The Times of London reminds us that everything, even doing a Google search, has some environmental impact:
Performing two Google searches from a desktop computer can generate about the same amount of carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea, according to new research.
While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 Boiling a kettle generates about 15g. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”
Further down, the author tries to put this in perspective:
If your internet use is in place of more energy-intensive activities, such as driving your car to the shops, that’s good. But if it is adding activities and energy consumption that would not otherwise happen, that may pose problems.
Many of the Google searches done add energy consumption but considering how much more energy a car uses than a Google search, my bet is that the net balance is towards benefiting the environment. Quite often a Google search has allowed me to find out before going to a store whether an item is in stock, along with saving me the trouble of checking multiple stores. More often I wind up ordering on line, with one more box being handled by UPS hopefully having less of an environmental impact than driving to a store. Other Google searches save trips to the library to do research. Perhaps a Google search which pulls up a bad movie review will lead to people staying home to watch a DVD rather than driving to the movie theater.
The environmental benefits to the internet also go beyond doing Google searches. Besides blogging this morning I’m both reading physical copies of some newspapers and pulling up others on line. While I’m goofing off writing a blog post, my wife is currently using GoToMyPC to connect to our office computer and is getting some real work done without needing to drive into the office. (My next door neighbor, a radiologist, can use his computer to pull up his x-rays to read from home. Why can’t I pull up the EKG’s which I’ll be driving into the hospital to read later this morning?)
Al Gore sure knew what he was doing when he invented the internet. (And a quick Google search of the blog pulled up an older post which explains where this misquotation of Gore started.)