Update, Jan. 12: Debunked, per Anatreptic, which leaves questions as to the motivation of Alex Wissner-Gross.
(begin original post)
Are we witnessing the beginning of the demonization of Google?
The Internet search and service behemoth's reputation has largely survived co-operating with censorship in mainland China and inconsistent YouTube censorship that seems to lean towards protecting terrorists' feelings (background here and here).
But will it survive being labeled a major source of CO2 "pollution"?
We may soon find out. As reported in the UK Times Online, a Harvard scientist claims to have estimated the so-called carbon footprint of Google searches -- and it's not small. During the course of their article, reporters Jonathan Leake and Richard Woods use language the press usually reserves for conservatives and "evil" businesspersons:
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.”
Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines - about 2% of global CO2 emissions.
..... Though Google says it is in the forefront of green computing, its search engine generates high levels of CO2 because of the way it operates. When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other.
It may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart. Google’s infrastructure sends you data from whichever produces the answer fastest. The system minimises delays but raises energy consumption. Google has servers in the US, Europe, Japan and China.
Wissner-Gross has submitted his research for publication by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and has also set up a website www.CO2stats.com. “Google are very efficient but their primary concern is to make searches fast and that means they have a lot of extra capacity that burns energy,” he said.
Well, how dare Google serve their users by making searches faster? Don't they realize they're killing the planet?
Enough of this, and you might see the fastest U-turn from political climate correctness in corporate history.
Oh, and all you Twitterers and Second Lifers out there, don't get complacent. You're not off the hook either. In fact, the reporters would appear to be sympathetic, if given enough power, to restricting how new tools such as these are used:
(Expert on data centres at the British Computer Society Liam) Newcombe cites Second Life and Twitter, a rapidly growing website whose 3m users post millions of messages a month. Last week Stephen Fry, the TV presenter, was posting “tweets” from New Zealand, imparting such vital information as “Arrived in Queenstown. Hurrah. Full of bungy jumping and ‘activewear’ shops”, and “Honestly. NZ weather makes UK look stable and clement”.
..... Such internet phenomena are not simply fun and hot air, Newcombe warns: the boom in such services has a carbon cost.
So I guess we must restrict them. Zheesh.
One frustrated article commenter, a "John Scott" claiming to be from Atlanta, summed things up nicely:
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 (global warming) is a crock and GW might actually come true.
("Evil" image was obtained from Velleities.net, which says it obtained the image from a Swedish blog.)
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.