Memo to Google: Coal is NOT Green

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"Memo to Google: Coal is NOT Green"

Google got a lot of great press for its new plan to “voluntarily cut or offset all its greenhouse emissions by the end of the year.” But was it all deserved?

The Boston Globe reported the story as “Google aims to go carbon-neutral by end 2007. ” The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) reprinted the story, as did Greenwire and others. Buried in the story was this gem:

Separately, Google is planning to spend $600 million to build a data center in western Iowa that will receive power from a MidAmerican Energy Co. plant fired by coal, the fuel that emits the most carbon dioxide. A Google spokesman told Reuters all emissions from its Iowa project were accounted for in its carbon neutral plan.

Ouch! A company that wants to be green needs to take every cost-effective measure to reduce its own pollution before paying other people to reduce their pollution as an offset. In general, I am a fan of Google’s environmental action (and you can read all about what they are doing at their blog).

But carbon offsets are very over-rated (see here and even here). And coal plants last for more than 50 years. Worse, NASA’s James Hansen explains, “one quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) put in the air by burning fossil fuels will stay there ‘forever‘, more than 500 years.

Data centers are electricity hogs, and Google should not be designing one that runs on coal power. You can’t go green by burning coal and buying offsets. A cutting-edge company like Google needs to do better!

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