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Google searches that cost the earth

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You might have already seen this story, it seems to be getting lots of coverage: Alex Wissner-Gross, a Havard University academic, has claimed that doing two searches on Google produces the same amount of CO2 as boiling a kettle.

He arrived at CO2 figure of 7g per search by adding up the energy that both your computer AND Google’s servers consume. In order to deliver rapid search results, Google operate many data centres. These are large air-conditioned warehouses full of servers that require huge amounts of power.

For a company who claims to ‘do no evil’, its obviously not the best bit of PR, and Google have been quick to dispute the figures. On their official blog they say that the figures are “many times too high”. They put the figure at something more like 0.2g of CO2 per search.

They also claim to be at the forefront of reducing the level of CO2 emissions from IT equipment. They co-founded the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a non-profit consortium committed energy reduction.

Webeden.co.uk are also keen to reduce the impact of CO2 emissions. We can’t quite claim as many servers as Google (yet), but what we do have produces plenty of CO2. . We’ve carbon offset the emissions from our website by signing up to coco2.org. Of course carbon offsetting itself is a bit of a disputed issue; its better to either get your power from a green source, or use no power at all. The latter isn’t a great option for us as we’d have to shut down!

What do you think? Leave a comment below

13.1.08. Additional: It has emerged that the Wissner-Gross, the physicist at the heart of the story, has been misquoted. The story originally emerged in The Times. The whole kettle boiling reference and 7 grams per search came from another story (but Wissner-Gross doesn’t quite know where), and in the original article it only makes it sound like his data.

He said he did make a statement, including “A Google search has a definite environmental impact”, but hasn’t put a figure on that.

After finding out about the story, he claims to have contacted The Times, and was reassured that the article would be corrected. It hasn’t been yet…