While each search presumably yielded some useful knowledge, they all emitted greenhouse gases that contributed to climate change, according to the artist, researcher, and lecturer Joana Moll.
That’s because Google relies on a vast physical infrastructure of servers, routers, and cables that all depend on electricity to operate, according to Quartz.
A lot of this energy is provided by fossil fuels, Quartz reports.
In fact, Moll argues that every second spent on Google uses up the carbon-sucking capacity of 23 trees. Here’s a data visualization she created to show the company’s emissions.
Google itself admits that providing a user with a month’s worth of its services is like driving a car for one mile, or around 360.7 grams of CO2, Quartz notes.
Another estimate puts the the range of carbon emissions between 1 kilogram and 10 kilogram for each Google search.
What all of this means is that a seemingly immaterial thing like accessing the Internet has real-world consequences.
“What I’m really trying to do is to trigger thoughts and reflections on the materiality of data and materiality of our direct usage of the internet,” Moll told Quartz. “To calculate the CO2 of the internet is really complicated. It’s the biggest infrastructure ever built by humanity and it involves too many actors…. [But they are] numbers that can serve to raise awareness.”
In addition to its emissions, Google also uses up a lot of water. Its servers in South Carolina need to be cooled with 1.5 million gallons of water per day.
Other companies like Facebook and Apple have significant ecological footprints as well.
To its credit, Google has been investing heavily into renewable energy and the company now supplies all of its corporate electricity with wind and solar power.
The company has also taken steps to become carbon neutral, by investing in efforts that compensate for its carbon emissions, like reforestation, according to Quartz.
Ultimately, expecting people to use Google less doesn’t make much sense. Instead, countries around the world should be investing more heavily in renewable energy so that each Google search is powered by wind and solar, rather than coal or natural gas.
Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations’ Global Goals, which call on countries to invest in renewable energy. You can take action on this issue here.