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Climate Change in the Age of Google

John Fairley

When we started thinking about topics for Footprints for Blog Action Day 2009, I started doing some research about climate change and trends in temperature shifts on our planet. It was during this research that I realized an interesting intersection between climate change and Google.

Historical global temperature data shows that the mean temperature of the earth increased by about 0.5 degrees Celsius during the course of 20th Century. Man's influence on climate change became a controversial topic towards the end of the century.

The rapid industrialization along with the associated burning of fossil fuels during the 20th Century has lead to a steady increase in the emissions of gases such as Methane and Carbon Dioxide. Studies have linked these increases to the change in temperature experienced.

Information Age Warming

In the latter half of the 20th Century, we moved from the Industrial Age into the Informational Age. After a relatively cool first 50 years, a warming period began. From 1960 through 1998, the temperature increased 0.6 degrees Celsius. (Source: HadCrut Global Surface Anomaly data)

Monthly Global Temperatures 1960 to August 2009

(red line represents trend)

Enter Google

In 1998, a small Internet search engine company named Google started operations in garage in Menlo Park, California. As the company grew, it pledged to use its strength in technology to address world problems, including climate change.

Google has launched several initiatives related to reducing the influence of energy production and consumption on climate change. RechargeIT, Clean Energy 2030 and PowerMeter are three initiatives that Google hopes will have a positive impact.

How Much Warming Occurred after the Google's Launch

I wondered how much the world has warmed since Google began serving up results to our ever increasing appetite for information. I looked again at the HadCrut data and I was surprised to find that since 1998, the world hasn't warmed at all. In fact, the world has slightly cooled (0.04 degrees Celsius).

Monthly Global Temperatures 1998 to August 2009

(red line represents trend)

Only time will tell if the last decade or so was just a warming pause, or the trend will continue cooler. If it's a pause, then we've bought ourselves a bit more time to adjust. If it's the beginning of a cooling trend, then we will have to adjust our models and mindset on what to do next.

Did Google Reverse Global Warming?

If correlation = causation, then yes, but the real answer is likely no. If Google didn't do it, then what caused the change: Solar activity, El Nino/La Nina, natural cycles or something else? We may never know the cause, but for the internet savvy Generation Y, they've grown up experiencing little to no warming.

Note: All referenced global surface temperature anomaly data is from the UK Hadley Climate Research Unit.