Comment »Posted on Tuesday 13 January 2009 at 12:32 pm by Jacob Aron
In Climate Change & Environment, Getting It Wrong, Inventions & Technology

Now this is a bit interesting. Yesterday I (and many others) examined the claims of one Dr Alex Wissner-Gross, as reported by the Times, that two search on Google release as much CO2 as boiling a kettle. Today, speaking to TechNewsWorld, Dr Wissner-Gross says he has been misquoted.

The original study (which as I must remind you, I don’t have access to and thus haven’t read) apparantly never mentions Google, or indeed kettles. Both elements of the story seem to have been entirely manufacture by the Times.

“For some reason, in their story on the study, the Times had an ax to grind with Google,

“Our work has nothing to do with Google. Our focus was exclusively on the Web overall, and we found that it takes on average about 20 milligrams of CO2 per second to visit a Web site.” Dr Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld.

This quote gives us another figure to add to the growing bag of statistic on this matter: 20 milligrams, or 0.02g of CO2 per second of web usage. If you recall from yesterday, Google claimed that the average search on their servers took less than 0.2 seconds, which given this new figure would result in a CO2 emission of just 0.004g; pretty far off Google’s own estimates of 0.2g. Perhaps the remaining emissions come from the users PC as they read the results.

In the end, these statistics become meaningless. Google aren’t going to release their methodology; it would mean revealing the details of how their servers are set up, something they probably don’t want to share. Meanwhile, I still don’t even know where the original study was published, let alone how to access it. I’m considering emailing Dr Wissner-Gross, but I don’t think a message from a lone blogger is likely to get a reply when competing against the world’s press. Sigh.

I’ll sum up with another quote from Dr Wissner-Gross in he TechNewsWorld article:

“Everything online has a definite environmental impact. I think everybody can agree on that, including Google.”

It’s not just everything online that has an environmental impact, pretty much just everything does. If we’re going to worry about the carbon cost of Googling (rather than larger concerns such as cars or power plants) then we might as well take it to the ultimate logic conclusion: the greenest thing you can do is to kill yourself.

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