Is your Google habit harming the planet?

A debate has broken out over the effect that Google searches are having on the environment, with some scientists recommending that green-minded people should cut down on your Google searches.

According to new research, performing two Google searches from a desktop computer creates the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle.

“Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” says Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist, whose research on the topic will be published soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Google searches rely on the use of servers storing billions of pages worldwide. But when a search is made, that search goes through several different servers in order to locate the most accurate results.

The power needed to host these servers is massive, with Wissner-Gross claiming the environment is paying the price. “Google is very efficient but their primary concern is to make searches fast, and that means they have a lot of extra capacity that burns energy,” he says.

Through his research he has calculated how much carbon dioxide we produce from carrying out different tasks on the web. Examples of this include:

  • Two Google searches producing the equivalent carbon dioxide of boiling a kettle (15 grams).
  • Browsing a basic website produces around 0.02 grams of carbon dioxide per second.
  • Watching a video online produces around 0.2 grams of carbon dioxide per second.

But Google has hit back, claiming its methods are relatively environmentally-friendly.

“Our data centres use considerably less energy for the servers themselves, and much less energy for cooling, than a typical data centre. As a result, the energy used per Google search is minimal. In fact, in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will use more energy than we will use to answer your query.”

Google disagrees with the claim that a single Google search can generate 7g of carbon dioxide. Their own estimates put it closer to 0.2g.


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