New President, New Approach

Getting down to work
Getting down to work

A week on from Obama’s inauguration, and he sure is quick getting to work on the unenviable task of cleaning up the biggest mess America has found itself in since the ’30s.

Closing Guantanamo Bay on Day One was obviously a key symbolic victory for liberty and the concept of a fair trial, and his early diplomatic phone calls show his commitment to pursuing peace in the Middle East.

But today we hear the news which, for me at least, is the biggest step forward for this new administration. Obama and his team are ready to take on a global villain called Robert who has been wreaking havoc in Africa.

I watched intently last March as the spectre of Mugabe seemed to wane, before he heartlessly overthrew the election result and drove his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai out of the country. Now it seems the UN is finally readying itself to step in, taking the lead from Obama’s UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

This policy decision is all the more admirable considering the aforementioned American mess – you would have thought Obama would be content with juggling a collapsing economy, motor industry and two contentious foreign conflicts. I guess he just likes a challenge.

This move for me marks the biggest difference between the Bush years and the fledgling Obama era. Instead of simply consulting the UN just in case they agreed before firing gung-ho into Iraq, it looks like though Obama is keen to get everyone (or at least the majority) onside before getting serious about Zimbabwe. Seems international diplomacy isn’t dead after all…

p.s. For those who prefer their commentary on international politics to be more well-read and erudite, please have a look at this blog by my good friend Charlotte.

[Wordpress spellcheck – Obama, not found. Suggestions: ABBA?]

Stop Googling To Save The Planet – Has It Come To This?!

Happy New Year! I’ll drink to that. Milk, please. Two sugars.

Don't overfill the kettle, don't fly if you can help it, and oh, stop using Google...
Don't overfill the kettle, don't fly if you can help it, and oh, stop using Google

2009 – It’s the year to save the world, right?

Not if you’re reading this. Chances are you got here via Google, or you’ve at least used it once today, correct? The monopoly Google holds over the search engine niche is comparable only to Tesco and supermarkets, but until now no-one has raised major concerns about the Californian giant’s near total dominance.

Stop press!

In an infuriating article in this week’s Sunday Times, we are told that performing two Google searches produces as much CO2 as boiling a cup of tea and, more frighteningly, that the technological industry gives off more CO2 annually than the aviation industry. The reason for this, according to new research from Harvard, is that Google operates several huge data centres across the world which are all consulted each time you search, resulting in more comprehensive results, but more CO2 emitted on net.

The choice of comparison here is particularly cutting. Not boiling a full kettle of water and cutting down on flying are two simple steps to reducing your Carbon Footprint, and by placing Google emissions above them makes personal small steps seem all the more pointless. It makes me feel like it’s too late to reverse all the bad we have done, and that my petty efforts are insignificant.

I wrote last month of how hard it is to cut back on air travel because of personal inconvenience, but we cannot hope for people to cut back on their internet usage. I shudder to think of the millions of times I have Googled something out of sheer curiosity or laziness. Google is a key research tool for journalists everywhere, and is usually the first port of call. Furthermore, many people, my parents included, set Google as their homepage and search for “hotmail” instead of bothering to type the URL into the address bar.

In both cases it’s just like Pandora’s Box – once we have developed this technology and have seen the amazing things we can do with it, we cannot simply close the box and go backwards. In this case, the onus lies with Google to clean up their act and make their search engine more energy efficient. But is there anything we can do to help? Is it realistic to ask people to use the internet less for environmental reasons? Or is this just needless scaremongering?