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Physicist says Google carbon claim was misquoted

Alex Wissner-Gross says figure relates to websites in general

Physicist Alex Wissner-Gross claims his research into the carbon footprint of a Google search was misquoted by the Sunday Times.

An article by the newspaper said Wissner-Gross claimed a Google search query releases 7g of carbon dioxide (CO2) gas, about half as much as boiling a kettle for a cup of tea. The figure was attributed to a forthcoming research paper authored by Wissner-Gross, who is a fellow at Harvard's Center for the Environment.

However, Google quickly denied the claims, saying that its own research put the figure at 0.2g.

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Wissner-Gross said his research paper, which the Sunday Times never saw, concerns methodologies for measuring how much carbon is released by websites by looking at the carbon released by a network, servers and client PCs. The paper is still being finalised but contains no data on Google and does not specify a 7g figure, Wissner-Gross said.

Wissner-Gross said he did discuss Google with the newspaper in broad generalisations, in that Google uses energy, and that the generation of that energy would cause CO2 to be released.

However, Wissner-Gross said one of the writers seemed eager to confirm the seven-gram figure and link it to Google. The researcher said he did not do so. Wissner-Gross said he saw a draft of the story before publication and suggested some changes, but those edits were not made.

Efforts to reach the writers at The Sunday Times were unsuccessful.

Wissner-Gross said there is a positive angle to the incident, given the wide publicity of the story. "I think that the [mainstream public] has actually woken up and discovered green IT," he said.

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