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UK media: 'Met Office computer will destroy the world'

Oh for f*ck's sake

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Analysis The UK media has plunged into an unusually cretinous feeding frenzy following the "news" that the Met Office headquarters complex in Devon - owing to the presence of a lot of supercomputing hardware there - is considered to lie at 103rd place in a table ranking nearly 30,000 large UK buildings by carbon-emissions footprint.

The Met Office's high-power computing gear "has made the Met Office one of the worst public buildings in Britain for pollution", we learn from the Telegraph. "It has now earned the Met Office's Exeter headquarters the shame of being named as one of the most polluting buildings in Britain", says the Times. Indeed, referring to one specific new machine, the BBC tells us that "it produces 12,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide a year" (must be one of those coal-powered computers). Most of the articles point out that the Met lads got their long-range summer forecasts wrong to boot, predicting a "barbeque summer" which has actually been rather a washout.

The "green league table of public buildings published by the Department of Communities and Local Government" which all these articles refer to is actually an xls spreadsheet obtained from the DCLG by the BBC's Martin Rosenbaum (not the man who wrote the news report above) and posted on his blog on Tuesday.

The spreadsheet (8.14 MB) holds information contained in the Display Energy Certificates (DECs) which most large buildings in the UK with any public access - not just government ones - have been required to obtain since last October. This includes the carbon footprint in terms of annual tonnes of CO2, part of which is direct (as in the case of onsite gas or oil heating, generators, combined heat-and-power plants) and part indirect (as in the case of grid electricity).

And indeed, if you lift the sheet off Rosenbaum's blog and sort by this figure, the Met Office comes out at 103rd place. The vast majority of the sites with a bigger carbon footprint are hospitals, but there are a few jokers in the pack: Ministry of Defence headquarters in Whitehall, Scotland Yard, the British Library, the Natural History Museum and the National Physical Laboratory - birthplace of the internet.

These would surely be worth a headline or two: "MoD is 46th most polluting building in UK!" "British Library/Natural History Museum is destroying the planet" etc.

Or anyway, they'd be worth a headline if the tonnes-of-CO2 figure meant anything at all, which it doesn't. Naturally a bigger building with more people and/or machinery in it is going to use more energy and be responsible for more carbon emissions than a small one. Hospitals are some of the biggest complexes in the UK which are visited by members of the public, so they dominate the rankings here, but that doesn't mean that hospitals are particularly significant planet-destroyers. A coal-fired power station, not included in this list at all, is a far more serious carbon emitter.

If you want to play this game and single out buildings for being environmentally evil, you should instead look at the operational energy rating. This is a number calculated by government formula comparing the building to others of its type in terms of energy usage per square metre. If you get a rating of 100, you're thought to be average for a building of your sort.

If we sort by energy rating, though, the Met Office has dropped to 215th most evil in the land - not nearly such a good story. Even worse, if you wish to cast the Met Office as evil now, you have to admit that those above it on the list are worse.

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