Sunday, January 11, 2009

Googling and Web Surfing Outstrip Carbon Footprint of Aviation Industry

Cross posted at The Next Right

From the Times of London:
So it's Sunday morning, you're sitting down at the computer with your cup of coffee, and you decide to search for the latest YouTube hit. You groan. That video is taking too long to load. You open a new window and decide to read the morning paper while you wait for the video to download. This scene may seem innocent enough, but were you aware of the fact that your websurfing has an impact on the environment? Would you be surprised to know that it contributes to a greater global carbon footprint than the whole of the aviation industry?

Although they might seem ephemeral, websites have real-world environmental footprints. Their files are stored on servers, viewed by personal computers, and connected via networks. To operate these components, all of which are necessary to create a complete website experience, electricity must be consumed. And to generate much of that electricity, fossil fuels like coal and natural gas are usually being burned.

So, when you are sitting in London viewing a website hosted in California, there are power plants on at least two continents actively pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in order for you to watch that video or read that online newspaper.

Since millions of people are surfing the web every hour of every day, that carbon footprint adds up to an astounding 2% of international emissions each year. In fact, according to the American research firm Gartner, the carbon footprint of information and communications technology exceeded that of the global aviation industry for the first time in 2007. Add to your own footprint those of the billions of existing web searchers, not to mention those now coming online in Asia and Africa, and the numbers are staggering.

Google and googling are not that green:
Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres. However, with more than 200m internet searches estimated globally daily, the electricity consumption and greenhouse gas emissions caused by computers and the internet is provoking concern. A recent report by Gartner, the industry analysts, said the global IT industry generated as much greenhouse gas as the world’s airlines - about 2% of global CO2 emissions. “Data centres are among the most energy-intensive facilities imaginable,” said Evan Mills, a scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. Banks of servers storing billions of web pages require power.

Though Google says it is in the forefront of green computing, its search engine generates high levels of CO2 because of the way it operates. When you type in a Google search for, say, “energy saving tips”, your request doesn’t go to just one server. It goes to several competing against each other.

Our online entertainment uses about as much as Brazilians use to live:
Nicholas Carr, author of The Big Switch, Rewiring the World, has calculated that maintaining a character (known as an avatar) in the Second Life virtual reality game, requires 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That is almost as much used by the average Brazilian.

“It’s not an unreasonable comparison,” said Liam Newcombe, an expert on data centres at the British Computer Society. “It tells us how much energy westerners use on entertainment versus the energy poverty in some countries.”

Hat Tip Drudge Report

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