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Tuesday, August 11, 2009


Okay, you know what you need to do?

You need to change your homepage from Google to a green search engine.

I didn't know this, but apparently a single Google query uses as much energy as an 11-watt light left on for an hour. (I don't know who uses 11-watt lights, mark you.) That's crazy. 

Green search engines, on the other hand, are CO2 neutral. The one I'm using, Forestle, saves 0.1 square metres of rain forest with every search as well, which is entirely groovy, as well as having a rather nice home page. I've just signed up to make this website CO2 neutral as well, which involves a subscription and also more computer skills to get the logo put on my site than I can currently access, but using a CO2 neutral search engine is free free free. Let's all get on board!

(There's a longer post coming soon which I'm still currently tweaking, but it's always a good time to save the planet...)

Not that I don't appreciate this, but I think it needs to be put into perspective.

In my area electricity costs 5.7c/kWh. An 11 Watt bulb uses 0.011kWh in one hour. That's a cost of 0.0627c. In my old small-medium two-bedroom apartment where we used to live (before we moved to a place with electricity included), our bi-monthly hydro bill came to about 100$ not including heat. That's 50$/month. So, a single Google search makes up 0.00125% of my monthly electricity bill. And that's just the fridge, stove, lights, computers, window AC, and other incidentals. It doesn't include heating, taking the bus, the resources used to ship my groceries to the store, the occasional trip on a plane, or any of the other stuff I use or buy. Add all that up and even the hundreds of Google searches I do in a month just vanishes in the crush.

I'm not trying to piss on your parade, but the more I think about stuff like this, the more I worry that it's actively harmful. So much (activist) energy is spent convincing people to find little ways to save energy that it seems like nothing is left for the big ways.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not accusing you of not caring about or exercising the big ways, I'm mostly just responding to a trend I see. I look around my city and the ads exhorting people to use compact fluorescent lights outnumber the ads encouraging people to ride their bikes by a ratio of 10:1 at least, and the bike ads ran for a month, compared to over a year for the light bulbs. There are no ads proclaiming the enormous impact cutting meat out of your diet can have, and the only posters proclaiming the virtues of public transit over driving are the ones put up by the transit company itself in/on their own buildings and vehicles.

So many people are so willing to do the little things, and then think they've done their part. They haven't. I'm not having a go at you, I'm really not. I'm just expressing concern that the popularity of these little ways to save energy lull people into a false sense that they're taking action, while taking effort away from things that will actually make a difference.
Oh, I don't think you're having a go at me; I quite agree that it's not the only thing anyone needs to do. I just think that it's a small thing that takes very little effort, and as such has a value.

On a point of advertising budgets - maybe it's different where you are, but it wasn't a big expensive campaign that turned me on to Forestle; someone told my husband, he told me. Word of mouth.

And to be honest I doubt it'll create a false sense of security. The way I see it, anything that makes people more aware of environmental impact acts as a general reminder that resources are finite and our use of them should be responsible. I see them as consciousness-raising as much as anything else, a reminder that all sorts of things have knock-on effects.

So true, CO2-neutral search engines aren't the ultimate solution, but in their finite way I think they're a good idea.
I don't know where you got your energy usage number for a Google search, but it seems really fishy to me. My desktop computer, which is a recent, very powerful system with way more stuff in it than one of Google's servers has, uses about 150 watts at full load. That means that, by those numbers, with the amount of energy it takes to run my computer for one hour, you can do about 15 Google searches. I get the impression that whoever came up with that number used a combination of pulling numbers out of the air, and including all kinds of overhead that doesn't seem to make sense to me.

Also, Google has responded to these claims, and the numbers they give for the energy cost of one Google search is much lower. Specifically, they claim that an average search uses about 0.0003 kWh of energy, or enough to run a 60-watt light bulb for about 18 seconds, or the mentioned 11-watt bulb for about 100 seconds. Even if you assume that that number is just for the actual computers, and double it as a rough estimate of the energy usage of the air conditioning and the networking gear at Google's data center, it's still nowhere near the claimed value.

In addition, the physics professor who's work these reports were based on has responded as well, and says that the news stories don't bear much resemblance to his actual report.
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