04 November, 2005

Another day, another hypocritical energy outrage

Let the Wall St Journal (subscription) do the talking:
On the road, Sergey Brin and Larry Page have owned environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius. In the air, they apparently prefer something roomier.

Google Inc.'s two billionaire founders, both 32 years old, will soon be cruising the skies in a Boeing 767 wide-body airliner. They bought the used plane earlier this year, Mr. Page says.
[Sergey Brin]

The 767-200, typically an airline workhorse, is an unusual executive jet. It commonly carries about 180 passengers. Delta Air Lines operates over one hundred 767s. The Italian Air Force has ordered a modified 767 as an airborne tanker for refueling military jets. The 767-200 is almost 70% longer and more than three times as heavy as a conventional executive jet, such as a high-end Gulfstream.
While the 767 is known as an energy-efficient jet, that efficiency is based on 180 passengers. With, say, 10 passengers, you have to divide the fuel efficiency by 18. 9,000 gallons of gas coast-to-coast, divided by just 10 people, is 900 gallons/person for 3,000 miles, equals 3.3 passenger miles per gallon. That compares to the 80 passenger miles per gallon that Doormouse and I got on a cross-country drive last summer in a 1989 Honda. "Do No Evil" indeed.


I have to wonder if you are baiting me. ;-) Family and more friends than I can really count work at google, and at forums like Recovery2 I've spent a bit of time talking to many Googlers about several community service projects. That disclosed, I do not offer it as a grain of salt. I offer it as a source of expertise. People enjoy indulging in paranoid interpretations about google b/c it is currently successful and huge, but my experience is that the do no evil motto is very sincerely felt and frequently invoked. And that Googlers routinely spend hours and hours working late at night on projects they think will help others, even on ones that are not remotely commercially related to their actual work. And at some level, I have to trust my experience.

That said, I certainly don't know Larry or Sergey. However, given the general culture of the place and the fact that they share an office and often share it with others , my best guess is that your outrage is slightly misplaced. Comparing passenger-miles by air to passenger-miles by car is disingenuously absurd. Larry and Sergey or Eric Schmidt are certainly not going to be driving to Bangalore or Zurich. If they routinely took the time to drive to New York or LA, that strikes me as a waste of their salary and braintime. As it is, I'm shocked that passenger-miles between driving and flying the most energy efficient jet plane vary by only an order of magnitude. If we compare apples to apples and stick to planes, then this is potentially a very energy efficient choice. Thus the nut of your gripe is based on the assumption that only 10 people are going to be flying on this plane on average. I think it's a perfectly reasonable guess--and I challenge you to try and find out, as I cannot---that many more than 10 people will fly on this plane on average. It is completely in their tradition of spreading perks around and trying to get offices around the world to talk to each other and crosspollinate as much as possible. That's a tradition that has served them well. They try hard to operate green buildings and a green kitchen, by which they provide all kinds of energy saving that that they neither trumpet nor are often credited for. In regarding the total context, this hardly qualifies for hypocritical outrage--which so often serves merely as jumping on people for not obeying the frequently useless rule of consistency without any consideration for their total effort at optimizing behavior or their total effect on the world.  

Posted by Saheli

If I did my arithmetic correctly, the 767 would have to have about 56 passengers to equal the fuel effiency of a Gulfstream V. This is significantly more than 10 but not an unreasonable amount of people for Google to be moving around.

Posted by Victor Freeh

Moving around where? Are they only going to be using this thing once a year? There's only 4000 Google employees. How often are 56 of them going to have to go to the same place at the same time? For what cause? Could it really possibly be more efficient to purchase a 767 to send them? It seems likely that this endeavor is going to waste energy if this plane is actually used. 

Posted by saurabh

This was not posted out of spite at anyone, especially not at you, Saheli. The fact that there are good people at Google is all the more reason to question purchases like this one. If the company plans to send people to Zurich or Bangalore, there are airlines that do a good job of filling planes, which reduces the energy footprint per passenger by quite a bit. Personally, my outrage is not so much at the generally pleasant fellows who run Google as it is at jet airplanes, the overuse of which is one of our society's greatest environmental crimes.

I was estimating 10 people on the plane because if they are going to have a shower, a stateroom, a conference room, and the other promised amenities, they are not going to be carrying large numbers of people. Which makes sense, because there are much cheaper ways to carry large numbers of people.

I am just sick of all the consumerist BS. But at least they don't have on-board weapons systems. Yet. You know damn well it won't be long before someone takes Neal Stephenson too literally and buys an aircraft carrier as a personal yacht. 

Posted by hedgehog

Oh, I certainly don't equate being baited with being spited. The timing amused me is all. ;-)

You make good points, but I still think the tang of outrage is misplaced, especially given that it's not remotely clear what their plans are yet.

And, to be clear, it's definitely not clear that this is going to be a company jet.

Anyway, I don't care to whine about Google's alleged goodness anymore. Instead I want to whine about the fact that you've provided no help at all in deciding how to vote on prop 80---it's already election day. And of course I procrastinated on reading up on it, and of course I'd rather just to go to bed and vote the party line yes, but a teeny voice of doubt is filling me with angst. What if I'm wrong? What if DeLong is right? Where's the Rhinocritic Hedging when I need it? HELP!

Posted by Saheli

Sounds like you're paying a lot more attention to Prop 80 than me! The first round of electricity restructuring was a disaster. But at some point, instability is worse than mediocre regulations. I am unsure that the initiative process is the way to regulate a complex industry like electricity. I study the stuff all the time and don't understand much of the regulatory vocabulary, much less the legal structures that language builds. Throwing that sort of stuff at voters is ridiculous. I tend to vote no on such stuff on principle: I don't think initiatives are a good way to legislate. Don't we pay a bunch of lawyers in Sacramento to do this stuff?  

Posted by hedgehog

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