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