Ever wondered how bad your Googling is for the environment? Probably not. But Catalan artist-researcher Joana Moll has and in 2013 she kicked off a project to visualise the greenhouse gas emissions generated through the use of the search engine.
The project CO2GLE shows a counter clocking up an estimate of the amount of CO2 emitted with each Google visit.
“The project was created from an urge to highlight the invisible connection between actions and consequences when using digital communications technologies,” reads the introduction.
According to the website internetlivestats.com, Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day. A 2016 environmental report by Google said the tech company’s greenhouse gas emissions were 2.9 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. This is the equivalent of the yearly greenhouse gas emission of over 620,000 cars.
When people talk about the Internet being a “cloud” they actually refer to the global network of data centres and the fibre cables connecting these centres, a spokesman for the British environmental consulting agency Carbon Action Fergal Mee told Euronews.
These data centres demand a constant supply of power that can come from fossil fuels, which emits carbon dioxide as it burns. A 2015 study found that internet activity was approaching a similar level of CO2 emissions as the global aviation industry.
“In short the power comes from the electricity grid unless a data centre makes its own electricity. Therefore as internet use increases more data centres shall be required and hence more power stations," said Mee. "It does not look good for the environment.”
To build the project, Moll gathered data from researchers that estimated the amount of CO2 emissions Google queries generate and combined it with internet traffic data from internetlivestats.
“For me it’s not about showing precise information because it’s impossible to obtain but it’s about triggering thought and reflection in that direction because it’s quite dramatic that the equation of transferring data is harming the environment. It’s not embedded in the social imagination — nobody thinks about it and it’s quite impressive,” Moll told Euronews.
I don’t want to criminalise Google, I chose to use them in my project because they are the most used platform in the world, she added.
Moll has expanded on the topic and is now working on other related projects. She is focused on the environmental impact of interface design and teaching people to act more sustainability, she said.