Google pollutes the air – and knowledge

Executives at Google have been quick to respond to the claims that surfaced this weekend about the harm the search engine does to the environment. According to a physicist, Alex Wissner-Gross, a single Google search produces 7 grams of carbon dioxide – the “greenhouse gas”.

Not so, says Google, it’s merely 0.2 grams. For a company that rarely comments on any attacks it receives, this almost instant response is revealing.

Indeed, it is probably more revealing than the search engine’s quest for the truth and their famous “do no evil” claim. Whilst they may be right that the estimates from Wissner-Gross are ludicrously high, Google omits to tell us that it responds to over 1m searches every minute. That means that every day searches on Google produce 288,000Kg of carbon dioxide. Phew…! That’s equivalent to each of us flying from London to Google’s Californian HQ 137 times a day.

All in all, then, Google is probably polluting the atmosphere as much as 1 flight a day does from London to San Francisco – assuming there’s an average of 137 people on board each flight.

Plant a tree and you can carry on using Google without too much of a worry. Or can you?

Google’s recent attempt to set the record straight about its environmental damage is “economical with the truth” because it focuses on a single search at a single moment in time. That’s like describing the environmental impact of your car in terms of a single firing of one piston.

But this latest missive from Google comes only days after a confusing announcement about job losses. First they told us they had 10,000 part-timers or contractors, then they told us it was only 4,300. Plus, they filed the relevant information to the US authorities in paper, rather than the usual method of doing it online. Did they do that, people have asked, in the hope that we might not easily find out what they were up to?

Economies with the truth and attempts to hide information are frequently the first thing to arise when a company perceives itself to be in danger. Google might not be in danger – but perhaps they think they are. The result for us, is that we should not put all our search eggs into the Google basket. Your online success depends upon you and your staff being able to utilise other methods of searching for information.

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