Saturday, March 29, 2008

"Light's out" for Google?

Google often celebrates holidays and other major events by changing the look of its home page. At Thanksgiving, for example, you're likely to find pilgrims gallivanting, or perhaps an unfortunate turkey or two running for their lives. Valentine's Day usually means hearts and all that mushy stuff, St. Patrick's Day brings shamrocks and get the drill. Well, today, Google's usually white background has been turned black in an effort to raise awareness for Earth Hour--an event designed to curb global energy consumption and raise awareness about global climate change.

Let me say that I'm behind the Earth Hour event. It's a fantastic idea, and I'd love to see its principles institutionalized. (It does make me wonder, though, about the prospects of Earth Day, which is a different event celebrated every April, getting downsized to a mere hour--but that's a topic for another post.)

However welcome Google's promotion of Earth Hour may be, I still find it strange for two reasons. First, I read a fascinating article by Ginger Strand called "Keyword: Evil--Google's Addiction to Cheap Electricity," which was published in the March 2008 issue of Harper's. There, she notes how Google's new server farm, to be built in The Dalles, Oregon, will consume about as much power in a given day as the entire city of Tacoma, Washington. Second, though I'm grateful to Google for plugging Earth Hour, the company gives no indication that it's planning on unplugging anything itself. It offers this statement instead:
Given our company's commitment to environmental awareness and energy efficiency, we strongly support the Earth Hour campaign, and have darkened our homepage today to help spread awareness of what we hope will be a highly successful global event.

Much as I respect Google--one of the most heavily-trafficked websites on the internet and host of Differences & Repetitions via Blogger--and its decision to promote Earth Hour, I'm sad to say its doing so seems more like carefully calculated corporate greenwashing than it does a genuine effort to cultivate environmentally sustainable practices. To point out the obvious: turning a computer screen black is not turning it off.

In addition to extinguishing all our lights for an hour, how much more of an impact could we make if we unplugged everything--lamps, toasters, computers, even Google itself (yes, YouTube too)--for an hour?

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