The next time you perform a web search think of this: According to an analysis by US physicist Alex Wissner-Gross in an article published by the BBC, searching the internet is bad for global warming.
While the players in this drama can dispute the facts, there is no denying that computers and the networks that connect them consume power. While I have not seen Dr. Wissner-Gross' analysis, I would be willing to bet he did not factor in the power of the entire world-wide network that is involved with connecting the client to the Google data center and which lies between Google's data center and the destinations that they scan for information.
This is good food for thought for the next time I work at home smugly thinking that I am saving the planet by not driving my car to work that day.
It appears all the arguments in the article seem to focus on the amount of power consumed from carbon-based energy (as opposed to renewable resources). Of-course, nobody talks about the heat footprint in terms of the thermal impact of all this technology, but the article does mention that 2% of all global emissions comes from IT. Estimates put US energy consumption in the neighborhood of 760 GW. If we were to conjecture that there is a direct proportion between emissions and power consumption, we could argue that IT in the US alone would account for at least 15 GW. According to data I gathered on the internet (doing searches), there are over 32 million computer servers world wide. Remember that every watt it takes to power them must be doubled to allow for cooling them. A typical server can average 150W - 200W of power, but none of this computes the power of the network required to interconnect them. This begs the question: "If nobody uses the Internet, does it still consume electricity?" Rest-assured it does, so you need not feel guilty reading this stupid blog, yet you can see why so many companies associated with computers are working towards keeping this number from growing.
In a previous blog I bragged that I saved the planet form 1320 tons of carbon emissions over the last twelve years; that is equivalent to approximately 273398 grams per day or roughly 3 searches per second, based on Wissner-Gross' estimations. So watch your web searches. If you find yourself searching this fast, you might want to go for a drive.