• Reading Level 5
Science | Geography | Citizenship | PSHE

Row over Google zero carbon footprint claim

Can corporations solve the climate crisis? Google yesterday claimed to have compensated for all the carbon it has ever created. But critics say business cannot be trusted to save the planet. It sounds like the beginning of a sci-fi film: a large cylinder, about the size of a shipping container, is winched up from the seabed just off the Orkney Islands. But rather than a hi-tech alien visitor, the cylinder contains data servers — 855 of them, to be exact. They were put there in 2018 by Microsoft as an experiment in energy efficiency. More and more servers are needed to store the world’s online data, and the amount of energy used to run these servers is rising fast. If the servers could be kept cool, less energy would be required to run them. Depositing the servers in the constantly cold waters of the North Sea has now proved to be energy-efficient – so, Microsoft saves money and the planet also benefits. And it is not the only tech company trumpeting its green credentials: yesterday, Google declared that it had eliminated its entire carbon footprint. The company is claiming that it has compensated for all its emissions since it was founded in 1998. In effect, it is saying that it has never released any carbon dioxide. But is that really the case? Google met this target by buying “carbon offsets”. These work like a kind of certificate, stating that the company has funded a project that has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a certain amount. The same amount of carbon dioxide is then eliminated from its own carbon footprint. If Google pays for a project that reduces carbon emissions by one tonne, then its own emissions are officially lowered by one tonne. Seemingly, it can buy back all the carbon it has emitted in the last two decades. But critics of carbon offsets have described them as a form of greenwashing – and the controversial counteracting measures are very difficult to prove. One of the most prominent critics of carbon offsets is Canadian journalist Naomi Klein. She argues that there is not enough scrutiny of the projects that are counted as offsets. Sometimes they even turn out to be harmful to the environment and to indigenous people, who have genuinely sustainable lifestyles. Google does recognise that carbon offsets are only an “interim solution”. Its long-term aim is to stop buying offsets and maintain its carbon neutrality directly, using only renewable energy . But this raises a further issue. Some insist that governments, not corporations, should be driving the transition to a green society. Unlike corporations, democratic governments need to win the support of their electors for their climate policy. As a result governments have to be transparent; corporations do not have to be. Most people have no say in how corporations go about it. They cannot check Google’s own calculations of its carbon footprint. Google has an incentive to appear green. In recent years, charitable search engines like Ecosia, which spends 80% of its profits planting trees, have gained in popularity. By stressing its environmental credentials, Google can fend off this competition. So, can corporations really solve the climate crisis? Green giants Some say, yes, of course. By investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions, such as schemes to capture and convert methane gas at landfill sites, tech giants are undoubtedly reducing the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Their defenders argue that thanks to market incentives, corporations do better than governments at calculating the value of environmental schemes. Others are less convinced. Tech companies have a market incentive to look green, but not actually to be green. Many even donate money to lobbying organisations that have opposed action on climate. And many pay minimal taxes, starving governments of revenues that could be put towards environmental schemes. KeywordsOrkney Islands - A group of Scottish islands. People live on 20 of the islands.

Continue Reading

The Day is an independent, online, subscription-based news publication for schools, focusing on the big global issues beneath the headlines. Our dedicated newsroom writes news, features, polls, quizzes, translations… activities to bring the wider world into the classroom. Through the news we help children and teachers develop the thinking, speaking and writing skills to build a better world. Our stories are a proven cross-curricular resource published at five different reading levels for ages 5 to 19. The Day has a loyal and growing membership in over 70 countries and its effectiveness is supported by case studies and teacher endorsements.

Start your free trial Already have an account? Log in / register