Al Gore: The information explosion is a tool to help solve the climate crisis

The digital revolution and the explosion of data are powerful tools that can help solve the climate crisis, said Vice President Al Gore at Google’s (s GOOG) ‘How Green is the Internet?’ on Thursday. In Gore’s talk he applauded the leadership roles that tech companies like Google, Apple (s AAPL) and Microsoft (s MSFT) have been taking around energy, clean power, and sustainability.

The event is Google’s third that focuses on the energy of Internet, and Google told me it’s assembled the small group to discuss the environmental effects and benefits of the Internet. It’s a complex question. For example, while data centers consume a lot of power to run the Internet, e-commerce on average uses less energy than brick-and-mortar retail shopping because of the reduction of the driving of the shopper.

There’s a lot more questions than there are answers, pointed out Google’s┬áSenior VP, Technical Infrastructure, Urs Hoelzle in his introduction for Gore. If we can focus on asking the right questions, we can empower significant research in this area, said Hoelzle. For more information on the current research available, check out the papers that Google amassed for the event.

Green data center expert Jonathan Koomey, who spoke right after Gore, also emphasized the need for more data around energy and the Internet. We need data on electricity use and potential savings, we need network devices that automatically do this type of reporting and we need more case studies, said Koomey. But overall, said Koomey, the focus on the electricity use of the Internet is misplaced; the energy savings benefits of things like smart systems, dematerialization (replacing atoms with bits) and IT-related efficiency could potentially be much more powerful than the direct energy used by the Internet.