Could Microsoft’s Climate Crisis ‘Moonshot’ Plan Really Work?
By Oscar Schwartz
Microsoft drew widespread praise in January this year after Brad Smith, the company's president, announced their climate "moonshot."
While other corporate giants, such as Amazon and Walmart, were pledging to go carbon neutral, Microsoft vowed to go carbon negative by 2030, meaning they would be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they produced.
By 2050, Smith added, the company was aiming to remove all of the carbon they had ever emitted since being founded in 1975.
Much of its plans lean on nascent technology. Critics, meanwhile, see the move as a gamble aimed at justifying Microsoft's ongoing deals with fossil fuel firms.
Microsoft releases less carbon a year than Amazon and Apple, but more than Google. The company has 150,000 employees across offices in more than 100 countries, and is still focused on developing the software and consumer electronics that made them a household name – Windows, PCs, Xbox. But after a temporary slump following their heyday in the 1990s, they have also once again become innovators, developing world-leading artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing products.
The company hopes to bring that innovative approach to its climate policies, in part by widening how it calculates its carbon footprint, beyond most corporate responsibility plans. Historically, Microsoft has only counted those emissions that fall within the scope of their own business operations – employee travel, company vehicles, heat and electricity in company buildings, and so on.
From now on, it plans to take responsibility for the emissions produced by its entire supply chain, including the full lifespan of the products it makes and the electricity that customers may consume when using its products.
Meanwhile, increasing the scrutiny on Microsoft's plan are its dealings with fossil fuel companies, which have been highlighted by some as evidence of hypocrisy as it makes climate pledges. In 2019 alone, the technology company had entered into long-term partnerships with three major oil companies, including ExxonMobil, that will be using Microsoft's technology to expand oil production by as much as 50,000 barrels a day over the coming years. The staggering amount of carbon this would release into the atmosphere would not be included on Microsoft's expanded carbon ledger.
For Microsoft, however, partnering with oil companies is not considered hypocritical. The company is hedging its climate bets on carbon capture and removal technologies that they believe will be able to offset some of the environmental harm caused by fossil fuels during the transition to a more sustainable future, despite such technologies being still in their nascent stages and not yet proven to work at scale.
Those who devised the plan at Microsoft argue that they are responding directly to a new reality: cutting emissions is not enough and all routes to non-catastrophic temperature increase will also require removing carbon from the atmosphere. So, as well as shifting to a 100% supply of renewable energy for all of their data centers, buildings and campuses by 2025, Microsoft outlines a number of carbon reduction methods it is backing to try and hit its bold targets.
To begin, Microsoft will focus on protecting forests and planting trees to capture carbon. This strategy has long been used to offset emissions, but Microsoft is hoping to improve their outcomes by using remote-sensing technology to accurately estimate the carbon storage potential of forests to ensure no major deforestation is occurring in their allotments. To achieve these goals, Microsoft will be partnering with Pachama, a Silicon Valley startup that will survey 60,000 hectares of rainforest in the Amazon, plus an additional 20,000 hectares across north-eastern states of the US for the company.
According to Kesley Perlman, a climate campaigner at the forest conservation NGO Fern, Microsoft's commitment to hi-tech reforestation is encouraging, but she stressed that conservation is a complex, multifaceted process that goes beyond technical issues. "It's not only about how much carbon a forest can hold but also who traditionally uses the forest, how they might be kept out, and how biodiversity will be prioritized," she said.
Biomass energy carbon capture storage
Microsoft will initially focus on nature-based solutions to reduce their carbon footprint over the next five or so years. But in order to start drawing more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit by 2030, it will need to shift to technology-based solutions that can scale up and accelerate carbon removal.
To this end, Microsoft is betting on biomass energy carbon capture storage, otherwise known as BECCS, to transform how energy is generated. Instead of burning coal, a BECCS power plant burns biomass, like wood chips. The carbon produced when burning the biomass is captured before it is released into the atmosphere and then injected at a very high pressure into rock formations deep underground. Not only does this remove carbon from the natural cycle, the biomass absorbs CO2 as it grows.
A world powered by biofuel, however, raises two looming questions. First, scientists are not yet certain if biomass energy will be carbon neutral.
The second concern is that the transition from coal to biofuel would require setting aside vast tracts of arable land – some estimates say one to two times the size of India. According to climate campaigner Perlman this would mean that the energy industry would probably have to compete with food production in a world where 10 billion people will need to be fed, while vastly enlarging industrialized plantations and reducing biodiversity. "We would likely see massive land use change and massive private purchases of land, the knock on impacts of which could be quite dangerous," she said.
Direct air capture
Perhaps the most futuristic of the technologies outlined in Microsoft's carbon negative plan is direct air capture (DAC). This involves machines that essentially function like highly efficient artificial trees, drawing existing carbon out of the air and transforming it into non-harmful carbon-based solids or gasses.
While the image of air-conditioner-like machines sucking carbon out of the air is captivating, capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere requires a lot of energy and is very expensive. In 2011, extracting carbon from the air cost $600 a ton of CO2. In 2018, estimates brought this down to anywhere between $94 to $232 a ton. But given that Microsoft expects to emit 16m metric tons of carbon this year, if they were to reach carbon zero using only DAC, their bill might cost as much as $3.5bn.
According to Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft, a large part of the reason why carbon removal remains so expensive is because the markets around these technologies are still immature. The company's strategy over the coming decades is maturing these markets through intensive and directed investment. "We're making a bet on certain technologies that don't exist at the scale or price point we need them to," he said. "But if we want to get them, we need to start investing."
The company, he said, already has a model for raising funds internally to support climate innovation. In July 2012, Microsoft became one of the first companies to institute an internal carbon price, charging different divisions in the business $15 a metric ton of carbon emitted. The funds raised were then used to pay for sustainability improvements, which helped the company achieve their goal of going carbon neutral.
Previously, this carbon price only extended over emissions Microsoft was directly responsible for. According to their new plan, in July this year Microsoft will extend this internal carbon price over emissions produced across direct and indirect emissions. The increased revenue raised from the expanded internal carbon tax, along with a $1bn climate innovation fund, will be used to invest in capture and removal technology. "What we're going to do is put this money in the market in a way that is highly additional," Joppa said. "This is how we're going to get nature-based solutions and tech solutions at a price point and scale we need."
Microsoft's plan for intensive investment in this industry is exciting for those working in the field. Klaus Lackner, a theoretical physicist working on DAC, has been arguing since the 1990s that carbon removal is the only feasible way to stop significant temperature rises. "We've shown that this method is technologically feasible, but nobody has wanted them," he said. "Microsoft have said 'we get it.' It will cost them money, but it will allow the technologies to come online and for the next company to follow their footsteps."
While the technologies that Microsoft are betting on are still in their nascent stages, in the past few years there has been some encouraging progress in the negative emissions industry. Lackner and Arizona State University recently signed a deal with Silicon Kingdom, an Irish-based company, to manufacture his carbon-suck machines. The plan is to install them on wind and solar farms, and then sell the captured carbon to beverage companies to make carbonated drinks. In the UK, Drax power plant, which was once among Europe's most polluting, transitioned from coal to biofuel this year.
But many attempts at scaling carbon negative projects have also failed. The Kemper Project in Mississippi, which was billed as America's flagship carbon capture project, was abandoned in 2017 – it was $5bn over budget, three years late and still not operational.
Given the not insignificant risk of failure, some propose that relying on nascent or future technology as a solution to the climate crisis represents a moral hazard – the promise of carbon removal functions as an incentive for governments and major polluters to not change their behavior now.
According to Chris Adams, a tech worker who organizes an online community of technology professionals agitating for climate action from within the industry, the fact that Microsoft is still partnering with big oil companies demonstrates the moral hazard in action. "They are protecting the fossil fuel industry from changing while the rest of the world will pay most from this gamble if it fails in the long term," he said.
Adams added that many of the encouraging ideas around carbon reduction in Microsoft's plan have come from internal organizing from concerned employees, but that this mostly goes unacknowledged in Microsoft's official vision. Emphasizing future technology while overlooking activism in the present, Adams said, represents a certain way of approaching problems that is typical of technology companies. "If you have spent the last 10 years amassing influence by approaching most problems with technology it's understandable you see all problems through this lens, particularly if you don't have to have conversations about power," he said.
When asked about this concern by the Guardian, Microsoft's Joppa responded that in the short term, the energy demands of a growing global population will probably still need a mix of renewable and traditional energy sources. By remaining in discourse with these industries, he said, Microsoft hopes to help them change and transition to a better model in the future. "It's extremely hard to lead if there's no one there to follow," he added.
As to whether the technology outlined in their plan will scale, he said there is inherent risk, but this is why they call it a "moonshot." "When it comes to our plan it's not like we've got it all figured out," he said. "We're just trying to do what the science says the whole world needs to do. There's really no other choice."
This story originally appeared in The Guardian and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- Microsoft Promises to Be Carbon Negative by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
- Apple, Google, Amazon and Microsoft File Amicus Brief in Support of ... ›
- 100+ Join Microsoft Calling for Action on Climate Change - EcoWatch ›
- Amazon's Carbon Footprint Rises 15% as Company Invests $2 Billion in Clean Tech - EcoWatch ›
- Apple Pledges Carbon Neutrality by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
Environmental officials and members of the U.S. Coast Guard are racing to clean up a mysterious oil spill that has spread to 11 miles of Delaware coastline.
- Trans Mountain Pipeline Spills up to 50,000 Gallons of Oil on ... ›
- Citgo Must Pay $143M for a Delaware River Oil Spill, Supreme ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
- The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- The Recycling Dilemma: Good Plastic, Bad plastic? - EcoWatch ›
- The Myth About Recycling Plastic? It Works - EcoWatch ›
Plain Naturals is making waves in the CBD space with a new product line for retail customers looking for high potency CBD products at industry-low prices.
Is More CBD Really Better?<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODQyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzYxMDMzN30.6B08i5QYW_Iq5bUf3qtm8oK8o6FKsRUZ74gdakgJ_TY/img.jpg?width=980" id="0ef5b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bac86abf3ce246742b18b0dc4052f4dd" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Plain Naturals offers a 5000mg CBD oil tincture in 30ml bottle for $99.99.<p>Consumers have gotten used to paying high prices for low amounts of cannabidiol. Plain Naturals is beginning to change that. There are myriad <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5569602/%23:~:text=Chronic%2520use%2520and%2520high%2520doses,be%2520well%2520tolerated%2520by%2520humans.&text=Nonetheless%252C%2520some%2520side%2520effects%2520have,vitro%2520or%2520in%2520animal%2520studies." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">studies</a> showing that low doses of CBD (less than 50mg per day) are ineffective for many users. And many clinical <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5569602/%23:~:text=Chronic%2520use%2520and%2520high%2520doses,be%2520well%2520tolerated%2520by%2520humans.&text=Nonetheless%252C%2520some%2520side%2520effects%2520have,vitro%2520or%2520in%2520animal%2520studies." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">studies</a> have shown effective dosages of 100 - 800mg per day to be effective for many conditions ranging from <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5569602/%23:~:text=Chronic%2520use%2520and%2520high%2520doses,be%2520well%2520tolerated%2520by%2520humans.&text=Nonetheless%252C%2520some%2520side%2520effects%2520have,vitro%2520or%2520in%2520animal%2520studies." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">anxiety and depression to Parkinson's disease and cancer</a>. And several <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5569602/%23:~:text=Chronic%2520use%2520and%2520high%2520doses,be%2520well%2520tolerated%2520by%2520humans.&text=Nonetheless%252C%2520some%2520side%2520effects%2520have,vitro%2520or%2520in%2520animal%2520studies." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">studies</a> published by the National Institutes of Health have shown up to 1500mg per day to be consistently "well-tolerated" by adults. </p><p>Now it is always recommended to begin with a lower dosage and increase until an effective dose has been reached. But the advantage of starting with a higher potency CBD oil is that it is much easier to use less to start with and increase over time than to buy very low dose CBD oil and ultimately end up buying more and more stronger products. To start at 50mg per dose of a 5000mg oil, you would simply use ⅓ dropper or about 10-12 drops.</p>
The Truth About CBD Product Potency<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDU2ODMyNC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNDc2NTg1N30.OAm3iOTO_pKZLXi7KdJ7n0DGOFMdOmIYuG4ArGooFC4/img.jpg?width=980" id="d657c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ee016a81b29caa699b9185b64ce345d6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
CBD gummies from Plain Naturals are 100% vegan and sugar free.<p>Unlike most CBD brands which can be much smoke and mirrors when it comes to stating their product quality, potency and consistency, PlainNaturals.com has <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/product-information" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">lab tests</a> conducted by FDA/DEA approved laboratories and publishes their product lab test <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/product-information" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener">reports</a> right on their website so customers know the quality of the product they are buying. </p><p>In a recent <a href="https://crnusa.org/sites/default/files/RAC%2520attachments/CBD/CBD%2520RTC%2520Final.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">report</a> published by the Food and Drug Administration, FDA tested 147 cbd oils and cbd products. They found that of the 102 products that indicated a specific amount of CBD, 18 products (18%) contained less than 80% of the amount of CBD indicated; 46 products (45%) contained within 20% of the amount of CBD indicated; 38 products (37%) contained more than 120% of the amount of CBD indicated and of those 147 products, the FDA also found nearly half contained levels of THC above the limit of 3.1 mg per serving (or .3%). </p><p>So there's a 70% chance that a CBD consumer is not getting what they pay for and a 50% chance that the product they are buying may not be legal.</p><p>When you buy CBD oil online from <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener">PlainNaturals.com</a>, you also get an unconditional money back guarantee and the manufacturer's warranty of the product quality and potency.</p>
CBD and Hemp Creams offer high-benefit, low-cost options to consumers.<p>Plain Naturals has taken the uncertainty out of the online CBD store process. By offering detailed laboratory reports on all their products and offering a money back guarantee, PlainNaturals.com online CBD store puts control back in the hands of the consumer when it comes to making their decision about where to buy CBD online.</p><p>In all 50 states and at the federal level it is 100% legal to <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/shop/ols/categories/cbd-oils" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noreferrer noopener">buy CBD oil online</a> from an online CBD store provided that the product meets the standards set forth in federal regulations, containing not more than 0.3% THC and manufactured from industrial hemp.</p><p><a href="https://plainnaturals.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">PlainNaturals.com</a> offers CBD (Cannabidiol) products like <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/shop/ols/categories/cbd-oils" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">CBD Oils</a>, <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/shop/ols/categories/cbd-gummies--edibles" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">CBD gummies and edibles</a>, <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/shop/ols/categories/cbd-isolate-powder" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">CBD isolate powder</a>, wholesale CBD, <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/shop/ols/categories/cbd--hemp-creams--lotions" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">CBD and hemp cream</a> and <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/shop/ols/categories/essential-oils--aromatherapy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">essential oils</a>. <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">PlainNaturals.com</a> continues to be a top supplier of wholesale CBD products to retailers and has also opened a retailer online portal for stores and CBD dealers to buy CBD in bulk.</p><p>EcoWatch readers can take advantage of a special offer from <a href="https://plainnaturals.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer nofollow">PlainNaturals.com</a> and save an additional 25% off any purchase of $99 or more through 10/31/20 with coupon code <strong>ecowatch25</strong>.</p>
Towards the end of the final presidential debate of the 2020 election season, the moderator asked both candidates how they would address both the climate crisis and job growth, leading to a nearly 12-minute discussion where Donald Trump did not acknowledge that the climate is changing and Joe Biden called the climate crisis an existential threat.
- As Biden Embraces More Ambitious Climate Plan, Fossil Fuel Execs ... ›
- Climate Crisis Gets 10 Minutes at VP Debate - EcoWatch ›
- Climate Crisis Gets Just 10 Minutes at End of Presidential Debate ... ›
By Zheng Chen and Darren H. S. Tan
As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.