Google versus the cup of tea: More heat than light in environmental row
Much controversy in techworld about this wonderful and important article in The Sunday Times about the environmental impact of a Google search.
TechCrunch, probably the pre-eminent Silicon Valley blog, has given the Times a virtual tongue-lashing for "making up" the claim that two hits on the Google search button use up about as much energy as boiling the kettle for a cup of tea. TechCrunch gets very excited because one of the sources quoted in the article, one Alex Wissner-Gross, is denying he made any such claim.
But TechCrunch blogger Jason Kincaid is being unfair. The headline on the piece is indeed misleading, but the full article makes it clear that the figure of 7g of carbon dioxide per search comes from two completely different sources. Here’s the paragraph:
"A separate estimate from John Buckley, managing director of carbonfootprint.com, a British environmental consultancy, puts the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g, depending on whether you have to start your PC or not. Simply running a PC generates between 40g and 80g per hour of CO2, he says. Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, estimates the carbon emissions of a Google search at 7g to 10g (assuming 15 minutes’ computer use)."
Apparently, a cup of tea produces 15g of carbon dioxide.
Now, I don’t begin to claim to know the solidity of any of these numbers. But I do know that there is an environmental impact to having warehouses full of servers guzzling power and having to be fanned cool all day, every day. Let’s not be fooled by this metaphor of "the cloud". The ever-expanding cities of servers are real, earthly things with real, important effects on our planet, and we should try to have a civil and grounded debate about it.Tagged in: carbon dioxide, carbonfootprint, co2, emission, environmental, google, kettle, search, sunday times, techcrunch
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