Google's CO2 Emissions: Some Puff, Lies & Good Old Fashion Hype

January 14, 2009 by Mary Anne Simpson, weblog

Google kettle
Google kettle. Image (c)
( -- A January 11, 2009 article in the London Times (on-line version) entitled, Revealed: The Environmental Impact of Google Searches quoted Harvard Physicist, Alex Wissner-Gross that "two Google searches generate the same carbon dioxide as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea." As one might expect, the Google Team went into overdrive to correct the perception that Googlers are energy hogs.

As it turns out, the study of the environmental impact of web searches authored by Wissner-Gross soon to be published is not about Google, except in a very general way. It would appear, the London Times was trying to sell newspapers and Google always generates interest on the Web. According to Wissner-Gross in an exclusive interview with Technology News, the tea kettle analogy, "They (London Times) did that, I have no idea where they got those statistics".

Harvard Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross manages a web site whose aim it is to educate Web site owners about reducing energy consumption and offers a seal of approval logo for compliant sites. Wissner-Gross did say, "a Google search has a definite environmental impact" and "Google operates huge data centers around the world that consume a great deal of power." Additionally, Wissner-Gross stated, "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."

As one might expect, there was an immediate rebuttal from Google posted by Urs Holzle, Senior Vice President, Operations. First, Google disputes that a typical Google search produces 7g of CO2, instead Google asserts that a typical search produces 0.2g green house gases. Secondly, Holzle points out that Google has made great strides to reduce the energy used in its data centers and plans to do more. In 2008, the philanthropic arm of Google invested $45 million in breakthrough clean energy technologies. Google co-founded the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a group with the goal of reducing energy consumption by computers 50-percent by 2010 thereby reducing global CO2 emissions by 54 million tons per year. There's more from Google's perspective, if you are interested see: … g-google-search.html .

In other rippling effect news from the blogosphere about the London Times Google CO2 story other cracks may have occurred. Apparently, the Times reporters did interview a Google engineer whose job it is to review and analyze Google's data centers, but it failed to include any of the information supplied to them in the published article, according to Google spokesperson, Jamie Yood. Comments about the story, include "What about the Google private wide-body jet and questions the lack of transparency of Google's server infrastructure." Other comments include, the 'greenwashing' of Google's energy consumption by its public display of cute electric cars and more.

In conclusion, the Times story opened up a discussion on the high energy demands of all Web data centers. Going Green is not a logo, TV commercial or press release. A little transparency would go a long way to dispel rumors and perhaps allow cooler heads to prevail in reporting the news.

© 2009

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2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2009
Whether or not the story was accurate, it does raise the issue of energy conservation, which is a particularly pertinent issue when talking about computers. Google (and other server-farm companies) should make it a goal to generate as much as possible of its energy from local solar and wind power, which can then be stored on-site in regenerative fuel cell systems. If this means re-locating to some windy hillside in North Dakota or baked land in Nevada, so be it. Fresh energy is everywhere.
3.9 / 5 (7) Jan 14, 2009
Whether or not the story was accurate, it does raise the issue of energy conservation

Lying and fabrication are never justifiable in scientific research.

As an addition, how much is saved over driving to the nearest university and walking from library to library when doing research?
1.2 / 5 (6) Jan 14, 2009
the title says it all so i will not go on a rant

looks like people are waking up

reference video

5 / 5 (4) Jan 14, 2009
As usual, these simplistic articles only depend on how they present the raw data. What about the average energy that is saved thanks to a google search? if an end user do not have google, he will substitute it with less efficient methods in terms of energy costs; telephone calls, trial an error methods, or even using a car to go to a travel agency to ask for the information. Everything is interrelated, you can not do this kind of simplistic affirmations.

Another example: what about the energy that is recycled? For example: in my office, now that it is winter we always open the CPD (the computers room door) in order to route the computers heat to our desks, which saves a significative amount of energy both in terms of air conditioned and office heaters (and of course, some money).

This kind of things are never taken into account on isolated studies, typically written by journalists an not scientists. There are thousands of similar examples. I agree that the world need more "green" science, but "green" journalists only create confusion.

5 / 5 (3) Jan 14, 2009
Lying and fabrication are never justifiable... period.
5 / 5 (1) Jan 15, 2009
Google maps saves me gas money. Froogle saves me time shopping around. My only grief with Google is that I am very limited in ways to weed out marketing sites, news sites, blogs, amateur artwork, social networking sites and or other things by type to suit my fancy. I have trouble finding information on things that aren't popular. Suppose two things sharing the same name, or very similar names and one is popular with tens of millions of people and the other is popular with only a few thousand people. I won't be able to find information on the less popular item.
not rated yet Jan 15, 2009
5 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2009
This is exactly why I run my computer with an army of energy generating hamster slaves. I can google all I want with little to no guilt, muahaha!
Actually, I think it's a little foolish to be sweating the small stuff while we do nothing about the big emmitters. So using the internet takes energy, big deal. how much pollution comes from cars every day? How many trees die each year to publish books about this stuff?
3 / 5 (2) Jan 18, 2009
So what if they emit Co2?
It's not like it damages anything, man made climate change is all bull crap and any one who believes that its real needs to get a reality check, climate change is real, man made climate change is just another way to get money out of your pocket.
not rated yet Jan 27, 2009
So what if they emit Co2?
It's not like it damages anything, man made climate change is all bull crap and any one who believes that its real needs to get a reality check, climate change is real, man made climate change is just another way to get money out of your pocket.

I don't get the whole money conspiracy? How much has anybody here paid the climatologists for the global warming theory? Who's benefiting at the expense of everybody else? In what way do we not benefit from using renewable energy sources and improving efficiency to reduce emmissions? Why are you people so angry at simple logic?
not rated yet Jan 28, 2009
Read your pay stub.
... or just watch C-SPAN. Al Gore will be on shortly asking for carbon credits to pay for his house, car, jet...

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