So Microsoft has this ambitious plan to become carbon-negative by 2030. It's mainly a combination of planting trees, CCS and using renewables.

At first glance, this is a positive development and gives a clear sign to other large corporations that they should do likewise.

What concerns me is that even if this works, this does not scale up: there are not enough trees and renewables in the world to do this. So we might end up in a situation where big corps can claim to be green because they have effectively bought all the green resources on the planet. But the global emissions will still be huge.

Because what they are proposing is: we will keep on growing our computational resources (because that is what Microsoft sells, and they are still committed to growth as is clear from their 2020 annual report), so we will increase our energy usage and facilitate more emissions from manufacturing (by building more data centres and encouraging growth of device sales).

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@wim_v12e What happens with this "offsetting" stuff is that companies purchase claims that trees were planted. Whether or not trees were actually planted, and whether they survived for more than a single financial year is an entirely different matter.

This is why claims are made, and yet when you look at atmospheric CO2 it's not decreasing or even slowing down. A lot of the financialization is fraudulent.

@bob That is why I cringe whenever I see the term "net zero". It's all too often just an excuse for not reducing emissions.

@wim_v12e well that doesn't really surprise me. Whenever companies claim they do something for the planet it's just a PR stunt. But hey at least now Micro$oft will be able to claim that money do indeed grow on trees.

I don't understand. What has Bill Gates got to do with Microsoft? Didn't he leave the company?

@ashwinvis At the very least he still holds a sizable number of shares, but also I don't think he planned for the kind of step down that was forced by the sexual harassment investigation. But yeah, maybe I was cutting that thought too short.

So true. Carbon Offsetting is a long con.
You plant now saying 30-100 years from now it will make the world a better place. Half of the trees are dead within a year, 70% of what survives was selected for its harvestable value.
When you do the maths about what that would actually do to remove CO² you'd need to plant an area ten times the available landmass of the planet (including where we live & grow food) to make a dent. Stopping production is the only solution.

@LearnTribe @wim_v12e hi, do you have some papers or articles I could read to know more about this subject?

@LearnTribe @ololduck Thanks LearnTribe!
Ololduck, if you have specific questions, let us know!

@wim_v12e Oh, I'd definitely put money on them not successfully offsetting things. There's an additional issue with the tree planting in that the effects on biodiversity and even just keeping the trees alive are quite varied. If MSFT takes the usual approach, they'd pay for trees to be planted; the trees may be planted, and even if the seedlings die within a year, it's counted as a win because the tree was (due to be) put in the ground at some point.

@mplouffe In which case it is purely window-dressing. Also, the CCS they propose to use is not at the source, it just takes CO2 from the atmosphere which has a very low efficiency.

@wim_v12e I suspect a lot of it is window-dressing. It's interesting because most of the research that I can think of in the corporate social responsibility literature talks about actually doing good, not just pretending, but I think sustainability is an area where you really need transparent third-party audits with clear guidelines for best practices (there are various frameworks for that in other areas).

@mplouffe I agree, but I worry a bit that it will be the same usual suspects (pwc etc) who do the auditing. i'm not sure that lowering energy demand is even a viable option. just providing environmental controls for dangerously hot and also densely populated regions is going to use a lot of energy. it may also be necessary to turn to energy-intensive artificial farming practices to preserve some plant species that we like to eat/drink/whatever. we do need to lower energy consumption in wasteful sectors, but we may not be able address these other issues and come out with a net energy use reduction. i think this is hardest sticking point on transitioning away from fossil fuel. what do you replace it with?

@xjix You may be right in the longer term, though I hope not. We have until 2040 to reduce emissions enough to keep warming below 1.5 ºC. By that time, the situation that you describe will not have arisen yet. So in the next 20 years, reducing consumption drastically is essential.

Your scenario implies we would not be able to contain the warming, and that is unfortunately quite likely.

Do you have a reference about the nature and energy cost of environmental controls for dangerously hot and densely populated regions? From a talk that I attended by a Japanese team, who had modelled Urban Heat Island effect on the large city of Nagoya,
the key measures were not very energy intensive: light-coloured outer surfaces of buildings, lots of trees in urban areas and lots of water features. just to clarify, the danger i'm talking about lies in dangerously high wet bulb temperatures which are happening already.

i might be off on my estimation of energy cost here, but i do know that non-evaporative air conditioning is a pretty energy intensive process and in these conditions can't be replaced by evaporating water because the air will be close to saturated with water vapor already. noted though, i'll have to do some more research on the topic to properly back up some of my intuitions.

@ashwinvis But thanks for that update, it is important to have the right data.


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