause by *not* doing searches? Surely by not searching, all the CO2 emitted is wasted, because we've no useful product as a result. At least by searching, we have something useful out the end for all the emissions.

    Therefore, I'm going to declare that Alex Wissner-Gross is an idiot and to save the environment you actually need to search Google more.

  8. John H Woods


    How could google possibly afford to serve free (well, advert-supported) searches if they emitted 7g of CO2? The fuel costs would be phenomenal if the searches needed this much energy. I bet he has calculated it as if only one person is using the servers at a time.

    Even if this is true, which I bet it isn't, how much would it cost to drive to the library to look things up?

  9. Matt

    Just what I needed on a monday

    Thanks Reg - monday seems so much better for reading this. I'm in a quiet office trying not to laugh out loud. Perhaps the "automatic in-pant flare stack technology" could be USB powered?

  10. Anonymous Coward


    Pedant mode...

    >Farting and failing to burn off the resulting methane is incredibly environmentally irresponsible. The average person emits anywhere from half a litre to three litres of evil-smelling gas daily.

    Er, methane is odourless around room temperature/pressure. You're talking about the other more aromatic compounds that are generally released at the same time.

    Also, the advice to light them is a little um, well, do we have a word for a "Which? says destroy your disk drive" error? They neglected to mention that smashing up a disk drive can create small fast moving shards of sharp and spiky metal or glass which can be very painful. I'd have hoped El Reg might have pointed out that sparking up a bottom burp can go wrong? Ok, mostly harmless, but still, someone might try it after a night of Vindaloo and lager and do themselves some real harm. And if it's like my local curry house, the phrases "blast radius" and "Darwin nominee" come to mind.

    I know, I know, I'm going. Mine's the one with a box of matches and some H-cream in the pocket

  11. Beelzeebub

    Methane sequestering

    Are we missing a valuable energy generation capability here?

    Collection may be difficult, granted, but how about pulling it all back out of the atmosphere, is it feasible?

    My worry is as earth's population grows, our sum total of guffing combined with a lightning strike could see us all gone in a big KABOOM!

    Coat no longer needed, it's warming up.

  12. shay mclachlan

    standard measure?

    "normal human farts"

    So is there a universal standard fart measurement now?

  13. Anonymous Coward

    I eat a lot of broccoli

    Does this reduce my googling allowance?

    The vented one please.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Can Methane be burned safely?

    If all the excess methane we humans produce on a daily basis could be captured in the home and then sent to power a generating plant then the millions of unemployed could be paid to stay at home, farting into a collecting bottle to produce green energy

  15. Sergie Kaponitovicz
    Thumb Up

    Love it!

    Thanks Lewis.

  16. Francis Fish

    It's not humans it's cows

    FAR worse - I'm sure there was something in the New Scientist about looking at the bacteria kangaroos have in their gut because they don't produce so much NH4 and seeing if cows couldn't have their intestinal flora modified.

    As for hippos and other large animals, elephants? I'll let someone else do that from a safe distance.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Governments will tax anything

    The New Zealand Government even tried (and failed) to tax farts.

    Flames, for lighting up!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    On the subject of guffs

    Don't forget that while some of us are biofuelled (veggies, that is), those of you who eat beef are producing even more methane. They will presumably have to follow around a beef herd and combust their output too?

    AC for obvious reasons, I suspect I've just started a war...

    Paris since we're on the subject of vegetable matter.

  19. Dom

    Single cup?

    The Beeb's write-up has it as " a cup of tea" so 54 seconds sounds ample if you are only boiling up a small quantity.

  20. Anonymous Coward

    Singed bum hair?

    No no no Lewis not Zippos nasty hydrocarbons not to mention co and co2 etc.

    A greener option might be to build a mini tesla in our undies for those illuminating moments...

    Just a thought, seeing as the article has been so well thought out and researched, to be really eco-friendly, should we not shave our (_*_) before lighting?

    Just what *is* the chemical composition of singed harsehairs??

  21. Random Noise

    The real question is.. many kettles worth of C02 did you produce while writing this article?

    Well, there was your laptop being on, you sitting there farting as you concentrated on the numbers (last nights Vindaloo didn't help), your lighting, radio playing in background etc etc.

    You could have been better going & making Sarah Bee a cup of tea (bless her she's working hard today) and going home early.

  22. Paul

    don't light, catalyse

    we just need platinum-lined catalytic-converter underpants in order to make these dangerous emissions safe!

  23. Colin

    fart smell

    "evil-smelling gas" ... methane is odorless. the fart smell comes from other stuff like hydrogen sulfide. still worth lighting them though - partly to convert the CH4 to CO2 and partly for amusement ....

    The icon doesn't need explaining, obviously ...

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Who care about Gaza, the recession, feral kids, moral-less politicians etc.

    I don't - this is the sort of "thought-provoking" article we need in today's depressing climate. I'm a self-confessed ecotard, and I even I found this absurdly funny.

    Pure class.

  25. Liam Johnson

    Trousers down

    I always though lighting farts "trousers down" could result in the risk of a nasty flash-back. The Davy-lamp nature of the trouser cloth should reduce this risk significantly. Unless you have particularly flammable trousers.

    Flame icon obviously.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I would say this storry is pants but its not.

  27. Master Baker

    Guff engine

    Could lighting your parps be used to power a small-sized combustion engine?

    Feed a tube from your aniarse to a small engine housed on the back of a pair of rollerstates. To be fair you would have to pump out a lot to keep going.

    Or you could pump-out into a pressurised container. When it's full it could beep at you, at which point you could slot it into your roller-skate or stakeboard engine.

    Or just take it home, release it under the duvet in the morning (as your getting up for work) so when your wife gets up she thinks she's shit herself.

    Flame, because farts and fire shouldn't really mix.

  28. Anonymous Coward


    So when do we see the next Toyota hybrid with methane abosrbers in the seats, linked directly to the air intake? Gives a new slant to "man-machine interfaces"...

    "Was that you?"

    "Yes, needed a bit more power to overtake that tractor:".

    Might be the incentive TfL need to ban standing-room on buses, since getting all the passengers to sit down could improve air quality and fuel economy

  29. Steven Jones

    Junk Numbers

    A classic case of the media falling for junk statistics by a self-publicising academic with a vested interest, both for the the publicity and for commerciall interests. Wissner-Gross is co-founder Enernetics and you can sign up on its website for some (chargeable) services to evaluate the "greenness" of your web site.

    This particular piece of self-publcity was even packed up by by David Aaranovich on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday (who, as a journalist, ought to be a bit more sceptical about this sort of stuff).

    Quite how this guy came up with his numbers has not been published in detail, but it would appear that he is doing his CO2 emission calculations on boiling enough water for a cup of coffee, and not a whole kettle full (but boiling a kettle sounds so much worse doesn't it?). On that basis, 5g might be about right (although that's only about enough to drive the average European car about 30 metres).,

    The other side of the calculation is the power used by your Google search - well the great ad purveyor in cyber-space have come out with vaguely believeable numbers which are a tiny fraction of these figures. However, the difference appears tocome about because the good professor has included liberal allowances for the electricity used by your PC, monitor, comms equipment and heaven knows what else including the viewing of the results. If we assume an average PC, monitor and comms equipment uses about 150 watts then it will be responsible for about 75gm of CO2 per hour, or a little over 1gm per minute. Spend 5 minutes looking at the results of the search (including going to the results) and you might be able to justify a 5gm calculation.

    So it's not the Google search that's the issue - it's basically just using the damned PC. But it's so much more newsworthy to attach the name Google to a news briefing than just say that using a desktop PC for 8 hours generates about 600gm CO2 or roughly the same as driving 4km.

    I realise all the above is variable - run a laptop and your usage will be a lot less. Run the latest graphics card and you'll probably melt a glacier somewhere in Switzerland. But what it doe go to show is that the media world is full of lazy journalists quite able to uncritically quote dubious numbers, to which we could add politicians. The same sort of nonsense occured with spurious calculations over cellphone charges left plugged in (which ended up splattered all over the Lonbdon underground in enviro-aware advertising by the Mayor of London's office).

  30. Matthew
    Thumb Up

    Please oh please

    can we have a new Reg measurement for "the average person's daily rectal-methane greenhouse burden"!

    Oh, and a new keyboard too, natch.

  31. Anonymous Coward

    Unfair on farts!

    Maybe the association or linking to farts should be removed?

    The first and most obvious reason is that it seems dreadfully unfair to farts. After all, what have farts ever done apart from give relief - usually very well received relief.

    The second is, of course, it would seem awe-fully unfair to give green activistas pains in the nether regions possibly almost laming themselves in the process? Preventing gustos can lead to terrible pains and just imagine the consequences of having to call out ambulances and health intervention purely because a futuristically sensitive person prevented a fart or two or more from being released?

    Hmmm... on second thoughts cancel part 2 above.

  32. The Cube

    Wissner-Farty's green power fails the additionality test

    All Wissner-Guff's site is doing is a dodgy estimate of the energy consumed by a website and then claiming some dodgier American 'renewable energy certificates' for you. These do not mean that the electrons feeding your site came from wind power (or his guff power, perhaps we should fit him with a turbine...) but that a piece of paper somewhere got processed. The problems are that a) US renewable or offset certificates are not recognised anywhere else in the world as the requirements are far less stringent and b) that all you are doing by purchasing them is making the grid electricity that little bit more dirty and coal based for everyone else in the US instead of actually changing the overall carbon intensity. The same goes for Google's hydro electric powered facilities, they are not green through being hydro, they are just making the grid dirtier for everyone else in the state they have moved in to.

  33. Alex
    Thumb Up

    OK! THATS IT!!

    I'm betting a tenner that both Lewis and Ted have listed giving up smoking as their new years resolutions! :D

  34. Alan Esworthy

    Carbon credit?

    Do I get a carbon credit for using Gas-X then?

  35. Peyton

    0.0003 kWh

    Somebody go and use that to back-calculate just how many servers google has - I've always been curious... I'd do it but I'm busy.

    And I at suck math.

    Oh fine then, "maths"

  36. Anonymous Coward


    I wonder if there are plans afoot within google such that when OLED screens are popular, the pages will be mainly black, thus being more 'green'.

    With standard LCDs, the colour makes very little difference - black simply absorbs light from the backlight and turns it into heat (white lets all the light through). With OLED screens, the black is literally turning the light off, thus saving energy.

    Of course, this is just my rambling mind, but it must be something google are thinking about!

  37. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: standard measure?

    Yes, it's known as a Shay.

    Ahhh, my work here is done.

  38. Richard Neill

    Re: OLEDs

    Only true if the display itself consists of OLEDs pixels. At the moment, it's just LED backlights that are in use - and you can't dim the backlight, unless the entire screen is dark.

  39. Tim Spence

    RE: OLEDs?

    Have you ever seen the ridiculous

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Arse gas combustion danger

    To all those worried about the very real dangers involved in igniting your rectal pumpage by-product - I seem to recall that Lewis was a bomb disposal guy in a previous life.

    I think he's the ideal guy to write an article on anal combustion safety, possibly accompanied by Playmobil re-enactments.

  41. Joe Blogs

    Actually, it's not that simple is it?

    Yeah, lighting your farts may reduce the methane and therefore reduce a greehouse gas, but lighting your farts produces heat, which, well, heats up the environment... and if you do this outside, surely you becoming just as environmentally unfriendly as a patio heater then!!

  42. shay mclachlan

    @Re: standard measure?

    Oh so cruel. Why not just call me Johnny Fartpants and be done with it

  43. TeeCee Gold badge


    Not so smug sunshine, if you please!

    I've heard it said that a potential indicator of life in an oxy / helium atmosphered world is the quantities of methane in the jolly old atmos courtesy of the botty burblings of the herbivorous ruminants inhabiting the place. All veggie fuelled.

    Now, I don't know about you, but while I'll admit that a few people in the immediate blast radius have, on occasion, taken issue with some of my more voluminous productions, I have yet to find anyone calling up from a few thousand light-years away to point out that they noticed it too.

    While it's true that my more meaty diet may lend a certain piquancy to some of my output, I reckon that the sheer bulk of same is more vegetable related. I certainly find that a diet richer in pulses and fibre lends itself to a classic rasp, while on meat-heavy days the output tends towards the vile squeaker or even the SBD.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    Just part of our plan to take over your puny planet.

    We'd like to encourage all humans to eat lots of beans and Google way!

    - Your future Overlords

  45. Raving
    Paris Hilton

    Will that be one cream or two?

    1 kg milk = 100 gm CH4 = 2.5 kg CO2 equivalent

    Paris MilkMaidEquivalent icon 'cos the Google "blu dart" SearchEngineEquivalent icon is currently unavailable.

  46. Anonymous Coward

    @Tim Spence made some sense when CRT's were the predominant display technology as CRT's do use more power when displaying a white screen than they do a black screen. But the black background has zero effect on power consumption for LCD displays, whose power consumption is independent of the amount of light displayed to the user.

  47. Danny Silver badge

    Most human farts methane free

    "According to Dr. James L. A. Roth, the author of Gastrointestinal Gas (Ch. 17 in Gastroenterology, v. 4, 1976) most people (2/3 of adults) pass farts that contain no methane. If both parents are methane producers, their children have a 95% chance of being producers as well. The reason for this is apparently unknown."

    The obvious solution is to stop methane producers breeding together. Your children will only contribute to global warming if both you and your partner see a blue tinge to your fart flame, and this ctest ould be incorporated into civil and religious weddings.

  48. Nebulo
    Thumb Up

    Another use

    Le Petomane could have powered the stage lights.

    And if you need to search on the name, prepare to abandon any idea you had of the French as a nation of sophisticates.

  49. Nebulo


    @AC 14:40 - The Great Voltini and Nurse Electra are ahead of you, too ... Another fine show.

  50. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    Trousers Down Redeaux

    1. A fart is the sharpest thing in the world, it can go through your pants without even making a hole.

    2. Methane powered car: 12 taco holders; 6 butt plugs.

  51. J

    Re: Actually, it's not that simple is it?

    "but lighting your farts produces heat, which, well, heats up the environment..."

    Exactly, saving you heating fuel in the winter! Well, for the people living in cold countries, at least -- they could buy fart credits from tundra people and the like (penguins!), I guess. A whole new market awaits thee. OK, you might need stronger air-conditioning in the summer, but I'm sure that if I massage the numbers enough I can show you that the winter savings and additional summer spendings cancel each other out.

    Great article, by the way. :-)

  52. Howard Noble

    Without the hot air

    Another great piece of hot air journalism for David MacKay to get stuck into:

    To dredge some interest from this discussion, working out the environmental impact of identifiable human-computer actions does seem to be more meaningful than simple stating how much energy a particular piece of hardware uses.

  53. P. Lee

    the law of big numbers

    is that they can be used to promote anything you like.

    I'm pretty sure my kettle is 3k watts and I know my inlaws always boil a full kettle, regardless of the amount required (I've tried to get them to stop but I can't!)

    I've heard that it is far less resource-intensive to eat veggies instead of beef and not farm the cows. This means you don't need to deal with their emissions too. Seeing as I'm a vegetarian, I reckon I'm owed quite a few googles.

    I still find it rather unlikely that google make enough in advertising to pay for boiling the kettle twice for every google query I've made. Someone out there must be clicking-through and buying an awful lot of stuff on my behalf!

    Tux, Penguins live in the antarctic, the antarctic has a huge ozone hole, therefore, penguins must be an environmental disaster. Its just science and logic, init?

  54. Jon Brindley

    Has anyone else...

    ..been doing ridiculous google searches a lot more now, just to see if the earth does melt faster? I mean, surely the only way to see if this is right is to do it?

  55. Big Pete

    Well i'm off to invent

    Underpants with a gas ignition and halon fire suppression system built in. Methane powered of course.

  56. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    rent this...


  57. Anonymous Coward

    Something doesnt smell right

    There's nothing better than a well timed SBD (silent but deadly) fart. Lighting them unfortunately gives the game away...You can hardly claim it wasnt you when you have just launched a flamethrower in a quiet room.

    As much as lighting my gas would be funny...a surprise attack is funnier... Then I'll happily take credit for my carbon.

  58. Anonymous Coward

    Below and beyond the call of duty

    Thank-you Lewis Page, for doing this most unpleasant research for the planet and for all our sakes.

    Are you going to patent the in-trouser flare stack?

  59. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Er.. am I suppose to enjoy the magnificent smell of my own farts if I have to set the poor little buggers on fire upon release?

  60. Chris Taylor

    Methane isn't so bad (comparatively speaking)

    Methane stays in the atmosphere for (on a quick survey of sources) around a tenth of the time that CO2 does (maybe even less, depending on how you estimate things -- the CO2 figure especially has a very high upper limit depending on who you ask). And I'm pretty sure that it isn't so simple as saying that the 10-fold difference in lifespan is outweighed by the 25-fold difference in effect.

    All I'm saying is that this isn't quite so clear cut as the 25x thing suggests.

    So don't go rectum searing just yet.

  61. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'd REALLY like to see those wedding photos.

  62. twat

    Its not mammals that are the worst

    Insects are the biggest creator of methane. OK one ant fart is tiny but there are billions of them compared to the number of mammals.


  63. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Platinum panties

    If M&S started selling y-fronts with built in catalytic converters they'd crack the greenhouse emissions problem *AND* cut down on bad smells.

  64. asdf

    Vegans may go to heaven, but hell more fun

    You know I am on board for everything but what the link below suggests. If saving the planet means I need to become vegan all I got say sucks for all those not born yet. Steak or death!

  65. Chris Holt

    I have just done a double Shay

    And am proud of it, and definately more so than the rest of people in the lift

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