Posted January 12, 2009 12:58 am by with 27 comments

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If Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross is to be believed, his most recent research has just ruined the environment for future generations!


He’s calculated that a typical search on Google generates about 7g of CO2–due to the complex system of servers the search engine uses around the world. To put that into perspective, boiling a kettle for a cup of tea uses about the same amount of energy.

That’s all well and good, but Wissner-Gross didn’t take into account the blogosphere maxim. What’s that you ask? Any story that mentions Google, on a quiet weekend of news, AND happens to include the possibility that Google is evil, will result in dozens (hundreds) of blog posts being written.

Where are you going with this Andy? Well, consider this:

Wissner-Gross has also calculated the CO2 emissions caused by individual use of the internet. His 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.

So, by my “finger in the air” approach to science, the amount of CO2 generated by all the bloggers writing about this story–and their collective thousands of readers firing up their web browsers–amounts to leaving 200 refrigerator doors open for the entire length of the SuperBowl. 😉

Now excuse me while I go buy a carbon offset for this post.

UPDATE: Google responds with its own numbers.

  • Well, now I’m contributing, but since I’m not going to say the name I can just blame it all on you. But see, it’s government’s giving money to schools to research stupid stuff like this that are helping to get this country nowhere. Smart guys doing stupid stuff; ugh.

    Mitch’s last blog post..Cute Things Falling Asleep

  • Google research highlights the importance of using greener servers, especially by mega consumers of consumer grade computers like Google. I understand your levity but surely you too cannot de-emphasize the importance of this research.

    Angsuman Chakraborty’s last blog post..Top 10 Laptops and Netbooks of 2008 Reviewed Just For you

  • I was recently reviewing my school districts budget cuts– trying to determine if a failing tax base would keep my kids from becoming geniusses. One of the line items in the reduction to spending was about $10,000.00 in postage. The reduction was suggested since “electronically delivered mail” could be used to replace postage. WHAT??? I never thought of that.

    I suppose somewhere in that list is to turn off the diesel generators in no fewer than 30-40 schools each day when there is no electric outage. Perhaps that would reduce greenhouse gasses and maybe begin cooling off the earth– all while helping our schools stay closer to the budget… Some of this science is mind boggling!

    Bob Maiocco in Denver Real Estate’s last blog post..Home For Sale in Denver at Sloans Lake

  • sometimes one simply has to wonder WHY people set themselves up with certain research assignments!! I mean, come on, what possessed this bloke to determine whether or not using the Internet added to the planets already soaring environmental problems!? Did he think it was going to actually change anything? Or did he just do it for atention?

  • What´s next? Research results like these pop up everywhere.Why can´t they concentrate on developing a cure for aids or something like that instead.

    Tom Lindstrom’s last blog post..Myspace Marketing Tips

  • Haha. Well, First off, many of us use green hosts.
    Second, has he also calculated the relative benefit of being a ‘blogger’ or ‘web developer’ or ‘web user’. By being one of these people you likely behave in green ways. For example, you use less paper, you drive less – especially if you work from home, buy less books because info is at your fingertips (no use to hack down another tree), etc… Flawed research.

    Either way, Google uses efficient servers. And I am sure that they regularly think of ways to become more efficient.

    And regardless of the verity of this report, our online behavior is not likely to change.

    And @Goran, yes, he was probably disappointed with the state of his career and wanted some attention… I have a Six Sigma certification, so I know my way around statistics. And the one thing that I discovered is that you can pretty much make data say whatever you want it to say. So I am not convinced. I’d need to see numbers and his margins of error.

    Shirley’s last blog post..How To Make A Favorites Icon (Favicon.ico)

  • The question is how much CO2 we generate when we drive to a library!
    Or in other words, how much the (Google) alternative cost?

  • I don’t know, it seems like silly stuff but it does put into context the impact of web usage. The internet is not a magic device that fixes everything and so, we need to be conscious of that. With the number of searches going through google a day, greener servers could cut their CO2 output significiantly.

  • I had a feeling that sooner or later a study on this would come out. Everything requires an energy source. Possibly energy efficient servers would help?

  • Andy, this is a side to you that is refreshing to see. Please do more such posts.

    Nicole Price’s last blog post..Good Deals on Hair Products

  • Shame on Google!

    Utah SEO Pro’s last blog post..An Interview with Utah SEO Pro (Jordan Kasteler) by Martin Bowling

  • PS3

    Some people just have far too much spare time on their hands 🙂

  • I was going to write a post about this after reading it and then decided it really wouldn’t fit in with my blog.

    I really think we pay these scientists way too much to tell us the obvious. Something the size of google using all the datacentres and servers are always going to generate lots of carbon emissions but they are one of the greenest search engines in business at the moment

    PS3 News’s last blog post..Killzone 2 (Preview) (PS3)

  • This is a staggering statistic, but expected with the amount of servers needed to run Google. The only way to really alleviate this is to begin using renewable energy sources like wind or solar to make using the internet or the computer carbon neutral.

    Patrick’s last blog post..Great Deal on Eco Friendly Wood Products

  • As with everything all this post is doing is casting another eye on how we should check what our impact has on this wonderful planet of ours. If we continue to just keep our focus on this issue (climate change) then we will find solutions to manage our impact.

    Reasonable response from Google, but as with all corporates the need to compare themselves or rather defend their positions. My take they should simply have answered with what they are doing no need to justify!

    Mike’s last blog post..Buy-ology: Truth and Lies about why we buy

  • But now, you’re killing the environment even more, because of all the comments on this article 😉

  • Have anyone seen this? The Harvard professor has provided some new details on the research —

    Saad Kamal’s last blog post..Protect Your Site from Spammers – Matt Cutts

  • This is an interesting post Andy. I actually have never thought about this before. And with all the “Green” talk going on, I am surprised to not see this talked about more. Maybe you’ll spark a revolution, lol. Maybe the search engines should go green.

  • Andy,

    I thought the report was ridiculous, and I think you just proved it beyond a doubt :-p

    Pinny Cohen’s last blog post..4 Steps To Stop Procrastinating And Start Acting

  • PS3

    Hardly ridiculous, just an interesting way of demostrating just how much that everything we do impacts our environment. Not every bit of information will make us act but it is better to be educated.

  • Carbon DIoxide is not necessarily evil in it’s own right, as it is required for photosynthesis, and the more of it there is the better plants grow. Sort of an aerial fertilizer, to put it really simply. The global warming con that is being pulled on the whole planet is simply another piece of disinformation and a means to cash in by some very sly people. The theory has been soundly disproved (just google it, and see) and a group of scientists is actually sueing Al Gore for his promotion of the model. Our plant is at present at the very end of a 10,000 – 12,000 year warm intergalactic cycle, with another ice age in the offing….

  • I personally try to avoid theories that cannot be proven one way or the other, beyond a shadow of a doubt.. So maybe global warming is BS, maybe it’s not… either way I’m not particularly concerned.. Sorry if that’s not very PC

  • @Saad, thanks for providing the follow-up link. Yeh, this is probably going to be great press for Google because they’ve turned it around and started talking about how Green they really are… biodiesel shuttles, bikes for employees, efficient servers, etc…

    The scientist was clearly just trying to make headlines. And now there is a Google backlash. I am sure he will be fully recanting his findings soon. After all, did he really use accurate information? Nope.

    Shirley’s last blog post..Firefox 2 on Mac: jQuery Anti-Aliasing/Opacity Bug

  • Yeh, this scientist didn’t know what he was up against… Google is very green. They have a wealth of documentation on their website all about it.

    Shirley’s last blog post..Go Green: How To Shrink Your Carbon Footprint

  • LOL! I can’t believe it, I am going to cut down my blogging and internet research to 8 hours a day instead of 12, hopefully I will make an impact!

  • i need a greener keyboard, anyone know where I can get one?

  • Yet again Google turned this into a plus for them (releasing the statistic that 1km in your car = 1000 searches), their guys are right on the mark!