Google's massive carbon footprint fingered with new online tool

Internet search giant emits 500 kg of CO2 emissions per second.

Every Google search comes at a cost to the planet. In processing 3.5 billion searches a day, the world’s most popular website accounts for about 40% of the internet’s carbon footprint.

Despite the notion that the internet is a “cloud,” it actually relies on millions of physical servers in data centers around the world, which are connected with miles of undersea cables, switches, and routers, all requiring a lot of energy to run. Much of that energy comes from power sources that emit carbon dioxide into the air as they burn fossil fuels; one study from 2015 suggests internet activity results in as much CO2 emissions as the global aviation industry.

“Data is very polluting,” says Joana Moll, an artist-researcher whose work investigates the physicality of the internet. In 2015, to illustrate the environmental consequence of Google searches, Moll created a data visualization called CO2GLE:

CO2GLE screenshot
“CO2GLE”: Screenshot May 1, 2018 after 10 seconds (Joana Moll)

(Click here to launch “CO2GLE” and see a real-time counter.)

“Almost nobody recalls that the internet is made up of interconnected physical infrastructures which consume natural resources,” Moll writesas an introduction to the project. “How can such an evident fact become so blurred in the social imagination?”

CO2GLE uses 2015 internet traffic data, Moll says, and is based on the assumption that “processes an approximate average of 47,000 requests every second, which represents an estimated amount of 500 kg of CO2 emissions per second.” That would be about 0.01 kg per request. She says these numbers are approximations, though when Quartz shared CO2GLE with Google, the company didn’t contest the math. In fact, in a 2009 estimate, Google said each query causes 0.2 grams of CO2 emissions.

Read more at Quartz

Here’s an inside view of Google datacenters:


This makes me wonder about other services, such as the darling of liberals everywhere, Apple’s iTunes service. This is what their new datacenter in Iowa is to look like.

In their August 2017 press release for the datacenter, Apple claims this:

Des Moines, Iowa — Apple today announced plans to build a 400,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art data center in Waukee, Iowa, to better serve North American users of iMessage, Siri, the App Store and other Apple services. Like all Apple data centers, the new facility will run entirely on renewable energy from day one.

Facility Outside Des Moines Will Run on 100 Percent Renewable Energy

That will be some trick at night. Of course in the press release they don’t explain how they will achieve 24/7/365 100% renewable energy, they only say this:

Apple will be working with local partners to invest in renewable energy projects from wind and other sources to power the data center. Apple has pledged to power all of its global operations with 100 percent renewable energy, and has already reached that goal in the US and 23 other countries.

A noble goal, but I think at night when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow, they’ll be liars. We’ve already called them out on this: Apple caught fibbing about running on 100% renewable energy

The tell will be if the new facility is hooked up to the grid or not. I’m pretty sure it will be.

Perhaps Apple will eventually go the way of Google as they realize their goal is impossible: Shocker: Top Google Engineers Say Renewable Energy ‘Simply won’t work’

Meanwhile, the claim of 100% renewable powered Apple will help those snowflakes and SJW’s feel good about listened to iTunes while penning their latest screed about how fossil fuels are bad, and isn’t that really what counts? Making people feel smart and good about using your product is the oldest marketing trick in the book.

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May 8, 2018 10:00 am

Of course, all of this assumes the concept of a “carbon footprint” is something of concern.

M Courtney
Reply to  JohnWho
May 8, 2018 11:55 am

But it is of concern to those who are stupid enough to fall for it.
And that’s all the people these companies are trying to fool.

Peter Polson
Reply to  M Courtney
May 8, 2018 12:56 pm

You are all aware that Al Gore is one of eight people on Apple’s Board of Directors?
And former EPA head Lisa Jackson is Apple’s Vice President Environment,
Policy and Social Initiatives?
Of course Apple is flogging the renewables dog and pony show.

Dan DaSilva
Reply to  JohnWho
May 8, 2018 1:04 pm

One carbon footprint comparison that is interesting to me is climate modeling using thousand of computers when one computer using a low-resolution model would give equally invalid results.

Reply to  Dan DaSilva
May 8, 2018 1:37 pm

Can I bill you for a monitor?
Mine didn’t work after a (red) wine-deluge caused by your magic comment!
Much appreciated, Auto

Phil R
Reply to  Dan DaSilva
May 8, 2018 3:38 pm

No, but I think you’re eligible for a federal grant to study it. 🙂

Reply to  Dan DaSilva
May 8, 2018 4:53 pm

Dan wins the thread. 🙂

Reply to  JohnWho
May 8, 2018 9:05 pm

Silly skeptic, carbon footprints are for conservatives.

old white guy
Reply to  JohnWho
May 9, 2018 6:30 am


michael hart
Reply to  JohnWho
May 9, 2018 8:05 pm

Heap big carbon bigfoot.

May 8, 2018 10:02 am

Lying about being 100% powered by ‘renewables’ is all the rage now.

Reply to  co2isnotevil
May 8, 2018 9:21 pm

Hey! I am 100% powered by renewables!
Beer, Scotch, the occasional burger, salad, beer, Scotch, oatmeal, beer, chickens and cows and pigs, salad, fish even, beer, Scotch… Oh, yeah! I’m totally, like, organic, y’know, especially the beer and Scotch…. I mean, y’know?

Reply to  Allan MacRae
May 8, 2018 9:29 pm

Just imagine – all this energy being devoted to the average person who uses Google – who does not have the intelligence to see through the global warming scam – who thinks that Hillary’s election loss was a national tragedy – who does not have the intelligence to think for themselves…

Reply to  Allan MacRae
May 11, 2018 5:35 am

Yes Allen.. and what is more you are recycleable!

May 8, 2018 10:03 am

My connection at a certain large diesel engine/generator manufacturer tells me that each of these data centers have multiple 2 MW diesel generators on site, ready to keep them running.

Reply to  Cold Streak
May 8, 2018 10:07 am

And they have many tons of heavy metal based batteries to keep the servers running for the minute or so it takes for the generators to be started and brought on line.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Cold Streak
May 8, 2018 11:29 am

Do they test them every couple of weeks?
I recall reading this about 5 years ago.
Iowa is a prime location of Berkshire Hathaway’s subsidy gathering operations, again, I recall Warren Buffett mentioning this years ago.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  John F. Hultquist
May 8, 2018 2:46 pm

If they are diesel they probably test them once a week. The kicker is, they have to put a fairly stiff load on them to prevent wet-stacking. That target is about 75% of the design load. The easiest way to do that, other than transferring the data center to the generator; is with a load bank. That’s basically God’s resistor, converting all that power into simple heat. Careful what you lean up against!

Neil Jordan
Reply to  John F. Hultquist
May 8, 2018 3:23 pm

Re D.J. Hawkins – Bonneville Power Adm (hydroelectric) has a 1,400 MW dynamic power resistor.
It is called “the toaster”.
Chief engineer Ralph Gens encouraged creativity with a little friendly competition. The team that designed the best braking resistor – equipment to momentarily slow a generator – at Chief Joseph Dam would get to build it. The winning design became known as “the toaster” for its resemblance to the inside of the household appliance.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  John F. Hultquist
May 21, 2018 2:34 pm

Thanks for the links, it was a pleasant diversion.

Bloke down the pub
May 8, 2018 10:07 am

A large chunk of the energy used is for cooling, which is why sites in cold regions are often sought out for data centres.

Steve C
Reply to  Bloke down the pub
May 8, 2018 9:54 pm

… with the added bonus that you can also put a thermometer nearby and wail about how “evil human beings are even destroying this previously thriving frozen wasteland” …

May 8, 2018 10:08 am

Please be Careful when trying taking away any SJW’s sword from them.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  KLohrn
May 8, 2018 10:20 am

Just let everyone who is addicted to their smart phones, Twitter, Google, iTunes, Snap Chat, Facebook, selfies etc, etc that these services will have to be shut down because of climate change and see how fast climate change ceases to become an issue.

Reply to  Tom in Florida
May 9, 2018 6:16 am

oh yeah..wouldnt it be fun to ask if they “believe” and if they do -grab n crush/ bin or run.. to help them save themselves of course
repent ye etc 😉
reckon you might need to be pretty nimble though..
and i AM being /sarc cos i know we cant do it..its just a fun thought to imagine the faces

John Bell
May 8, 2018 10:14 am

Think about how much air conditioning is needed to keep all that cool…

Reply to  John Bell
May 8, 2018 3:08 pm

My partner works on commercial/industrial HVAC systems, and in the past he has worked on the cooling systems of such server farms. Amazon has one that is in Virginia (I think he said it is underground) that requires far more energy to cool than a similar sized area that is used for office space. In other words, it takes a lot more to keep computers cool than it does people. And those cooling systems have to have backups just in case the main units go down. Plus the people needed to serve those systems and all of the parts needed….so yeah, that’s a lot of energy needed and a lot of CO2 emitted.

May 8, 2018 10:16 am

Gee, the cloud isn’t really a cloud??! Who knew! And by the way, those batteries used will probably be sized to last several hours rather than several minutes. In the telephone industry we used to size the battery plant for 4 hours w/o auxiliary power in large switching centers. (read lots of 2V cells to make up the amperage required…

Reply to  Michael Bentley
May 8, 2018 10:19 am

That 4h was intended only to maintain power long enough to get the diesel generators online.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
May 8, 2018 2:52 pm

Where generators aren’t available, they install wet cells to cover up to 24 hours of operation on the phone lines themselves. Or they did, when it was just analog.

May 8, 2018 10:18 am

I think apple’s angle is that they build or pay for enough renewable energy to fully compensate for their power usage. Not sure if that is name plate power or actual power generation.

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Jeff in Calgary
May 8, 2018 2:54 pm

How much you want to bet those “green” sources are selling their electrons to multiple virtue-signaling SJW’s? Shades of The Producers!

Phil R
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
May 8, 2018 3:46 pm

D. J. Hawkins,
+ a bunch for working a reference to The Producers!

May 8, 2018 10:21 am

Apple making a claim it relies on inherently intermittent power supplies for it’s server farms is precious.

May 8, 2018 10:26 am

Will modern data centres go the way of the original computer rooms with banks of reel to reel tapes, and downsize to the dimensions of a modern PC?

Reply to  HotScot
May 8, 2018 10:39 am

Except that the computer rooms of old are tiny compared to the size of a data center.
I predict that that they will continue to pack more computing power, data storage and networking into smaller packages that will fill ever larger data centers capturing every moment of everyone’s life until enough power can be packed into a small enough package such that a device like your wifi router can become a personal data center restoring absolute control over privacy.

May 8, 2018 10:26 am

There is a big difference btw 0.02 kg of CO2 per search request. (CO2GLE’ s estimate) and 0.2 g per query (GOOGLE’s estimate). Unless each search request fires off approx. 100 queries —- and it might.

Phil Rae
Reply to  Stephen Rasey
May 8, 2018 5:27 pm

Stephen…..Agreed! I noticed the same conflict on the numbers although the actual values quoted above are 0.01 kg (=10g) and Google’s own number of 0.2g. However, this still represents a disparity of 50x between the 2 values. The lower Google number intuitively seems more credible, IMHO.

May 8, 2018 10:27 am

>>> “Almost nobody recalls that the internet is made up of interconnected physical infrastructures which consume natural resources,” <<<
There are some of us, with snowcapped or bare domes, who have always known that the term internet describes interconnected networks designed for resilience during war so that destruction of one part wouldn't take down all of it. The idea of total greening of the power grid for internet is a fantastical lie, that I've been trying to explain to my acquaintances who still think it's easily achieved. For myself, I advocate every source of energy, harmoniously satisfying our global energy needs. I've watched with dismay as the promise of nuclear was derailed in the 70s and now we are left with Luddites pushing us back to the stone age.

May 8, 2018 10:35 am

Get on Google Earth. Enter “apple data center, maiden”
There it is, with the giant solar farm out front.
Then look 200 yards west, behind the building. Well, g-a-a-hlly, there’s a big substation, with two feeds from nearby high tension lines.

May 8, 2018 10:38 am

Does the title of this article allow for a small ‘giggity’?

Commodore Model 3 Robotic Assembly Device
May 8, 2018 10:50 am

They could burn wood that’s “100% renewable energy”.

May 8, 2018 10:54 am

Someone with the bulliest pulpit in the realm should tweet every day, pointing out Apple’s brazen lie. That would put paid to the MSM’s looking the other way, whistling.

Ed Gruberman
May 8, 2018 10:55 am

Maybe we just need to tax all the smart phones, Twitter, Google, iTunes, Snap Chat, Facebook etc users MORE, to save the world.

May 8, 2018 11:02 am

A public company making obvious false statements like that could be an easy target for an SEC investigation.

May 8, 2018 11:02 am

Ah, so that’s the new Apple center, is it? Flat roofs collect snow cover like mad.
They have snowstorms in Iowa, just like we do here. Sometimes, the snow gets quite deep, takes a while to melt and run off my rooftop.
How is that “solar rooftop” thing going to work in a blizzard? Are they going to pay some poor fellow extra to stay up there on the roof and keep the solar stuff clear of snow?
Just askin’.

Reply to  Sara
May 8, 2018 2:32 pm

Man, haven’t you heard? Snow is a thing of the past. And 97% of “climate scientists” couldn’t be wrong abou that.

Reply to  Sara
May 8, 2018 5:08 pm

Of course, Brian. But we can let them have their fantasies for a while, can’t we?
it’s the – well, human thing to do.

Bob B.
May 8, 2018 11:07 am

“Of course in the press release they don’t explain how they will achieve 24/7/365 100% renewable energy…”
Fossil fuels are renewable, it just takes a while.

May 8, 2018 11:13 am

Regarding the video of the inside of Google’s data centers, all I can say is –“Oooh – I want one of those.”

May 8, 2018 11:27 am

I don’t give a rat’s democrat about Google’s carbon footprint. Good for them, they are helping nourish plants and trees and are part of the reason the earth is getting greener.
The problem I have with them is that they push the green cult religion on us while living high on, and profiting off of, the carbon hog. And they have the audacity to possesses a fleet of jets (actual jet airplanes, not just private jets) while lecturing us and skewing our search results so that we’ll tow the sustainable lifestyle that the Rockefeller foundation and socialists (to name a few) want us to live by.

May 8, 2018 11:28 am

Yup, thanks for making my post a bit clearer…I guess I was…..wait for it….just in the cloud. By the way, aux power doesn’t have to be on line in seconds like emergency power. It can take some time to start, come to speed then be able to accept the power load. In the case of servers, which are usually AC powered, the aux alternators feed rectifiers which charge batteries feeding an inverter (DC to AC) Again, lots of DC amps and inefficient, but simplifies the problem of syncing the alternators.
Unless there’s been a huge technology improvement, the power plants I dealt with used the principle of brute force

Gary Pearse
May 8, 2018 11:31 am

Can this be definitively researched! The global swoon in morality has resulted in most news, and much of science and other info sources being unabashedly fake. When you search WUWT, you get it sandwiched between fake Wikipedia info on it that uses a WUWT header and even it’s url. This ugly stuff is proof positive that it’s okay to lie if your purpose is personally deemed to be honorable!
This stuff needs to be called with the verifiable naked truth on every occasion or we will have a totally unreliable information system. One ad on WUWT on curing bad knees has a picture of ginger root but when you click on it, it is for a patent remedy that has nothing to do with ginger root! Do we still have truth in advertising laws?
Politifact was caught out by Mark Steyn on some item and I know they use a lot of semantics to label something Trump said as false when it is in its essence true. I think we have to have the checkers checked, peer reviewed science re reviewed with stict standards that support the challenges. I know statistics is trolled until data which fails to show what’s wanted can be manipulated to give the desired answer. Can the trail of culled methods be re constructed? Can we show that the method used is illegitimate or that the data is in fact without adequate relativity to the case trying to be made. What a mess that has to be cleaned up in this awfully state of truth, honor and trust

Reply to  Gary Pearse
May 8, 2018 5:13 pm

WUWT sandwiched between wiki and a fake? That doesn’t happen to me. In fact, I have yet to find any of the angst-ridden stuff that people complain about. Maybe I’m more direct in what I look for. Don’t know, but I am seldom confronted with fakes and buffoons.

Steve C
Reply to  Sara
May 8, 2018 10:18 pm

Agreed. Most of the angst can be eliminated by using NoScript and AdBlock. You can also help to reduce Google’s “carbon footprint” by using DuckDuckGo for searches, and “un-whitelisting” Google wherever encountered. 😉

Dave Anderson
May 8, 2018 11:35 am

The NSA spy shop in Utah uses 65 megawatts of electricity continuously.

Reply to  Dave Anderson
May 13, 2018 5:55 pm

For what result?
Is the NSA spying even more effective than climate modeling?

Steve Borodin
May 8, 2018 12:06 pm

So California could sue Google. Greeeaat!

May 8, 2018 12:11 pm

Q: “How can such an evident fact become so blurred in the social imagination?”
– Joana Moll
A: “Living is easy with eyes closed
Misunderstanding all you see”
– The Beatles (Strawberry Fields Forever)

May 8, 2018 12:33 pm

If they want to do something that will actually benefit the environment, they will turn that nice monoculture grass lawn into a meadow of native grasses and wildflowers. The local wildlife would be thankful.
I wonder how many of these companies realize that their costumers may not WANT them to use “100%” renewable power. I realize that most data is being stored on multiple servers in multiple countries, but tangible things are still vulnerable. Companies that store frozen embryos and gametes for people – think anyone wants those facilities to be powered by unreliable energy sources? (Okay, besides Malthusians.) Do people want food warehouses to power their industrial freezers and refrigerators with erratic renewables? All these fancy tech devices usually say not to store them in high or low temperatures. What happens when the wind turbines and solar panels do not produce enough energy to support the warehouse HVAC system?
Very few companies could afford to actually run their companies on 100% renewables. Most equipment and products are best used and stored at moderate, steady temperatures. Good luck doing that without fossil fuel backups.

Greg F
May 8, 2018 12:38 pm

Cell towers use a lot of power too.

Reply to  Greg F
May 8, 2018 5:15 pm

Yes, but the farmers who rent space to cell phone companies get paid for it, so they win!

May 8, 2018 4:13 pm

If we accept the consensus that CO2 is a deadly pollutant, then Apple, Google and the rest must be shut down immediately to save the planet. I am sure all watermelon fellow travelers will agree. 500kg per second from just one company, the total emissions from all these Liberal orientated high emission companies must be enormous.
On the other hand, if the non consensus, PC incorrect science that CO2 is a plant fertilizer, is essential for human life, and has no significant effect on global temperatures, is accepted then Apple, Google, and the rest better start sticking up for themselves, or face being exterminated unnecessarily.

May 8, 2018 5:42 pm

A more relevant measure is
MACF = µ(methane assprint)/(carbon footprint)
where µ = propensity to man-spread

Frank K.
May 9, 2018 1:08 pm

I’m doing my part by NOT using Google/Alphabet for my online searches (or most anything else for that matter).
I’m betting that the 10g-CO2/search number is correct. 0.2 g for the initial search, and 9.8g for all of the subsequent spybots and trackers that Google sends out in order to invade your privacy!

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