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Revealed: The Environmental Impact of Google Searches

By Times Online

January 12, 2009

Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross has been researching the environmental impact of Google searching and claims that one search generates about 7 grams of CO2 emissions. "Google operates huge data centers around the world that consume a great deal of power," Wissner-Gross says. "A Google search has a definite environmental impact." Analysts estimate that Google processes more than 200 million Internet searches daily. A recent Gartner study found that the global IT industry generates as much greenhouse gas as the airline industry, or about 2 percent of the world's global CO2 emissions. A Google search is typically submitted to several servers competing against each other. Requests may even be sent to servers thousands of miles apart, returning data from the server that can produce an answer the fastest, which minimizes delays but increases energy consumption. An estimate from John Buckley, managing director of British environmental consultancy group carbonfootprint.com, puts the CO2 emissions of a Google search between 1g and 10g, depending on whether or not users need to turn on their PCs first. Running a PC generates between 40g and 80g of CO2 emissions per hour, Buckley says. British Computer Society data center expert Liam Newcombe says computer's increased energy use is acceptable as long as Web searches are replacing activities that consume more energy, such as driving to stores, but if Web searches are adding energy consumption that would not otherwise happen, there may be a problem.

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