Googling your carbon footprint

I decided to have a cup of coffee rather than randomly searching Google for a few minutes. For the good of the planet.

The Sunday Times reported that 2 Google searches have the the same carbon footprint as boiling water for a cup of tea. (I am hoping the same applies to coffee but I’m erring on the side of caution by forsaking half a dozen notional searches.)

These statistics aren’t completely convincing, being generated, as they were, by a guy who’s set up a website to sell a clean conscience to websites.

People want websites they visit to be eco-friendly. CO2Stats helps you attract and retain those visitors.
CO2Stats is the only service that automatically calculates your website’s total energy consumption, helps to make it more energy efficient, and then purchases audited renewable energy from wind and solar farms to neutralize its carbon footprint – all for a flat, affordable monthly fee. (from co2stats)

The estimated carbon footprint of your search varies wildly between

[Wissner-Gross’s] research indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 0.02g of CO2 per second. This rises tenfold to about 0.2g of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos. (from the Sunday Times)

So, “stick to really dull webpages and don’t visit YouTube or sites that use Flash” sounds more immediately effective advice than buying spurious energy credits.

In any case, this turns out to be at the low-end of the carbon footprint estimates:

….., 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, 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).
Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch, Rewiring the World, has calculated that maintaining a character (known as an avatar) in the Second Life virtual reality game, requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That is almost as much used by the average Brazilian.

Wait, if using a PC at all emits ~60g an hour, ie, 1g a minute, doesn’t that mean you are saving 0.8g a minute by looking at complex websites?

And that bit about “depending on whether you have to switch your PC on” is really confusing. (When I work out how to use my PC without switching it on, I’ll post the information here.)

I am sure that computer use is mostly a waste of energy. I am sure that big powerful servers are even greedier than my PC.

However, I’m not convinced by the idea that you can buy your way out of responsibility for ecological damage. Paying to generate some less-polluting-energy doesn’t mean that the more-polluting-energy you used before suddenly disappears.

Congestion charges, aviation carbon taxes and so on. They all suggest that you won’t cause ecological damage if you can afford to pay for it. It’s like buying and selling medieval indulgences.

This would be great if the Earth was susceptible to bribery. I think these schemes are usually just ways for us to avoid taking any real steps to stop destroying the Earth. In some ways, they are worse than doing nothing, because they give us the illusion that we are taking serious steps to save the environment and that we can do this without any major inconveniences.

And they give the climate-change deniers some pretty obvious strawmen to direct their denying at. For example, here are some of the comments on the Times article:

When does this global warming hysteria end. It seems like all these die-hard environmentalists would like us all living in huts with no electricity, comforts, or heating. Especially considering this freezing winter (against all predictions), I’d like to see them go first.

Like a mouse climbing up the leg of an elephant with rape on its mind. Global warming at/isn’t going to happen

I call for a moratorium on publishing articles like this one. The amount of CO2 generated when my head starts to steam is much higher than a Google search. Multiply that by the millions of sane people who agree with me that GW is a crock and GW might actually come true.

(Replace the misused “sane people” with a more accurate “Americans” and you get the flavour of a lot of these comments. What is it about living the USA that makes some people unable to see beyond their own carports?)

The calculations are ridiculous and blatantly misleading.
But no surprise, it appears that this will be another cold year and the “environmentalists” are running up and down in a total panic that they failed to fully socialize the world while for a few years was a bit warmer.

And why should we care how much energy Google uses…because of the myth of Global Warming that is being forced down our throats.
2007 was the warmest year on record, no wait, we were wrong about that, the warmest year was 1945. Artic sea ice will be gone soon, no wait, we were wrong about that

It looks as if even people who are too monumentally stupid to see that a cold year doesn’t in itself invalidate climate change are still bright enough to see that these figures are a bit bogus.

Why give them ammunition? The idea of a “carbon footprint” as an individual moral issue, susceptible to individual guilt and contrition is just mistaken. It’s obviously good to do whatever we can as individuals, but it’s a social and political issue, which needs serious social and political solutions.
(end opinionated rant.)

One thought on “Googling your carbon footprint

  1. The Sunday Times reported that 2 Google searches have the the same carbon footprint as boiling water for a cup of tea.

    Oh, man! I’m despoiling the planet single-handedly!

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