Searching Google, Killing Trees

By Deane Barker on January 11, 2009

Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches: here is your guilt trip of the day.

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.

Here’s supposedly the key to the increased energy usage:

[…] 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.

Update: Google is disputing this number.

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.

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  1. Color me slow, but where is the CO2 generated (one assumes it is at the local power plant)? Is this not another case of a media generated statistic geared at scaring people into changing behavior based on poor science?

  2. The people who think this crap matters are wasting their time and everyone else’s. Do they realize most of us don’t really care about “being green” because it’s just too damn nitpicky? I’ve come to realize that people in general need “causes” and are just looking for something to get behind, regardless of how important it actually is.

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