Microsoft\’s push for artificial intelligence jeopardizes climate goals, carbon emissions soar 30%

Four years ago, Microsoft pledged to remove more carbon than it emits by 2030, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive plans to combat climate change.

Four years ago, Microsoft pledged to remove more carbon than it emits by 2030, one of the most ambitious and comprehensive plans to address climate change.
Today, the software giant is pushing hard to become a global leader in artificial intelligence, putting this goal in jeopardy.
According to its latest sustainability report released on May 15, the Seattle-based company\’s overall impact on global warming is now about 30% higher than it was in 2020. This puts Microsoft on target to become carbon negative by 2030. Declaring this goal is even more difficult.
The dilemma facing Microsoft is the first concrete example of the pursuit of artificial intelligence conflicting with efforts to reduce emissions.
The choice to capitalize on its early lead in the new market for generative artificial intelligence has made Microsoft the most valuable company in the world, but its leaders also acknowledge that keeping up with demand will mean spending more money on dirty assets. .
Smith believes that the benefits of artificial intelligence to the world will outweigh its impact on the environment.
\”We fundamentally believe that the solution is not to slow down the expansion of artificial intelligence, but to accelerate the progress of the work needed to make it greener,\” Smith said. \”I guarantee there is one way to fail: and that is to give up.\”
Some Microsoft employees have taken issue with the company\’s other AI-related efforts to increase oil extraction.
More than 10,000 employees have formed a group that wants Microsoft to reduce its impact on global warming. Some employees have resigned in protest.
Using our technology to maximize oil production negates all our good work. Extends the life of fossil fuels. Creates untold carbon emissions, two former employees wrote. The company we love so much has let us down. .We are all deeply saddened.
Employees around the world are at the core of our sustainability mission. A Microsoft spokesperson responded that our focus is driving the energy transition.
In response to a question, a Google spokesperson said that it is difficult to predict the increase in energy use and emissions related to artificial intelligence. He said that the company is working hard to reduce the company\’s impact on the environment through measures such as increasing the deployment of clean energy and purchasing carbon removal credits. Influence.
\”We remain committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2040,\” an Amazon spokesperson said, highlighting the company\’s work in supporting new clean energy sources, including nuclear power.
Meta did not respond.
Although artificial intelligence consumes huge amounts of energy, in fact this will not have a big impact on Microsoft\’s emissions growth – at least on paper.
That\’s because the company says in its sustainability report that 100% of its energy comes from renewable sources.
Companies use a range of mechanisms to make such claims. The credibility of these mechanisms varies widely.
Some companies sign long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs) with renewable energy developers. They assume some of the risks of new energy power plants and help bring new solar and wind farms online.
In other cases, companies buy renewable energy certificates (RECs) to claim they are using green electricity, but researchers have found that these cheap certificates do little to drive new demand for green energy.
Microsoft uses a combination of these two methods.
For one thing, Microsoft is one of the largest corporate players in power purchase agreements.
However, according to the company\’s environmental documents in 2022, Microsoft is also a large buyer of renewable energy certificates. It uses these tools to claim that about half of the energy it uses is clean energy.
By using a large number of renewable energy certificates, Microsoft is actually masking a larger increase in emissions.
So what else can companies do? Smith and Microsoft Chief Sustainability Officer Melanie Nakagawa laid out clear initiatives in the sustainability report. Chief among them is improving efficiency. That is, using the same amount of energy or computing power to accomplish more. work.
This can help reduce demand on data centers, thereby reducing emissions and electricity usage.
On most things, our climate goals require us to spend money, Smith said, but being more efficient will actually save us money.
Microsoft is also at the forefront of purchasing sustainable aviation fuel, which helps reduce some of the emissions from its business travel.
The company also hopes to work with companies that can accelerate breakthroughs to produce greener steel, concrete and fuels.
These technologies are starting to work on a small scale, but even though they are expensive, they are far from commercial scale.
Cheap renewable energy makes Microsoft\’s climate journey easier.
But the tech giant\’s electricity use last year was on par with that of smaller European countries — easily surpassing Slovenia.
Smith said that the lack of transmission lines from power generation sites to data centers is one of the biggest bottlenecks in Microsoft\’s continued access to green power.
Therefore, Microsoft said it will increase lobbying efforts to urge governments to speed up power grid construction.
Despite these efforts, what if Microsoft\’s emissions remain high in 2029? \”It\’s always possible to buy carbon removal credits in bulk,\” Smith said. \”But I don\’t think that\’s ideal.\”
There are many ways to remove carbon dioxide from the air. These include equipment with large fans, industrial chemicals and tree planting.
But those credits come with a hefty price tag. Many times more than the $100 per ton internal carbon tax Microsoft imposes on its business travel.
\”You have to be willing to invest and pay for it,\” Smith said. \”Climate change is a problem humans created. It\’s also a problem humans can solve.\”

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