T’internet Carbon Dilemmas

Every time you go online you increase your carbon footprint. Is it possible to be a green surfer?

Somewhere in California (and soon to be in India and possibly Iceland) there are vast tracts of hulking warehouses containing thousands of energy-guzzling servers – it’s farming, but not as depicted in The Archers.

Server farms provide the network to transmit websites. They are powered by electricity, predominantly from coal-fired power stations. Add in the energy required to make your PC in the first place and computing is responsible for 1bn tonnes of CO2 each year – more emissions than aviation. In pollution terms, using t’internet could be your equivalent of an Arkwright mill at full throttle during the Industrial Revolution.

Last month some headlines suggested that a Google search generated 7g of CO2 – the same as making a cup of tea. This left the eco-minded home worker in a real quandary: I chose the cup of tea. Later Google corrected this to 0.2g per search. But still, it all adds up.

The latest research suggests that you create 20mg of CO2 per second per visit to a website. The more whistles and bells on the site the higher this gets – up to 300mg of CO2 per second for one with video content. Running an avatar in Second Life uses more electricity than a live person in Brazil. Ask yourself: is this watt necessary?

Employ a spam filter, too. In 2008 an estimated 62 trillion spam emails were sent globally, creating the same greenhouse gas emissions as 3.1m passenger cars.

I know what you’re thinking: what’s wrong with a reference book? Well, US academics remind us that driving a mile and back to the library produces 100 times more greenhouse gas emissions than a web search. Remaining ignorant is carbon free.

This article is by Lucy Siegle

The Observer Features Sun 28 Feb

Can I be Green and surf the net?

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