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Killing the planet with your keyboard

Posted by Richard on January 12, 2009

The people who want us to give up meat, grow our own veggies, put on a sweater, and shiver in the dark in order to "save the planet" are now suggesting that we step away from the keyboard to counter global warming:

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. “Google operates huge data centres around the world that consume a great deal of power,” said Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon. “A Google search has a definite environmental impact.”

Wissner-Gross has also calculated the CO2 emissions caused by individual use of the internet. His research indicates that viewing a simple web page generates about 0.02g of CO2 per second. This rises tenfold to about 0.2g of CO2 a second when viewing a website with complex images, animations or videos.

The Times article mentioned that Wissner-Gross created a website called CO2Stats, but left the impression that it's just about his research. Actually, CO2Stats sells website owners environmental absolution in the form of carbon offsets and related nonsense. So Wissner-Gross makes money off the environmental guilt his "research" fosters. 

According to the Times, someone claims that a Second Life avatar uses nearly as much energy as the average Brazilian. That, of course, will lead to widespread disapproval — it's bad enough that you Second Lifers are warming the planet, but you're also consuming so much more than your "fair share" of the world's wealth (never mind that you're also producing more than your "fair share"). And just for your amusement — shame on you: 

“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.”

Though energy consumption by computers is growing – and the rate of growth is increasing – Newcombe argues that what matters most is the type of usage.

If your internet use is in place of more energy-intensive activities, such as driving your car to the shops, that’s good. But if it is adding activities and energy consumption that would not otherwise happen, that may pose problems.

Huh. I consider "adding activities and energy consumption" to be signs of progress and increasing wealth, and thus to be desirable. But to the radical environmentalists, human activity — especially material progress and wealth creation — is always a problem.

Maybe I'll join Second Life just to increase my carbon footprint. 

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2 Responses to “Killing the planet with your keyboard”

  1. Jan said

    It reads like a parody.

  2. Hathor said

    One should also stop toasting bread.

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