The environmental cost of search

An average Google search is responsible for 0.192 gEqCO2 (gram equivalent of CO2), according to a fascinating study published by Greenspector in 2020. On average, the brain is responsible for 0.0025 gEqCO2 per second. So, using Google is the equivalent of spending about 75 seconds thinking. We could do a lot of searching in our brains in 75 seconds.

The brain is very efficient, much more environmentally friendly than Google or any AI. We should use our brains more. So many of us (myself included) are tech addicts. That addiction is destroying the planet.

Using technology when we could use our brains or use our bodies has multiple negatives. Let’s say it takes you five seconds to do a search on Google. What is the total CO2 impact? It’s your brain’s CO2 and Google’s CO2. So, for a five-second search, it would be 0.2 gEqCO2. Even when you’re not ‘using’ your brain it’s still consuming energy and causing CO2, so if in doubt, use your brain.

Bad things happen when we don’t use our brains, when we don’t use our bodies. Excess energy gets turned into fat (which is the body’s battery). If this battery gets too big and is not used up for a long time, it corrodes and goes toxic. There is also the ‘use it or lose it’ principle. It has been shown that brain areas that are not being used begin to wither away.

Technology is wonderful—up to a point. However, so much of the technology of convenience that we surround ourselves with today is both bad for our long-term physical and mental health and really bad for the health of our beautiful planet. Big Tech has done an absolutely wonderful greenwashing PR job. It has fooled practically everyone into thinking that it’s all in the Cloud, that digital is both immaterial and invisible, a truly benevolent force.

An average Google search is equivalent to the carbon impact of a journey of almost 1 meter in an average light vehicle. Not much? Google receives 80,000 requests per second or 6.9 billion requests per day. Every day, the Google ‘car’ travels 6.7 million km. That's 1,325 tons of EqCO2 every day. Every year, 483,552 tons of CO2 are caused by us searching Google. You'd need to plant 48 million trees to deal with that sort of pollution.

But it’s not as bad as flying! That is the response of so many tech enthusiasts. It’s only probably 0.1% of global CO2 emissions, so it’s nearly nothing. The most dangerous cost of all is the cost that is almost nothing because it becomes an invisible cost and on it are built mountains of waste.

I know I search when I don’t need to. I know that if I thought a little more before I did a search, I’d search less. I know it’s often the third or fourth search before I get the search phrase right. Imagine if we could halve the number of searches we did every day?

That would save 240,000 tons of CO2. I mean, that’s something, isn’t it? Every little helps. It is a climate emergency. Think about it.

The environmental impact of search engines apps

Average human exhales around 1.1 kg of CO2 in a day.

Podcast: World Wide Waste
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