It’s easy to get carried away with apocalyptic thoughts about the future of the planet and shrink into a personal cocoon. With a little bit of science though it’s possible to make more informed choices. At the moment, most consumer options are limited to ones that ameliorate the damage done by an organisation or its products, rather than offering genuine hope for the direct reversal of major environmental trends. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth exploring though.
So to begin with let’s understand a little more about the hidden costs of our internet habits. You might be interested in seeing this article which appeared in the Times last month (“Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches“). Essentially, when you perform a search using Google (and most other search engines, to be fair) they try to be as quick as possible in getting the results back to you. To achieve this, they have a number of servers around the world and they compete with one another to perform the search and return the results. As a result a great deal of the energy used to run these machines is wasted. Estimates vary, but a typical search on Google will generate between 7 and 15 grams of CO2. By comparison, boiling a kettle generates the same.
Taken individually, few of us would worry too much about that, but when you consider the millions of searches being performed every day, that’s a lot of CO2 being generated.
Now, I have nothing against Google – it provides nearly 1/10th of my business income, so I’d be hypocritical if I did. However, choice is important, and personally I am switching most of my own searches to:
I have found the search results to be just as extensive, the display is a little clearer, and the time delay in getting the results is marginal to the point of being barely perceptible. In practice, I believe that the engine behind them is Yahoo, however the big difference is that they offset their carbon footprint by planting trees, using a process that is externally verified.
There’s even a black screen version, which apparently also reduces the energy used.