The big news around the green-tech blogosphere today are the results of a new study by Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, which finds that two searches on Google produces about as much CO2 as boiling a kettle of tea.
Shock and dismay! Wait, what the heck does that actually mean?
What it means is that, if the study is correct, all of our Google searches put together are creating a pretty huge CO2 footprint.
Searches on Google are energy intensive because the company sends search queries out to multiple servers around the world and gives you the answer that comes out the fastest — essentially putting multiple servers on the same project in competition with each other.
For the record, Google disputes the claims in the study, saying that the average search produces only 0.2 grams of CO2. It also points out that it’s philanthropic arm, Google.org, has invested $45 million in clean-energy technology.
Also for the record, Wissner-Gross did not compare Google’s CO2 output to other search engines, so we don’t know if using Yahoo! Search is any cleaner than using Google.
So, what to make of all this? Some have argued that it’s far more efficient to use Google to find the answers we need than drive down to the library and look it up on a book — whose production may create around 2,500 grams of CO2. And I tend to agree.
To me, it’s all about perspective and realizing that computing in general takes up massive amounts of energy and, under current circumstances, emits a lot of climate change inducing CO2.
But that doesn’t mean we should all throw our laptops away and go back to pencils and ledgers. It means we need to find real solutions to creating energy that doesn’t depend on fossil fuels.
Those are the solutions that are going to help stem the tide of climate change. They’re also the solutions that will only be found with heavy doses of computing power and, yes, lots of Googling.