The carbon footprint of this blog

2009-01-10

in Internet matters, The environment

According to Slate, the energy usage associated with running a blog is between 9 and 16 kWh per gigabyte of data transferred. That is based on data about “electricity needed to run the servers hosting the data, the Internet backbone over which those data travel, and the network connections through which the data flow.”

Since sindark.com became active in 2007, the total data transferred has been about 67.7 gigabytes. Based on the high estimate, that suggests about 1,080 kWh of total electricity usage – worth about $54.16 at Ontario energy prices. That equates to greenhouse gas emissions of between 430 and 1,126kg, depending on the source of the electricity. In all probability, the emissions associated with all the computers people used to access the site are considerably larger.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Tristan January 11, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Insofar as these KWhs are being consumed within buildings which are heated (i.e. family homes in winter, but not not massive server banks that are air conditioned year round, and even if they are not airconditioned the buidlings wouldn’t exist if not for their role as server houses), you can ignore their carbon impact. In other words, when the oppertunity cost of consuming a KWh of energy on this blog is consuming a KWh of energy in heating, you can not say that you are “causing” those KWhs to be consumed.

Milan January 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm

It’s true that if are heating your house and running an ethernet line from a DSL modem to your computer, ‘waste’ heat from the machine minutely reduces the output from your furnace.

That being said, a lot of people aren’t in that situation. For instance, most of the energy output from wireless networks is wasted.

Tristan January 11, 2009 at 6:07 pm

Where does most of the energy output of wireless networks go?

Milan January 11, 2009 at 6:11 pm

Mostly, it ends up as heat far outside your house.

Tristan January 11, 2009 at 6:42 pm

That is unfortunate. Do you know how many watts wireless routers generally consume?

Milan January 11, 2009 at 6:46 pm

It’s inevitable, given how they transmit in all directions.

The best way to get some data on energy usage would probably be to borrow a Kill-a-Watt from a library and test various popular routers.

Tristan January 11, 2009 at 6:54 pm
Milan January 11, 2009 at 7:59 pm

It’s a bit silly, actually.

Does using a computer that is turned on to access Google really use that much more power than the leaving the same computer, turned on, and likely accessing software update systems, instant message systems, and so forth automatically?

Tristan January 11, 2009 at 9:08 pm

No, but if no one accessed Google, many energy intensive servers wouldn’t exist.

Milan January 12, 2009 at 9:19 am

Is Google so good that there wouldn’t be nearly equal numbers of people using Yahoo and Microsoft’s search and email systems?

YouTube probably does represent a huge amount of traffic that wouldn’t otherwise exist.

R.K. January 12, 2009 at 10:02 am

Measuring the full carbon footprint of any activity is nearly impossible: try factoring in the research facilities that designed the chips in the routers between your computer and Google’s servers and you begin to appreciate the scope of that complexity.

Measuring the additional emissions associated with making one choice rather than another is generally even harder – especially if those choices are highly complex and integrated with many others.

The solution is to produce energy in a zero-carbon way. After that, it doesn’t matter how you use it.

Tristan January 12, 2009 at 11:08 am

“Is Google so good that there wouldn’t be nearly equal numbers of people using Yahoo and Microsoft’s search and email systems?”

You’re assuming the opportunity cost of doing a google search is doing a yahoo or some other search. If you hold that to be true, then of course you are right. But if you consider the opportunity cost of doing any of these searches to be not doing a search at all, then the opposite position holds.

“Measuring the full carbon footprint of any activity is nearly impossible:”

I’d respond to this that it doesn’t matter – measuring your own carbon footprint is absurd – if there is a moral obligation to do something about climate change it is not sane to think that this obligation would be “to exist as far as carbon is concerned, entirely neutrally – as if one had not been born”. The obligation to combat climate change, if it exists, would obviously be much stronger than this, and therefore your carbon footprint, if you measure it, should be incredibly negative (especially if you count effects of your influence on others’ decisions). But of course you can’t measure it – these behavioral patterns are also too complex. But moreover, the idea that our contributions need to be “measured” is probably a false idol. Just because the technical problem of climate change is a numbers game doesn’t mean the best way to solve it, i.e. inspire the right values in people, is to have them calculate their own numbers.

Milan January 12, 2009 at 11:19 am

You’re assuming the opportunity cost of doing a google search is doing a yahoo or some other search.

It is plausible that the alternative to a Google search is far more carbon-intensive. It could mean driving to a library, ordering a printed book, etc.

Google has certainly deeply affected how research is conducted. In my workplace, our physical library is virtually never used.

As far as carbon footprints go, they are clearly a tool with limited applications. That being said, they do have some role in reminding people that almost all their day-to-day activities are climate relevant, and that they can make choices that are far more benign than some of their alternatives.

Anon January 12, 2009 at 2:18 pm

I think the ‘footprint’ of this blog is probably justified in the long run, given how it helps make people aware of climate change and especially the ethical dimensions of it.

I think at least some of the people reading this will probably be quite influential eventually.

. January 14, 2009 at 12:33 pm

Keep on Googling
The energy impact of web searches is very low
Posted by Joseph Romm (Guest Contributor) at 12:56 AM on 14 Jan 2009

“There are actually two mistakes in the Harvard calculation. The first, which was the focus of my research, is the big picture issue. What is the net energy consumed by the internet? I argue the internet is a net energy saver — and a big one — since it increases efficiency (especially in things like the supply chain) and dematerialization (it uses less energy to research online than in person). The fact that U.S. energy intensity (energy consumed per dollar of GDP) began dropping sharply in the mid-1990s is but one piece of evidence that internet- and IT-driven growth is less energy intensive.

Recently, though, others have used much higher estimates, claiming that a typical search uses “half the energy as boiling a kettle of water” and produces 7 grams of CO2. We thought it would be helpful to explain why this number is *many* times too high. Google is fast — a typical search returns results in less than 0.2 seconds. Queries vary in degree of difficulty, but for the average query, the servers it touches each work on it for just a few thousandths of a second. Together with other work performed before your search even starts (such as building the search index) this amounts to 0.0003 kWh of energy per search, or 1 kJ. For comparison, the average adult needs about 8000 kJ a day of energy from food, so a Google search uses just about the same amount of energy that your body burns in ten seconds.

In terms of greenhouse gases, one Google search is equivalent to about 0.2 grams of CO2.”

. January 20, 2009 at 4:19 pm

“We were referring to a Google search that may involve several attempts to find the object being sought and that may last for several minutes.”

The Times clarifies their statement that a Google search produces 7 grams of carbon dioxide – after it turned out to be based on a study that made no mention of Google.

Tristan January 20, 2009 at 5:51 pm

I suppose it’s good to know how much CO2 a google search produces, but the only situation in which that would produce a change in action from me is if there were some way of reducing the amount of CO2 produced in each google search (i.e. activism for more efficient servers, or something, I have no idea really). The fact is, the internet is so valuable to our lives, I can hardly see it being a place where we should “cut back” to reduce CO2 consumption. If anything, as Milan’s comment about using Google reduces trips to actual libraries, the internet-ization of life permits many activities which would reduce carbon emissions – such as telecommuting for one. (A side note – does EC facilitate telecommuting?) Actually, telecommuting and reduced trips to libraries are the only ones I can think of – can anyone else think of ways the internet enables less carbon to be emitted elsewhere?

Milan January 21, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Arguably, buying goods from websites like Amazon reduces carbon emissions, compared with buying them in physical stores. There is no need to light and heat the shop, and goods are transported more efficiently through the mail system than by individual commuters.

In Heat, George Monbiot’s climate stabilization plan calls for virtually all shopping to be done online.

Tristan January 22, 2009 at 12:59 am

Hopefully big-box stores will be eliminated by the internet, but I can’t help but also hope that dense-neighborhood retail survives.

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