Forgive me. I don't want you to feel bad.
Not when you've done so well: recycling stuff, cutting back on paper, saving trees, slowing landfill accumulation. You've taken to reduce, reuse and recycling like a duck takes to water. You're internet savvy.
But, as another old saying goes: There's no such thing as a free lunch. In the green-scheme of things, all your online time might not be as eco-friendly as you had hoped.
According to Well Home, "one month's Google searches equal roughly 626,506 miles worth of CO2 from driving or as much CO2 as you would breath out in 824 years." Whoa, these aren't the earth-friendly numbers were we expecting. But how can this be?
It all comes down to numbers my friends – and our numbers are high.
Say you want to find out what hotdogs are really made of? (Don't we all?) So, you choose a search engine on the internet, type in the question and miraculously a plethora of links appear for your perusal. But behind this seemingly innocent search, lie secret energy consumption in the form of: our own computer use, the communications infrastructure that links everything together and the service provider's team of people; who, by the way, work in buildings - which require certain human basics, like, light, heat, etc. Now multiply your little hotdog search by billions.
Hence the problem: oodles of search engines and mega-oodles of curious people.
Google, Ask, Yahoo and Bing are some of the top search engines of the 4000 available, which provide various degrees of navigation. I use them every day; so do you. In fact, I used them to write this blog. So, are these companies doing anything to reduce their carbon footprint?
Of the four search engines aforementioned, Google's green ways were easiest to find. Google Green, a site with a wealth of earth-friendly info, states two of their Google facilities run on 100% recycled water, and they hoped to have their total data center water consumption at 80 percent recycled by 2010.
They also recycle 100% of the electronic equipment that leaves their data centers, and in 2007, Google co-founded the Climate Savers Computing Initiative, a non-profit organization committed to making all computers more energy efficient. They also buy carbon offsets, or pay other companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions (like landfill gas projects in Caldwell County, NC, and Steuben County, NY and animal-waste management systems in Mexico and Brazil) to offset the emissions Google can't currently reduce.
Smaller search engines, such as Blackle, also want you to know what they are up to earth-wise. Blackle uses Google but on a black background.
Since monitors require more power to display a white (or light) screen, this should save energy. According to one blog site, going black could save 750 Megawatt-hours per year.
Over time, search engines will have to up their environmental ante. To continue to provide quality service, yet reduce their carbon emissions and satisfy their greener users, more will need to be done, especially as developing nations catch up with our good ol' USA internet obsessions.
But, then again, you can take on some personal responsibility to slow your search engine and computer greenhouse emissions. Turn off your computer when not in use and avoid superfluous surfing (one hotdog content site will probably do).
And finally, heaven forbid, look up some of those philosophical questions, in, dare I say, a hardcopy once and a while. It won't kill you to crack a book…
[UPDATE 11/15/12: The original posting of this article mentioned the Google PowerMeter. Sadly, it seems that Google retired this product in September 2011. Thanks to member JJ. for pointing that out!]