Google searches emit carbon, but not very much

Written by pete


Suddenly the carbon footprint of a Google search is big news. The exact facts and precisely who said what remain a little murky, but the following things do seem clear:

– A couple of Google searches emit significantly less CO2 (about one-hundredth of an ounce) than boiling the kettle for a cup of tea, despite some wishful thinking on the part of a Times of London journo.
– Computer servers use quite a lot of energy and therefore emit carbon.
– Your own computer probably uses more energy in the course of accessing a web page than the server uses in supplying that page to you.

So is using the internet bad for the environment? Is this very blog contributing to climate change?

Well, yes and no. Mostly no. In a blog article addressing the issue, Google employee Urs Hölzle observes:

> Not long ago, answering a query meant traveling to the reference desk of your local library. Today, search engines enable us to access immense quantities of useful information in an instant, without leaving home. Tools like email, online books and photos, and video chat all increase productivity while decreasing our reliance on car trips, pulp and paper.

It’s a great point, surely. Although I might argue that it’s let down a little because my local library doesn’t hold puppycam videos or DVDs of cute things falling asleep. My point is that there’s an awful lot of Youtube that hasn’t replaced anything, just created a whole new market for carbon-emitting procrastination.

The carbon footprint of information technology is growing more quickly than the airline industry’s. Tech-related emissions were recently estimated by Gartner to be around 2% of the global total. As society develops new uses for technology, with greater and faster data needs, that number will grow. The good news is that this is an area in which a company’s profit incentives are firmly aligned with energy reductions. A price on carbon emissions will help further.

And don’t forget, minimizing the energy use at your end will help too. Turning off the monitor rather than leaving it on standby really will save you money and energy — and reduce carbon emissions. Much more than you’ll ever cause by reading this blog or watching the puppies, I promise.

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