The Conflict of Interest of CO2

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Quite a hoo ha over one of those weekend type stories whose headline in the Times of London says it all:

Revealed: the environmental impact of Google searches

Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross says that performing two Google searches uses up as much energy as boiling the kettle for a cup of tea

The article liberally quotes Wissner-Gross “a Harvard University physicist whose research on the environmental impact of computing is due out soon.” Lower down the storiy It also says “Wissner-Gross has submitted his research for publication by the US Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and has also set up a website www.CO2stats.com.”

True. Though what it doesn’t say is that the website—and Wissner-Gross–directly benefits from this kind of research. C02Stats offers clients plans, ranging from $5 a month to $100, to calculate their websites total energy consumption, make it more energy efficient, and then neutralizes their carbon footprint by buying renewable energy from wind and solar farms.

The startup is funded by Y Combinator, which specializes in giving modest funding—about $10,000—to small startups. Indeed, Wissner-Gross, an environmental fellow, has set up four such companies.

Now, the research may well be right. (Some doubt it.) And the idea of certifying websites is not a bad idea. But I guess what troubles me is that an academic is able to publish research which tries to prove a point which would benefit the same academic’s business which offers green certification which depends upon a service which the business sells.

I’m sure it’s not the only example, but it strikes me as quite a compromise going on there.

4 thoughts on “The Conflict of Interest of CO2

  1. Further, if their plan is to buy energy from alternative sources in order to offset the carbon footprint but not necessarily reduce consumption itself, the comment on Google is somewhat unrelated to his goal: the amount of energy consumed by a search says relatively little about its carbon footprint.

    Google is also pretty heavily interested in renewable energy (i.e. http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/google-renewable-energy-47112801 )

  2. I have been wondering if we humans aren’t doing the earth a favor by bringing carbon back above the earth’s surface. Think about it: All of that carbon was above the surface to begin with and when those ancient plants/animals died, the ecosystems lost all of that carbon. Furthermore, the earth has been in a 3 million year cooling cycle, and we could be helping to stabilize the temperature by adding our global warming. Just a thought.

  3. That’s a conflict of interest! Anyway, we probably actually save carbon by using Google searches. Otherwise we would be driving to the library, or driving around town to shop for things.

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