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A Google Storm In A Tea Kettle

It sounded like quite a story. The Sunday Times of London reported:

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. 

The problem was that the Harvard University physicist, Alex Wissner-Gross, whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon and was quoted in the story, told technewsworld.com that he never mentions Google in the study.


It sounded like quite a story. The Sunday Times of London reported:

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. 

The problem was that the Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon and was quoted in the story, told technewsworld.com that he never mentions Google in the study:

"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."

And the example involving tea kettles? 

"They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics," Wissner-Gross said. 

But he did conform that the Times quoted him correctly in the story as saying, "A Google search has a definite environmental impact" and "Google operates huge data centers around the world that consume a great deal of power."

"I don't think anybody would disagree with those statements," Wissner-Gross said. "Everything online has a definite environmental impact. I think everybody can agree on that, including Google." 

On its own part, Google maintained:

We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds and then went on to say:

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. ... That means a typical individual's Google use for an entire year would produce about the same amount of CO2 as just a single load of washing.

While agreeing to Google's calculation, The Sunday Times clarified its article on the energy consumed by a Google search but added:

In the article, we were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes. Various experts put forward carbon emission estimates for such a search of 1g-10g depending on the time involved and the equipment used.

 But Wissner-Gross had his own explanation as to why the Sunday Times focused on Google in its story. 

"The short answer is, it's a really easy way to sell papers. Google is a very successful company and it's a very easy way to get readership by making grandiose claims about them."

But there are also cynics who think the whole exercise was a very easy way for promoting CO2stats.com , a website Wissner-Gross manages to help educate people about energy efficiencies on the Internet.
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