Google dismisses ‘carbon clickprint’

12 Jan 2009

Following claims by Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross that every Google search we perform is the CO2 equivalent to boiling a half-filled kettle, Google has hit back, saying it was “many times too high”.

Although Wissner-Gross had calculated that 7g of CO2 were produced each time we use Google, the firm has said on its official blog that “in terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2g”.

So who is talking a load of hot air, so to speak? Well, Google explains that it has the energy calculations all worked out to a tee, explaining that the average web search takes less than 0.2 seconds and that the servers impacted by the search are used for only a few thousandths of a second.

“For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds,” says Urs Hölzle, senior vice-president of operations.

On the other hand, researcher Wissner-Gross told the UK Times that Google is secretive about its carbon footprint and that it “operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power”.

And cast your minds back to the report from environmental consultancy firm Global Action Plan in 2007 which claimed that the IT industry’s carbon footprint would soon outpace that of the CO2-hungry aviation industry.

Gloomy news for a space traditionally seen as environmentally friendly with the paperless office, web conferencing and the like.

Meanwhile consider the carbon footprint of travelling to your nearest library, university or town hall for data, making endless phone calls to source information, having manuals posted to your home and buying books and magazines printed on non-recycled paper for all your needs.

Maybe we can live with our carbon clickprint after all.