Signs of Armageddon: We're worrying about CO2 emissions of a Google search

Take some interesting science statistics. Mix in a well-known company such as Google.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Take some interesting science statistics. Mix in a well-known company such as Google. Stir well. And you have a bunch of malarkey about how searching the Web is killing the planet.

I suppose there's nothing else to worry about on the weekend (Techmeme).

First up, the Times of London "reveals the environmental impact of Google searches."

Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.

While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern.

Umm. OK. The solution here is clear. Let's shut down the Internet. Clearly, the Web is overheating the globe. We're dead. And it's because you dorks are using Google too much. You should also recycle that PC pronto and go off grid. While we're at it--let's get rid of all the cows that are farting so much they are elevating CO2 too. And don't even get me started on your penchant for breathing.

Needless to say this CO2 issue is a big worry to Google. After all, it's trying to find an alternative energy source cheaper than coal so it can cut data centers exponentially (oops forgot, save the world).

Google says:

In fact, in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will use more energy than Google uses to answer your query.

Recently, though, others have used much higher estimates, claiming that a typical search uses "half the energy as boiling a kettle of water" and produces 7 grams of CO2. We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. The current EU standard for tailpipe emissions calls for 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, but most cars don't reach that level yet. Thus, the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those of in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches.

So there you have it. Googling isn't going to kill the planet--yet. Driving will. Your PC will. In fact, so will nearly everything else you do in your daily life. Have a nice day.

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