Not Quite The Full Story On The Environmental Impact Of Google Searches

from the think-it-through dept

It appears that one of the big stories over the weekend was some research that apparently explained the carbon footprint of a Google search. Basically, each search is the same as boiling a cup of tea. Of course, what's left out of the article is the fact that this is rather meaningless unless compared to what the alternatives are -- and whether or not those searches also end up increasing or decreasing carbon footprints in other ways. So, if by doing searches on Google, I don't need to drive all over town to find information or buy something -- then that would be a net positive. If a Google search helps me gain additional information that later lets me decrease my carbon footprint, that's also a net positive. Alternatively, doing Google searches could also increase my carbon footprint by making me do something else -- but looking at just the carbon footprint alone seems a bit meaningless. Furthermore, this seems to be taking a (mostly) fixed cost and assuming it's a marginal cost, which leads to some dangerous thinking. Yes, if fewer people did searches, Google wouldn't need so many computers, but not doing a search isn't going to suddenly save on the carbon footprint. Update: The author of the study is pretty surprised about how much attention the study is generating, noting that the original article took the results totally out of context. The study itself never even mentions Google (or cups of tea) at all. In fact, he suggests that whoever wrote the article had some sort of axe to grind with Google.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    eleete, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 4:39am

    "Basically, each search is the same as boiling a cup of tea."

    The article says

    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.

    There, I just reduced it by half, does that help ?

     

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  2.  
    identicon
    mkam, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 4:43am

    I read this this weekend and it was painfully obvious that this only covered 1 side of the equation. Think of all the newspapers that aren't getting printed anymore, and all of the CDs that people are not buying because everything is digital. I would like to see a study that actually tried to see if google was a net gain or net negative.

     

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  3.  
    identicon
    AJ, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 4:48am

    Just more of the same...

    More junk science, ala Algore. Make up any old statistics, put them in an official looking research paper, use your agenda to slant the results... HEY, this guy should write for the New York Times!

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    JunkScience, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 5:16am

    His Article is the Cause!

    How much harm to the environment is being done by his article? i mean we are reading it, i must be up to about a pot of tea by now. Hey Al Gore how about an internet carbon tax?

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    PeterE, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 5:23am

     

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  6.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 5:27am

    junk science

    It assumes the cup of tea is heated to boiling.
    This could be accomplished in many ways, each producing a different amount of byproduct.
    It could be accomplished without any byproduct, using a parabolic mirror and a sunny day.

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    John Doe, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 5:46am

    What exactly is a carbon footprint? Has anyone ever actually seen one? Is it what you leave behind if you walk across a bed of coal? More likely it is junk science and scare mongering.

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Chronno S. Trigger, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 5:49am

    #@%$*#@ hippies

    1) They take into account all of Google's servers. Why not take into account all of the servers on the web. Without them Google would not exist.
    2) They admit to not knowing how much carbon Google emits. The servers themselves don't emit carbon, maybe Google has solar power.
    3) They even take into account booting a PC. Why not count shutting it down, or playing a game that spurs the Google search?
    4) They are posting on the Internet to bitch about the carbon emissions of the Internet. Is that not the true meaning of irony?

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 6:18am

    Can we PLEASE stop with this ignorant GREEN crap?
    Quit worrying about how much energy I use....

    Want to be green? Go pick up all those plastic Wal-Mart bags that clog each and every city in this nation. Stop drinking plastic bottled water. Quit buying things in those ridiculous impossible to open plastic packages.

    Big companies put out so much PLASTIC and garbage..but everyone is worried about the carbon footprint of a stupid SEARCH? Give me a break....

    Its all just another way for someone else to CONTROL what you do and how you think. Grow up...buck the trend...think for yourself.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    hegemon13, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 6:25am

    Re:

    No, it's what you leave when you wear organic shoes (or walk barefoot).

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    dave, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 6:25am

    So... Was the research for this done by using Google?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 6:25am

    Google's Reply

    Did anyone else see that Google has responded to the original article, stating that the 7g number is 'many' times too high?

    http://timesonline.typepad.com/technology/2009/01/googles-respons.html

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Jan 12th, 2009 @ 6:27am

    New widget or option

    Google should ad a little box after a search where you can enter the distance to the location you would have to go to get the info. Then it would calculate your "carbon footprint" whether by Google Search, bus, car, etc. Take that idiots.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    vvurdsmyth, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 7:48am

    Websearch Trivia

    How about the environmental impact of broaching such trivial issue? Betcha, it is more than ten thousand searches. What's next, the environmental impact of flatulence? A more focused issue may be the environmental impact of trivia. It may be a more worthwhile topic for the environmental impact police.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 8:06am

    Re:

    "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."

    Just boiling keetle of tea seems a bit flimsy evidence, if they don't give an accurate representation of the amount of tea, temp, how much carbon it produces over a period of time, ect.

     

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  16.  
    icon
    beckerist (profile), Jan 12th, 2009 @ 8:49am

    irks my chain

    You know what really irks me about this study too? Google is EXTREMELY tight-lipped about their setup. Hell, they don't even release the LOCATIONS of their data centers!!!

    No one* knows how much processing power Google is using
    No one* knows what hardware Google is using
    No one* knows what algorithms are used (ie: cached searches draw less power because it's repeatable? more because it's faster?)

    * means no one "publicly"

    I can go on, but you get my point. No one knows, these are all guesses. All fine and good when you're playing Memory or Battleship but...pah, it's not a study until I see some SOLID references. At this point it just seems like FUD.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    KB, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 8:50am

    Re: New widget or option

    Why should they do that? It's not Google's responsibility to ensure that YOU are taking steps to reduce your carbon emissions. This is possibly the most ridiculous statistical analysis since I last read something published by the RIAA.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Mark Rosedale, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:00am

    Absurd Google saves carbon by me

    This is just absurd if the suggestion is to stop googleing because of the carbon foot print, but I will say that I recently took a trip to NYC and I couldn't have done it without Google. More importantly I used all public transportation thanks to Google implementing it into their maps program (I used it on my iPhone). So in the end Google saved a bunch of carbon by allowing me easy access to planned trips on the subway rather than using a car or taxi.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:01am

    Re: Just more of the same...

    More junk science, ala Algore. Make up any old statistics, put them in an official looking research paper, use your agenda to slant the results.
    Do you have any evidence for claim that Alex Wissner-Gross fabricated data? If not, then it seems to me that maybe you're the one making stuff up.
    HEY, this guy should write for the New York Times!
    HEY, you should write for Fox News!

     

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  20.  
    identicon
    Michael Langford, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:16am

    and the other fairytale...

    The "carbon" fairytale that we are ruining the earth and global warming will kill us all, take a look at their research and you will qickly find that if you follow their formula's we should have all been dead by the 70's...

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:24am

    Re: #@%$*#@ hippies

    The servers themselves don't emit carbon, maybe Google has solar power.

    If you want to indulge in fantasies, then how about the one that says that Google is pigeon powered?

     

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  22.  
    identicon
    Freeper, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:33am

    I Hate Green

    I hate the greens and all their green crap. The sooner this planet goes BROWN the better.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Clay, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re: Just more of the same...

    Do you have any evidence for claim that Alex Wissner-Gross fabricated data? If not, then it seems to me that maybe you're the one making stuff up.

    Actually, there is evidence.

    HEY, you should write for Fox News!

    HEY, maybe he should, because his bullshit detector is obviously better than yours!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
    identicon
    Right because I am, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 10:05am

    Re: and the other fairytale...

    The "carbon" fairytale that we are ruining the earth and global warming will kill us all, take a look at their research and you will qickly find that if you follow their formula's we should have all been dead by the 70's...

    Global warming and the theory of evolution are both big lefty lies.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
    identicon
    Keith, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 10:56am

    Back to Basics

    For those religious folks ....... The bible says the Earth will not be destroyed.... WE will inherit the Earth....

    Enough Said.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    snowburn14, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 11:03am

    Re: and the other fairytale...

    "The "carbon" fairytale that we are ruining the earth and global warming will kill us all"

    Yes, because releasing billions of metric tons of greenhouse - buzz word, I know, but they are in fact real - gases into the atmosphere couldn't possibly have an effect on the climate... But more importantly, carbon footprints aren't just about global warming/climate change. They're also a measure of how energy efficient we are (or aren't). As their name implies, non-renewable energy sources won't last forever. Until someone comes up with some more practical alternatives, we need to start limiting our consumption of fossil [carbon-based] fuels.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    porster, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 11:45am

    Research?

    More wrong "research"

    and I though research was the facts, not the cr*p.
    Cut their research grant.....

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Re: Just more of the same...

    Clay said:
    Actually, there is evidence.
    Really? Where is it? The blurb you linked to certainly made no claim of presenting any evidence of any fabricated data. The only fabrication was your claim that it that did.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 12:00pm

    Re: Research?

    More wrong "research"

    An research that goes against my notions is just plain "wrong" and should be banned.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 12:13pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just more of the same...

    Does the 'research' (and I use the term very loosely) author know how many computers are used for a single search? No, he does not. What he does is estimate from the basic and incomplete descriptions that Google has released of how its algorithm works. He is assuming what he does not know... This is the classic bogus science. It is estimate and nothing more.

    Google has replied with their estimate as well, and given reasonable arguments to support it.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Your Gawd and Master, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 12:19pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Just more of the same...

    Are you fucking BLIND!?!? They break down the carbon usage to actual numbers, not just "2 searches equals a kettle of tea". It's not super in-depth but it's better than the FUD.

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Your Gawd and Master, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 12:21pm

    Re: His Article is the Cause!

    Tax Gore. Afterall, HE invented the internet so he should be responsible. *smirk*

    /yes, I know he didn't invent it or even really claim to have invented it

     

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  33.  
    identicon
    Your Gawd and Master, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 12:23pm

    Re:

    A voice of reason!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 1:36pm

    Don't know about carbon footprints

    The only thing I got out of this discussion is now I really, really would like some tea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 3:41pm

    Re: Re:

    Exactly. It's an empty statement. Fear-mongering, nothing more.

    How much does a Yahoo search cost? Do they offer more "green" searches than Google? What a rediculous idea.

    Farting causes more problems than doing a Google search. Call it a "carbon ass-print."

     

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  36.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 3:51pm

    Re: irks my chain

    Did you know that Al Gore invented mathematics?

    You know...the Al Gore-ithm.

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    nasch, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:47pm

    Re:

    It's just a guess, but it looks like maybe even Google's estimate is pessimistic. It sounds to me like they're calculating the cost of a search by looking at the amount of time it takes the servers to execute it times the amount of energy they use during that time. If that's true (and like I said, I'm guessing because they didn't reveal their algorithm), then it probably grossly exaggerates the cost, because the servers would be using most of that power anyway even if you didn't do that one search.

    To be accurate, they would have to calculate how much *more* energy they would use to do one more search. As Mike said, fixed vs variable. But then again, maybe that is what they are doing already.

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    nasch, Jan 12th, 2009 @ 9:50pm

    Re: Websearch Trivia

    Flatulence probably has a greater greenhouse effect than google. Six and a half billion people farting!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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