Internet search results could be increasing your carbon emissions
Almost everyone thinks they know how to use Google, and they usually get the answer they want. Many will intuitively know that the query “milk good for you” leads to different results than “milk bad for you”. The same goes for queries for “climate change” versus “climate hoax”, or for “2020 US Elections valid” versus “stop the steal”. Since search engines are more a “wish list” than an authoritative source, they can help spread mis- and disinformation which can be harmful for democracy or society. They are not neutral information brokers. Search engines are an integral but often invisible part of how people navigate the modern world. In this function, they also shape understandings of reality and thereby can harm the environment. In a recently published paper, we argue that the assumptions search engines make about what we are looking for may lead to people emitting more carbon than they would have done otherwise. In any case, the default options that the algorithms select and curate shape what we think as the default. If we are not careful and reflective about our own aims when searching, it will also affect at least some people’s actions. And these actions have very real environmental implications.