Does a websearch kill a tree?

Posted on January 14, 2009  /  3 Comments

According to this research finding, Google is warming the planet by giving us fast websearches.

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.”

I don’t want to waste too much time on this, but this kind of research makes two classic errors:  first, it does not assess the websearch in relation to whatever it replaces.  So a person doing product comparison on the web has to be compared with a person physically comparing prices in multiple shops, using walking, public transport, a Prius, a Ferrari, etc.   Obviously, the research will have a bigger carbon imprint than the search.

Second, this whole approach is Luddite, in that it does not account for the fact that we as humans need to do new and better things, rather than just do the same old, same old.   So even if the above opportunity cost problem is addressed, the fact that the Google searches may be improving the quality of the user’s life is not addressed.

By doing the research, the researcher is burdening Mother Gaia, by publicizing it the Times is burdening Mother Gaia, and by blogging about it I am really hammering her.  People who are into this line of thinking should consider low-carbon imprint ways of euthanising themselves.  Because, that, we can be sure, will have the lowest carbon imprint.


  1. Yep, almost any human activity – like breathing, to begin with – generates CO2.

    On the other hand, I guess most of Google’s energy consumption is likely to be structural, not marginal. It is my guess that i.e. adding one single more search won’t add these 7g of CO2, being that 7g surely the result of dividing the total of Google’s CO2 emissions by the total number of searches.

    Of course, I agree that we should compare googling something vs. taking the car and driving to the nearest library.

    I don’t think this is the best way to raise awareness about the need of green computing…

  2. Actually Google published a response to this research here. They say: “in terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. “

  3. Kathleen Flynn-Dapaah


    Interesting post… and how about the research I did the other day on getting a home energy audit and making upgrades to windows, doors and insulation so I can do to make my home more energy efficient!