Row over Google zero carbon footprint claim

Google earthy: The company claims to have captured natural gas escaping from pig farms and landfill sites

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.

A large cylinder, about the size of a shipping container, was winched up from the seabed just off the Orkney Islands. But rather than a hi-tech alien visitor, the cylinder contained data servers.

They were put there by Microsoft. 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.

Microsoft now claims that less energy is needed to keep the servers cool when they are deposited in cold waters like those of the North Sea. It it is not the only tech company trumpeting its green credentials: yesterday, Google declared that it had eliminated its entire carbon footprint.

Google says it has met this target by buying carbon offsets. These work like a kind of certificate, stating in this case that the company has funded a project that reduced carbon dioxide emissions by a certain amount. The company then claims that that its own carbon footprint has now been reduced by the same amount. But Google’s 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.

While governments need to win the support of their electors for their climate policy, most people have no say in how corporations go about it. For example,they cannot check Google’s calculations of its footprint.

So, can corporations really solve the climate crisis?

Green giants

Some say, yes, of course. By investing in projects that reduce carbon emissions, like schemes to capture and convert methane gas at landfill sites, tech giants have undoubtedly reduced the quantity of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Others are less convinced. Tech companies have a market incentive to look green, but not actually to be green. Many of them pay minimal taxes, starving governments of revenues that could be put towards environmental schemes.

You Decide

  1. Is it worth trying to reduce your individual carbon footprint, even though it might only make the tiniest of tiny differences?


  1. Imagine you are living 100 years from now and the world economy is carbon neutral. Write a postcard to your present self, describing your daily life.

Some People Say...

“However small or simple our actions may seem, they sow what future generations will reap.”

Gema Osorio, Mexican climate activist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
What do we know?Most people agree that climate breakdown is real and being driven by human activity. António Guterres, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has warned that we only have until 2030 to avert global catastrophe, and has called for “ambition and urgency” in our response. In fact, the effects of climate breakdown are already making themselves known. According to Nasa, 19 of the warmest 20 years in modern history have taken place since 2001.
What do we not know?
People disagree over the best way of dealing with the climate crisis. Some have argued that restricting emissions will slow growth and harm the world’s poorest people. They claim that using technology to reduce the greenhouse effect is the fairest solution to the climate crisis. Others point out that such technology does not yet exist, and that the poorest are the most at risk from climate breakdown. They insist that we must switch to more sustainable lifestyles now to avert disaster.

Word Watch

Orkney Islands
A large group of islands north of Scotland. Orkney was the last part of the modern United Kingdom to be ruled by the Vikings, who called it Orkneyjar, until it was absorbed into the Kingdom of Scotland in 1472.
North Sea
The sea that separates Great Britain from Scandinavia. During the last Ice Age, a large landmass called Doggerland connected Britain with northern Europe, but it sank into the North Sea as a result of rising sea levels. It is thought that the seabed now holds the remains of ancient human settlements.
Carbon footprint
An estimate of the total quantity of greenhouse gases emitted by an organisation, community, or individual. It is used to calculate how sustainably we use our resources: the planet can absorb a certain amount of carbon dioxide back into forests and oceans, but at the current rate of global emissions we would need one-and-a-half Earths to sustain the world population.
A greenhouse gas thought to be about 28 times worse for the climate than carbon dioxide.

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