Yesterday, the technology news world was buzzing about Harvard physicist Alex Wissner-Gross’ suggestion that a single search on Google makes a major environmental impact. He calculates that a search generates 7g of CO2 while boiling water for a cup of tea generates 15g of CO2. Here’s some of the coverage, some of it agreeing with Wissner-Gross and some of it calling him “hot air.”
- CNET: How Google searches lead to our destruction
- Techcrunch: Are We Killing The Planet One Google Search At A Time?
- Slashdot: The Environmental Impact of Google Searches
- Nicholas Carr: The strip-mined net (Carr also suggests that maintaining a character on Second Life uses as much power as the Brazilian in real life!)
Whether or not Wissner-Gross is correct, his suggestion reveals a major truth about our technological world: we have no idea how it all works or what’s on the other side our switches, buttons, and screens. For example, when we use Google (or any web tool), we are unaware of the tens of thousands of crawling, storing, caching, and processing servers each demanding enormous amounts of energy. These unknowns make the moral and ethical decisions about how and when to use technology more difficult.
In recent years, we have become aware of the the need to be careful in our consumption of oil, gas, and even food. Perhaps, we should also be more careful with our online activities, so that we waste neither time nor the physical resources God has entrusted to us.