Google's Intractable Problem

Last week a Harvard physicist, Alex Wissner-Gross, made an important, rather frustrating, and ultimately quite sad finding; just two Google searches generate an estimated 5-10 grams of C02. It's an insignificant number by itself but really adds up if you keep in mind that there are 16,000 Google searches per minute in the UK alone and an estimated 1 million searches per minute world-wide (that's 43 billion per month).

Of course, Google does its best to minimize its carbon impact (see http://www.google.com/corporate/green/) but, as Weissner-Gross acknowledges, the energy-intensity of Google is what makes it so beautiful. "If you want to supply really great and fast results, then that's going to take extra energy."

These findings are important because they show yet another carbon-intensive addiction of the 21st century to be addressed. They are frustrating because, like many other carbon-intensive activities, Google searching is increasingly becoming an important and indispensable part of our lives (I've Google searched five times so far writing this story!). I also find it sad because, well, I always sort of thought of Google as the 'knight in shining armor' that, through initiatives like Google.org, would help solve the world's biggest intractable problems. But as it turns out, Google is its own intractable problem.