January 13, 2009

News outlets fawn over “Google Causes Global Warming” story

Yesterday, myriad news outlets jumped all over a story that started in the Times of London which promoted a study stating that Google searches contribute to 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.”

The Times also tantalizingly stated that “Google is secretive about its energy consumption and carbon footprint. It also refuses to divulge the locations of its data centres.” Oooooo!

Alas, whether the Times’ [obvious] opinion about global warming is valid or not isn’t the point. The point is that its article was deceptive, misleading, and unnecessarily alarmist. Jason Kincaid of the online journal Tech Crunch delved a bit deeper into the claims made by the Times:

Yesterday an article in The Times of London set the web abuzz over new findings that every Google search contributed 7 grams of CO2 to the atmosphere - half the amount produced when heating a tea kettle (heaven forbid!). I criticized the article for being overly alarmist, with a lack of perspective and possible bias. Google also responded, effectively denouncing the claim.

At the heart of the story was a young physicist named Alex Wissner-Gross, who, according to the article, says “that performing two Google searches uses up as much energy as boiling the kettle for a cup of tea”. This sentence alone was enough to rile up reporters around the globe, and has now been repeated in hundreds of articles worldwide.

Unfortunately, according to Wissner-Gross he never said anything of the sort. For starters, he says he would never refer to any sort of measurement having to do with tea (he’d go with coffee). But his findings have nothing to do with Google as a company, either - they’re concerned with much more generalized stats, like your computer’s rate of CO2 production when you look at a webpage.

Wissner-Gross says that the widely circulated 7 gram/search figure came from some other source (he’s not sure where), and notes that if you read the article carefully it only makes it sound like it’s from his data. He has confirmed that he did make some vague statements regarding Google, including “A Google search has a definite environmental impact” and “Google operates huge data centers around the world that consume a great deal of power.” But the “tea kettle” statistic that has been repeated ad nauseum simply isn’t his. After learning of the misleading story, Wissner-Gross says that he contacted The Times and was assured that it would be fixed by Sunday morning. No corrections have been made.

Another concern I had with The Times article was that it neglected to accurately describe Wissner-Gross’s company, CO2Stats. The startup allows companies to purchase renewable energy to neutralize their website’s environmental impact and get “Green Certified” badges to display on their homepages. Because of this potential conflict of interest, Wissner-Gross’s affiliation with the company should have been described in the article, but was only mentioned in passing. Again, it seems like The Times was at fault here, as Wissner-Gross says that he described the purpose of CO2Stats and his role there in detail, though it seems to have been largely ignored by the reporters in question.

You might wonder if “going back” to ‘ol paper books would help “save the planet” from Google-induced global warming; however, Kincaid notes that “a single book runs around 2,500 grams of CO2, or more than 350 times a Google search.” Heck, even “a single cheeseburger has a carbon footprint of around 3,600 grams - over 500 times larger than a Google search!”

Ah, but before folks like those at the Times jump all over Kincaid’s comparisons for future articles, maybe they ought to check out some recent global cooling news, first.

Posted by Hube at January 13, 2009 03:31 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

It's the Zionist Media !!!!! ARGHHHHH !

Posted by: Shirley at January 13, 2009 06:14 PM

I guess we can now blame Al Gore and his creation of the internet as the ultimate cause of global warming.

Posted by: h. at January 14, 2009 09:38 AM

I guess Google's just gotten too big. Granted they're everywhere (even my computer company's version of IE has Google software installed), including a new smartphone OS or whatever they're doing now, so I guess they're the new Microsoft. Only Google doesn't have the "haters" that Microsoft has in the tech community, so the anti-success brigade isn't going to win this one as easily.

Posted by: ShadowWing Tronix at January 14, 2009 08:57 PM