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Two Google searches use as much energy as boiling the kettle for a cup of tea
January 11, 2009 3:39 PM   Subscribe

Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches - "Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross says that performing two Google searches uses up as much energy as boiling the kettle for a cup of tea."
posted by nthdegx (74 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, I don't drink tea, so it kind of evens out.
posted by brundlefly at 3:43 PM on January 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


The "researcher" runs a website that "makes your site carbon neutral", which suggests he may be a tad biased.
posted by HaloMan at 3:44 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I just facepalmed SO HARD that it chafed.
posted by tumult at 3:45 PM on January 11, 2009


This article is just a thin excuse to mock people's Twitter posts, isn't it?
posted by enn at 3:48 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


What's the comparative impact of using Blackle instead?
posted by subbes at 3:50 PM on January 11, 2009


No more Google. From now on, I'm going to get into my Hummer and drive 18 miles to our nearest public library.
posted by terranova at 3:50 PM on January 11, 2009 [38 favorites]


While millions of people tap into Google without considering the environment, a typical search generates about 7g of CO2.

Driving your car 1 mile generates, what, just under a pound of CO2? Clearly we must all uninstall the Google ASAP.
posted by Krrrlson at 3:55 PM on January 11, 2009


I like coffee.
posted by fixedgear at 3:58 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


A separate estimate from John Buckley, managing director of carbonfootprint.com, a British environmental consultancy, puts the CO2 emissions of a Google search at between 1g and 10g, depending on whether you have to start your PC or not.

They tried to roll the amount of energy needed to boot the computer into the statistic? That alone tells me everything I needed to know about this study.

At the very least, let's wait until this research is published before we worry. Making results available to the press before publication is usually a bad sign, particularly when the results are controversial.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:00 PM on January 11, 2009 [9 favorites]


If this was true searching couldn't possibly be free. Google would have long since gone bankrupt. I call BS.
posted by no_moniker at 4:00 PM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


Just because a scientist says it, doesn't make it science.
posted by Bokononist at 4:00 PM on January 11, 2009 [10 favorites]


subbes, if I understand Blackle correctly, it still relies on Google for the actual search. Since the calculations in the article are to do with Google's server setup, not the screens of its users, I don't think using Blackle would make any difference at all.
posted by nthdegx at 4:02 PM on January 11, 2009


At least it's fun to read the global warming denier's comments.
posted by device55 at 4:06 PM on January 11, 2009


I just googled myself. Twice. Why? I was just killing time waiting for the kettle. And fuck yeah, I boiled way too much water.

*tough guy pose*

As a corollary of googleheat: how much energy does streaming a youtube video take, supposing the average length was 40 seconds?
posted by flippant at 4:09 PM on January 11, 2009


So should we switch to using a yahoo search?
posted by lilburne at 4:13 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


I want to highlight the clear-mindedness of one Jack Mehoff (Cumlandria, USA):
If people really really really cared about the environment, they would kill themselves. Just a valid suggestion for all you post hippie, latte sipping, worthless cause searching, Prius driving yuppies. Go help out a homeless person with a few bucks instead of figuring out how best to be a tool.
Thank you, Mr. Mehoff, for that insightful cummentary.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 4:15 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Google Servers More Efficient Than Industry Average.
posted by spiderwire at 4:16 PM on January 11, 2009


Also, Google's own page on sustainable computing.
posted by spiderwire at 4:17 PM on January 11, 2009


I outsource my searches to a pod of orcas that occasionally visits Elliot Bay.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:21 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


From the CO2Stats FAQ:

"CO2Stats combines a variety of signals, such as the local fuel mixes of computers visiting your site, to calculate the total end-to-end footprint of your site's online experience."

This is silly, though, because I leave my computer on whether I'm using it heavily or lightly, with little effect on its power usage.
posted by topynate at 4:21 PM on January 11, 2009


However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily

What, in 1996? That's not even 1/10th of what Google does in a day. I can't believe I wasted my first three comments in weeks on this horrible, horrible article.

I also did 2 Google searches to find those previous links. Fucking hippies.
posted by spiderwire at 4:22 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


But how many libraries of Congress is that??

Okay, let's see: for each Google search, raise the temperature of .5 cups (.1134 kg) of water (specific heat 4.23 kJ/kg-K) to boiling (~80K) gives about 38.5 kJ = 0.01 kilowatt-hours of energy, which costs on the order of $0.001 dollars.

Maybe I've slipped a decimal point, and of course we could argue about a gas-heated kettle being more efficient than electric or about how much heat is wasted in the air instead of the water, but it seems vaguely plausible to me. I guess the remaining question is: how much does Google get paid for search ads?
posted by roystgnr at 4:23 PM on January 11, 2009


What is the marginal incremental cost - that is, if Google handles a zillion requests every day, how much more does it cost that day to do one more search? That's the question these yo-yos should be asking themselves, and aren't.
posted by ikkyu2 at 4:24 PM on January 11, 2009


"Nearly 8 billion tons of carbon were emitted globally into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide in 2005" (source)

"a typical search generates about 7g of CO2 "
"more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily"

200000000 * 365 * 7g = 563 281.08 short tons

563 281 / 8 000 000 000 = 7.0410125 × 10-5
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:27 PM on January 11, 2009 [6 favorites]


No more Google. From now on, I'm going to get into my Hummer and drive 18 miles to our nearest public library.

[The Internet] is not a big truck. It's a series of tubes. And if you don't understand, those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and it's going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of [cups of tea].
posted by Staggering Jack at 4:31 PM on January 11, 2009


Ha. A mother vindicated.

Years ago, I worked with an editor who was always talking about how brilliant Alexander, her toddler, was. We smiled, of course. She wasn't obnoxious at all, just a little boring on the same theme. Then about 8 years ago, I walked into the doctor's office and there was her son, on the cover of Newsweek or Business Week or something, for brilliance at MIT, a triple major, etc. etc. So I laughed. Anyway, This is the former toddler Alexander.

Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches
Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross says that performing two Google searches uses up as much

posted by etaoin at 4:34 PM on January 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


But just so we're clear, all of my searches are performed by a free-trade organic cooperative in southern Angola, which actually deploys native Bushmen to scour the world for answers. The best part is that 100% of the profits is returned to the community.
posted by Krrrlson at 4:34 PM on January 11, 2009 [8 favorites]


In the form of micro-loans?
posted by brundlefly at 4:38 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Instead of using Google, I used to have a huge library of reference material, mush of which needed to be regularly updated. Almanacs. Dictionaries. Maps. Etc. I wonder how much energey it cost to write, edit, print, and distribute those.

Oh, and if they didn't work for the info I needed, I made some phone calls.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:39 PM on January 11, 2009


563 281 / 8 000 000 000 = 7.0410125 × 10-5

You may think this is insignificant, but wait until you see my list of "14000 Small Simple Ways to Help Save the Planet".
posted by Pyry at 4:41 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


This article makes no sense. It admits "Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres." Given that, how is it possible to calculate the carbon usage of two google searches? Even if you had that information, I'm not so sure it would not be easy to calculate the per-search footprint.

Moreover, the co2stats site is ridiculous. Want to figure out your carbon footprint? Look at your electric bill. It will tell you how much electricity you used, and from there, it shouldn't be too hard to figure it out given a few statistics that are probably publicly available. Oh, but that would require the use of google. I'm sure co2stats has a more energy efficient way...
posted by Edgewise at 4:42 PM on January 11, 2009


We allow dogs, for example.
posted by netbros at 4:42 PM on January 11, 2009


I search off the grid.

I performed every possible search using a 255 character sequence, captured the first ten pages of each results set, and printed them on archival grade paper.

If anyone wants to look anything up, just pop over, and within a couple of carbon-neutral weeks you should be able to find a relevant link.

Don't forget to come over on your pedal bike or horse, mkay?
posted by davemee at 4:43 PM on January 11, 2009


Also, I realize your natural reaction to my previous comment will be to favorite it (multiple times with sock puppets if you have them), but bear in mind every time you click the 'favorite' button it creates 4g of CO2 emissions.
posted by Pyry at 4:44 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


I'd do a Google search of Metafilter to see if this is a double or not but I'm afraid that if I do I might cause a flood of apocolyptic proportions on some small micronesian island somewhere.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:45 PM on January 11, 2009


But Google patented The Ocean-Powered Data Center. The sea-going computer platforms will be sustainably powered by Pelamis wave energy converters.
posted by Sailormom at 4:51 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I take advantage of this situation by typing answers directly into my computer and use it to power my home.
posted by digsrus at 5:01 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Micronesian island would most likely be in Micronesia.

I am really hoping to look at this guy's data and methodology. It is a good idea to let people know that using the Internet is not free (apart from paying you electrical and Internet bills) in the same way that it is good to let people know the real cost of all the Made in X stuff that costs less than the local stuff, and then let people decide, but I am willing to bet some money that from the original paper you can extract a long list of "assuming that" or even "goes without saying" statements.

Because, given what we know about bunny farts and assuming that every time you masturbate God kills a bunny, masturbation is great for the environment, and the USA is a carbon neutral country.
posted by dirty lies at 5:07 PM on January 11, 2009


maintaining a character (known as an avatar) in the Second Life virtual reality game, requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Yes, but that includes the energy costs of manufacturing 1,161 Krispy Kreme donuts, and doesn't deduct the percentage sequestered as body fat.
posted by George_Spiggott at 5:09 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Part of the infrastructure proposed by President-Elect Obama should include Disintegration Booths such as were used on Eminiar VII and its sister planet, Vendikar.
posted by wallstreet1929 at 5:10 PM on January 11, 2009


That's why I always make sure to only use recycled electrons.
posted by Fruny at 5:18 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Simply running a PC generates between 40g and 80g per hour, he says. of CO2 Chris Goodall, author of Ten Technologies to Save the Planet, estimates the carbon emissions of a Google search at 7g to 10g (assuming 15 minutes’ computer use).

15 minutes? Apparently this estimate is for someone searching Google, then looking at every result that is returned.
posted by snofoam at 5:19 PM on January 11, 2009


The claim is nonsense.

It's based on the idea that Google searches take fifteen minutes, not any assessment of how much Google actually uses at their end.

I hereby declare that checking my email creates as much CO2 as driving a Mack truck across Texas, based on the idea that checking my email takes 400 years.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:20 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


I drink tea all the time - I should probably re-situate kettle on a hydro-electric dam.
posted by Artw at 5:20 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Dear Messrs. Leake and Woods,
Does the Times not have a style guide?
a) 3m = three metres. 3M = Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. What's wrong with "three million"? It's the body of the article, not the headline; can the abbreviations.
b) It's CO2, not CO2.
c) Punctuate all sentences, even those ending with chemical formulae.
d) One does not "boil the kettle"; one uses a kettle to boil water.
e) OMG Stephen Fry and Jonathan Ross totes use Twitter! You sure pwned those earth-rapers! *high-five* But, like, um, don't you work for a newsPAPER? Don't make me use the frigging blink tag, jerks.
Yours snarkily,
Sys
posted by Sys Rq at 5:23 PM on January 11, 2009 [7 favorites]


Want to figure out your carbon footprint? Look at your electric bill

Actually, CO2stats seems significantly more sophisticated than that. It attempts to estimate both server and client electricity usage. (How does CO2Stats calculate footprints? CO2Stats combines a variety of signals, such as the local fuel mixes of computers visiting your site, to calculate the total end-to-end footprint of your site's online experience. ) What it doesn't do (apparently) is include life cycle costs of computer manufacturing and disposal, which it should before making claims of being carbon neutral.

I will give the guy credit for good media skills and good business sense. The research is obviously aimed at driving interest towards his company. I wouldn't be too quick to dismiss it, either; even though the C02 from website use might be minuscule (and probably smaller than reported here), that doesn't mean there isn't value in stamping a "certified Green" sticker on your site.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:35 PM on January 11, 2009


So if thousands of people Google a company, the company will get cited and fined by the EPA.

H-A-L-L-I-B-U-R-T-O-N. [SEARCH]
posted by terranova at 5:43 PM on January 11, 2009


Because, given what we know about bunny farts and assuming that every time you masturbate God kills a bunny, masturbation is great for the environment, and the USA is a carbon neutral country.

Unless, of course, you're using the Google to find wank material.

Anyway, I'm gonna go make a cup of tea.
posted by jal0021 at 5:44 PM on January 11, 2009


Based on the last few posts I imagine this whole new debate about carbon-neutral masturbation spreading out before me like a fen.
posted by goldfinches at 5:48 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


Last time I looked at one of these (the Second Life analysis), the vast majority of the energy was consumed by the home user's pc. This appears to again be the case here. Why the hell are they even involving Google in this equation at all, then? Here's some other possible headlines they could have come up with:
- lolcats consume 1g of CO2 per image
- pornography consumes 2000g of CO2 per exposed breast (assuming 400 viewers with two strokes [5 secs] each)
- looking at the clock on your computer instead of a wristwatch consumes .1g of CO2 each time you glance at it (assumes 20 sec glance)

Fuck these guys. They're giving real environmentalists a bad name.
posted by breath at 5:51 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


*googles "fen"*
posted by Sys Rq at 5:51 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


One step closer to the zero carbon suicide movement. *

* not accounting for decomposition & disposal
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:00 PM on January 11, 2009


If there were some way to harness all the Internet rage against this scientist for his PRESUMPTION in pointing out the energy the Internet takes, we could close the loop into a perpetual motion machine.
posted by DU at 6:03 PM on January 11, 2009


Let me google that for you.
posted by terranova at 6:06 PM on January 11, 2009


I am become Death, destroyer of worlds.
posted by steef at 6:09 PM on January 11, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well, I just googled a cup of tea and I'm still fucking waiting for it. On the other hand, I just looked in my kettle for porn twice and was similarly disappointed, so I guess I'll go back to the tried and tested method, environment be dammed.
posted by ob at 6:15 PM on January 11, 2009 [1 favorite]


A couple of years ago, the NY Times had an interesting article on this very subject: Hiding in Plain Sight, Google Seeks More Power. The key takeaway from that article is that they built a big datacenter in Oregon to take advantage of the cheap hydroelectric power that's available there. What was that about CO2 footprint?
posted by smackfu at 6:15 PM on January 11, 2009


The Times and the Telegraph in particular have long positioned themselves as the 'voices of reason in a world gone mad'.

The editors of these esteemed organs delight in finding 'news stories' that, to their jaundiced eyes, show just how loonie those lefty, yoghurt-weaving hippies are. It used to be stories about 'Political Correctness gone mad' - eg. womanhole covers, wo-manuals etc. but the conservative punching bag for the 00's seems to be anyone showing concern for the environment. I guess they got bored of beating up on women and minorities.

Cutting to the chase, this is not news, this is just a conservative rag trying to whip up some good old indignation from the usual armchair-fascist brigade. Unfortunately, there seems to be no dearth of media-hungry, naive academics who will provide them with an endless supply of straw-men.
posted by JustAsItSounds at 6:21 PM on January 11, 2009


Science is like luck: there are two kinds.
posted by rokusan at 6:39 PM on January 11, 2009 [3 favorites]


Dude is one bad researcher. It's on public record that one of Google's biggest data centers is in The Dalles, Oregon. Next to this. I'm pretty sure that their CO2 production is zero. On preview, yeah smackfu.
posted by GuyZero at 6:55 PM on January 11, 2009


oh man, does feeling guilty have no end?
posted by nickyskye at 7:05 PM on January 11, 2009


Google faster, we're headed for an ice age.
posted by 445supermag at 7:14 PM on January 11, 2009


Unfortunately, there seems to be no dearth of media-hungry, naive academics who will provide them with an endless supply of straw-men.
On this point, at least, there can be no dissent.
posted by yath at 9:07 PM on January 11, 2009


So should we switch to using a yahoo search?

Obviously anyone worried about global warming should use Cuil.
posted by benzenedream at 10:52 PM on January 11, 2009


As if on cue, Google responds.
posted by dgbellak at 11:28 PM on January 11, 2009 [4 favorites]


From the Google response:


"Recently, though, others have used much higher estimates, claiming that a typical search uses "half the energy as boiling a kettle of water" and produces 7 grams of CO2. 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. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds."

"In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2. The current EU standard for tailpipe emissions calls for 140 grams of CO2 per kilometer driven, but most cars don't reach that level yet. Thus, the average car driven for one kilometer (0.6 miles for those of in the U.S.) produces as many greenhouse gases as a thousand Google searches."


Cheers, dgbellak.
posted by nthdegx at 1:22 AM on January 12, 2009


Can anyone find a published version of his "study", rather than just news reports on it?
posted by Orange Goblin at 5:52 AM on January 12, 2009


I think Google assertion, in their response, that "in the time it takes to do a Google search, your own personal computer will use more energy than Google uses to answer your query." is also significant.

Actually the one thing I like about Alex Wissner-Gross' study - at least as reported - is that it attempts to link computing related CO2 emissions with that of something concrete like boiling a kettle. However a typical kettle might contain between 1-8 cups of water and will consume energy at a rate proportional to how full it is. So that benchmark is somewhat imprecise.
posted by rongorongo at 6:45 AM on January 12, 2009


We're not asking you to feel guilty about everything. We're asking you to be guilty about something.
posted by radgardener at 7:14 AM on January 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


However a typical kettle might contain between 1-8 cups of water and will consume energy at a rate proportional to how full it is. So that benchmark is somewhat imprecise.

Not only that, but where I live pretty much all the electricity I use comes from hydro plants (and so has very low associated GHG emissions) whereas in many parts of the US, most of the power comes from coal fired plants (and so has very high associated GHG emissions). The variability in the emissions of one person's giant SUV versus another's hybrid is much less than the variability in the emissions associated with each person's electricity use, so Google's comparison is much more applicable than Wissner-Gross'.
posted by ssg at 10:10 AM on January 12, 2009


A few years ago I recall a Slashdot thread where some people gave some pretty decent-sounding cocktail napkin estimates of the carbon footprint of sexual activity. Just about anything that raises your metabolic rate can be associated with some amount of carbon emissions, especially if you're a typical American eating a diet rich in corn-fed meat from thousands of miles away. (This is incidentally how people develop those estimates that make biking look like a worse option, from a carbon-emissions perspective, than driving. They neglect other benefits that the activity might have and look solely at its carbon footprint.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:03 PM on January 12, 2009


click

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

click
click

BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!

Dear President Manny Mori,

You will tender to me the sum of ONE BILLYUN DOLLARS immediately, or I will write a Javascript to query Google every second until your country is completely destroyed. An example of my power...

click
click
click
click
click
click
click
click

No more Nan Midol.

I am serious, and I mean business. You have 24 hours to comply.
posted by Samizdata at 9:07 PM on January 12, 2009


The Google blog has added a link to an interview with Wissner-Gross: Harvard Physicist Sets Record Straight on Internet Carbon Study

One problem: the study's author, Harvard University physicist Alex Wissner-Gross, says 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," Wissner-Gross told TechNewsWorld. "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.

posted by des at 11:14 PM on January 12, 2009


And the example involving tea kettles? "They did that. I have no idea where they got those statistics," Wissner-Gross said.

Never under-estimate the cultural appeal of kettles to British culture. Not so long ago they were primitive things that would sit on a stove and whistle - like the rest of the world seems to use. These days they are invariably electric with hefty 3Kw elements. Mine appears to have been modelled on a rocket and sports a set of red and blue LEDs to illuminate the bubbling water and make the thing look like it is ready for take-off as it approaches boiling. The British army have even been sneakily incorporating kettles into their tanks by giving them the innocuous label of "BV" (that's "Boiling Vessel").
posted by rongorongo at 2:22 AM on January 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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