Ginger Strand on Inventing Niagara and the Excesses of Industrial Development

Many of you took issue (not without reason) with a post I wrote a few months ago in which I cited an article written by author Ginger Strand, entitled "Keyword: Evil" (a dig at Google's mantra, "Don't be evil"), to criticize Google's love of cheap electricity.

Well, don't take my word for it: For a more critical take on the issue of hydroelectric power -- and, more specifically, the impact of industrial development on Niagara Falls -- see Strand's recent presentation at Google's NYC headquarters to promote her new book, Inventing Niagara. You'll notice a familiar picture around minute 26 of the video.To get back to my original post: Needless to say, I was quickly taken to task by several commenters, who chided me for simply focusing on one metric of Google's energy consumption -- arguing that the search behemoth, through its efficient provision of services and "virtual" infrastructure, offered far more in energy savings than I was giving it credit for.

rob, in particular, made what I thought was a very well-reasoned rejoinder:

This server farm should be run more efficiently, but also we should consider how much Google's business activities contribute to energy savings. Google enables far more efficient use of existing infrastructure, physical and informational, cutting down on redundancy and waste. Google enables distance research, education, working at your job, &c.; By allowing you to find just the product you need, it cuts down on shopping trips. By allowing you to find the exact destination you want, it eliminates excess travel. Of course, these are "external" benefits that aren't accounted for, but the more virtual infrastructure we have, the less expensive REAL infrastructure we need to build.

While I still believe Google (and other server farm heavy users) should be more honest about their carbon footprints, I do agree that I may have been a bit unfair in my treatment of the company which has, as many of you noted, done much to promote energy efficiency and renewables.