by Mike Masnick
Mon, Jan 12th 2009 3:52am
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.
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