What is the environmental impact of a Google search?
How much energy does your avatar consume?
How much are we responsible for polluting the planet just sitting in our chairs and minding our own business?
Well, someone has done the math.
A Google search creates between 1 and 10 grams of CO2.
Running a PC generates between 40 and 80 grams per hour.
Maintaining an avatar in Second Life requires almost as much electricity as is used by the average Brazilian – 1,752 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.
Alex Wissner-Gross, a Harvard physicist, has set up CO2stats.com to enable calculation of your web site. John Buckley is managing director of carbonfootprint.com. These and others are enabling all of us to feel the appropriate Catholic guilt as we google.
But seriously, the fundamental problem is that we don't currently have the CO2 impact built into any of the products we purchase. And the difficulty is that energy prices are getting harder and harder to predict except for one thing which is anathema to green groups – that is that in Australia at least – coal fired power remains the most competively priced way of generating power that there is.
So here is the dilemma: Consumers want to adjust their life styles to become greener, and soon, as a result of a growing movement of economists that are also interested in exploring the real costs to the environment, they will be able to see pretty clearly what that means. At the same time businesses want to be seen to be green. Problem for them is that they have to keep costs in check to remain profitable. So they keep on consuming coal power.
But this is where things start to get interesting, because once people have access to information about what the carbon adjusted cost of a product is, then the power of the consumer can really come to the fore.
Imagine for instance a Facebook widget that enables you to automatically run a comparative carbon costing on purchasing a book via Amazon in the US or Book Depository in the UK or a book shop in Sydney…. You can already do comprehensive comparison shopping on the simple costs of the product plus the shipping via booko. Imagine if the carbon impact of the shipping was included into the data. What would that do to the decision making processes of the customers?
I believe that one of the things that is substantially underestimated or misunderstood by companies and governments is the crowd dynamics of digital social networks. It is this potential of large digitally connected groups to move as a pack that is a part of the problems of economic meltdown that we are experiencing right now.
Imagine the Facebook widget described above being used to run comparisons on every consumer good. It is at that point that companies will decide to make changes to the way they operate. Not before.