Posts with «climate change» label

What we learned this year about how to avoid a climate catastrophe

COP26 was not a fist-in-the-air moment, and not the victory against climate change that humanity had been banking on. Sadly, politics and commerce put a hard thumb on proceedings, limiting the action possible. Commitments to “phase down” coal, rather than a firm pledge to eliminate it outright, show how far we still have to go. But the event also served to highlight the extent of what needs to be done if humanity’s going to survive beyond the next century.

One “victory” out of the event was the belief that ensuring global warming held at 1.5 degrees was still possible. It’s worth saying, however, that 1.5 degrees isn’t a target to meet so much as an acceptance of impending disaster. In October, the IPCC explained that such a temperature increase will cause significant upticks in the frequency of extreme heat waves, monsoon-like rainfall and widespread droughts. Extreme weather events that may have taken place once every 50 years a few centuries ago could become a regular, and fatal, occurrence.

All the while, the facts of the matter are unchanged: Humanity needs to avoid adding new carbon emissions while also tackling those we’ve already emitted. That means an aggressive reduction of every man-made carbon-emitting process everywhere on Earth, the total reformation of agriculture and an unprecedented rollout of carbon capture and storage technology. And, ideally, that process should have begun the better part of two decades ago.

There are many dispiriting facts about the world, but one that always hurts is the fact that coal plants are still being greenlit. Global Energy Monitor’s data has plants currently being permitted or under construction in (deep breath) China, India, Indonesia, Turkey, Mongolia, Vietnam, Singapore, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Greece, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Poland, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico. As Reuters says, each plant will be expected to run for at least 40 years, severely damaging efforts to go Carbon Negative. Not only is it in everyone’s best interest that these plants don’t go online, but wealthier nations have a moral obligation to help provide the funding to help at least some of those names move toward clean energy.

Tunvarat Pruksachat via Getty Images

The problem is that electricity is going to be the most important resource of the 21st century, especially if we’re going to tackle climate change. Many key technologies, like transportation, will ditch fossil fuels in favor of electricity as their primary source of fuel. The world’s demand for energy is going to increase, and we’re going to need to generate that power cleanly. The US Center for Climate and Energy Solutions believes that, by 2050, the world’s power needs will jump by 24 percent. So where will we get all of this clean power from?

Fusion has, forever, been held up as a magic bullet that will totally eradicate our worries about energy generation. Unlike Nuclear Fission, it produces little waste, requires little raw fuel and can’t produce a runaway reaction. Unfortunately, Fusion remains as elusive as The Venus de Milo’s arms or a good new Duke Nukem game. ITER, the internationally-funded, French-built experimental reactor won’t be finished until 2025 at the earliest and is still just a testbed. If successful — and that’s a big if — we’re still a decade away from any serious progress being made, at which point mass decarbonization will already need to be well underway.

That means any power decarbonization will have to come from the renewable technology that’s available to us today. Nuclear, Wind, Solar, Geothermal and Tidal power all need to be ramped up to fill in the gap, but the scale of the task in the US alone is staggering. According to the EIA, the US generated just short of 2,500 billion kWh using fossil fuels in 2020. If you wanted to, for instance, replace all of that with nuclear power, you’d need to build anything in the region of 300 reactors, or increase the number of solar panels installed in the US by roughly a hundred percent — and that’s before we talk about intermittency.

James Trew / Engadget

One thing we can do, however, is to reduce our demand for energy to lessen the need for such a dramatic shift. That can be, for instance, as easy as better insulating your home (in cold climates) or improving the efficiency of AC systems (in warm climates). Another smart move is to ditch the car in favor of public transportation, walking, or getting on your bike. There is evidence that e-bike adoption is becoming a big deal, with Forbes saying that sales are tipped to grow from just under 4 million annually in 2020 to close to 17 million by 2030.

None of this, however, will matter much unless we can also find a way to pay off the debts humanity has racked up over the last century. The IPCC believes that we need to extract up to one trillion tonnes of atmospheric CO2 in the near future. This can be done with massive tree planting works, more of which needs to be done, but also this process may need a little help.

That’s why a number of startups have been working on industrial processes to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. Right now, such a process is very expensive, but it’s hoped that as the technology improves, the cost will start to tumble. There’s also a concern, of course, that running schemes like this will give polluting companies and nations a free license to avoid reform.

As much as we can hope that this technology matures quickly, the rate of progress needs to get a lot faster a, uh, lot faster. For instance, Climeworks’ Orca, its new flagship carbon capture plant in Iceland, will extract 4,000 tons of CO2 per year. If we’re going to reach the point where we can avert a climate catastrophe using extraction alone, we’ll need this capacity to increase by about a hundred million times.

The point of this is, broadly speaking, to outline how much more sharply our attitudes toward the climate need to shift. If we’re going to succeed at defeating climate change then we’re going to need to go onto the sort of war footing – where resources are devoted to nothing but solving the crisis – that few can ever imagine undertaking. But, as most of the resources point out, the only way that we’re going to stave off the damage after dragging our feet for so long is to go all-out in search of a solution.

Biden orders federal buildings, vehicles to adopt renewable energy by 2050

The White House's renewable energy push now includes a transformation of the federal government. President Biden has issued an executive order that would require the government to stop buying combustion engine vehicles by 2035, and to switch all buildings to renewables and other zero-carbon energy sources by 2050. The administration willbuy only carbon-free electricity by 2030, and aims to cut building emissions in half by 2032.

Biden saw the measure as a way to "lead by example" and encourage both a "carbon pollution-free" electricity industry by 2035 and net zero emissions for the entire economy by 2050. The federal government is the largest employer, energy user and land owner in the US, the President said, and its shift to renewables could influence private businesses.

It's a modest goal in some ways. The timeline is very long, for a start. Multiple states will have banned gas-powered car sales by 2035 — why would it take the federal government that long to switch a relatively modest 600,000-vehicle fleet to EVs and other emissions-free machines? The 300,000 buildings are more daunting, but the order gives officials roughly three decades to make the transition.

At the same time, there are plenty of challenges. The feds depend on a wide range of buildings and vehicles across the country, many of them with different requirements. It may take a highly coordinated effort to transition everything to zero-emissions transport and renewable energy, even if the scale is relatively modest. And then there's the question of future administrations. As we've seen before, a new presidency can undo environmental regulations and delay or even thwart emissions reduction plans. The targets offer plenty of opportunities for reversals.

The order is still notable even if there are setbacks. It's an acknowledgment that efforts to limit climate change aren't confined to the private sector, and it could prompt contractors to transition to environmentally friendly products in a bid to win federal deals.

COP26 climate change deal falls short on coal targets

The COP26 climate conference has come to an end, but it probably won't satisfy some of its more outspoken critics. Reuters and The Washington Post report that the United Nations-helmed summit has reached a final deal on efforts to accelerate emissions reduction and otherwise keep to a Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5C. There are some areas where the new arrangement (billed by the UN as the Glasgow Climate Pact) may offer significant progress, but there are also concerns it doesn't hold countries to stricter standards — including a move away from coal energy.

In negotiations that extended roughly a day past the original November 12th deadline, representatives from China and India successfully changed language in the COP26 agreement that asked countries to "phase-down" unabated coal use rather than "phase-out." While COP26 president Alok Sharma and numerous countries' delegates wanted the tougher language, Sharma said it was "vital" to protect the deal. However, there are worries this will give coal-dependent countries like China and India an excuse to avoid firmer commitments to emissions reduction.

Previous critics blasted wealthier nations for failing to act on a promise of giving poorer countries $100 billion per year until 2023 to help them deal with climate change. The Glasgow deal only committed to making a new plan in the next three years.

The final pact does include some notable measures. It asks countries "revisit and strengthen" their climate change plans before the end of 2022, as New Scientistnoted. Similarly, there's a strategy to address long-running disputes over global carbon credit markets. Numerous countries promised to reduce methane emissions and stop deforestation, and the agreement called for reduced subsidies on fossil fuels. Separately, the US and China reached a deal to limit climate change in the 2020s, including a new recognition from China that methane had a significant impact on rising temperatures.

Nonetheless, there are fears the COP26 arrangement is generally too soft. It doesn't set many binding targets. The final language only "requests" that countries rethink their plans, for instance. The pact might prompt some countries to step up their environmental initiatives, but others may face relatively few consequences if they fall short.

US and China will cooperate to limit climate change this decade

The US and China are at odds on many fronts, but climate change might not be one of them. The Washington Postreports the two countries have issued a joint pledge at COP26 to limit global warming during the 2020s. Both nations said they recognized a gap between current actions and the Paris agreement target of keeping that warming below 2C, and ideally no higher than 1.5C.

The exact terms weren't available as of this writing, but US climate envoy John Kerry said China committed to reducing methane emissions and coal use "as fast as is achievable." China wouldn't, however, join a US-Europe initiative to cut methane emissions by a third no later than 2030.

Whether or not this translates to meaningful action is far from clear. China has made some efforts to promote electric vehicles and reduce coal dependence, but it's still the largest contributor to emissions and hasn't radically reduced its harmful output. It also hasn't had much of a presence at COP26, with President Xi Jinping declining to show up where US President Joe Biden was happy to attend.

The US isn't immune to problems, either. While the Biden administration has promised to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and spur EV adoption, there's no guarantee it can pass legislation needed to honor its side of the pledge. That's also assuming the next White House doesn't undo previous environmental efforts.

It's still rare to see the US and China agree on climate change issues, though, and the very existence of the pledge represents progress for China. The country hadn't previously acknowledged the impact of methane on global warming, for instance. That suggests China is at least aware of the scope of the problem, even if there's a long way to go before it addresses that problem.

US Department of Energy wants to dramatically reduce the cost of carbon capture technology

The US Department of Energy wants to accelerate the development of carbon capture technology. On Friday, the agency announced a program called Carbon Negative Shot. Part of its Energy Earthshots initiative, the goal here is to foster the development of carbon capture technology that can sequester CO2 at a cost of less than $100 per ton, and can be deployed at the gigaton scale. To put that in perspective, that much carbon is equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately 250 million cars.

“By slashing the costs and accelerating the deployment of carbon dioxide removal — a crucial clean energy technology — we can take massive amounts of carbon pollution directly from the air and combat the climate crisis,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “With our Carbon Negative Shot, we can help remove the greenhouse gases already warming our planet and affecting our health — positioning America as a net-zero leader and creating good-paying jobs for a transitioning clean energy workforce.”

If it wasn’t clear already, the Energy Department has set an ambitious target. In September, Orca, the largest direct carbon capture facility ever, opened in Iceland. The plant will capture 4,000 tons of CO2 per year at a cost of about $600 per ton for bulk purchases. Chimeworks, the company that operates Orca, aims to reduce the cost to $300 or less per ton by 2030. That’s a long way away from the Energy Department’s goal of less than $100 per ton, but sustained and substantial support and investment from the government is exactly what could make that happen.

Report links most climate change denial on Facebook to 10 publications

Most climate change misinformation comes from only a handful of sources. That’s according to a new report from the Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). The organization found that ten publishers are responsible for 69 percent of all interactions with climate change denial content on Facebook. Included in the group, which the CCDH titled “The Toxic Ten,” are Brietbart, Russia Today and Media Research Center, which has ties to the fossil fuel industry.

The findings broadly mirror that of another report the CCDH published earlier in the year, which found that as much as 73 percent of vaccine misinformation on Facebook can be linked to only 12 individuals dubbed the “disinformation dozen.” That study has been widely cited by US lawmakers who have called on social media platforms to do more to address the “urgent threat” misinformation represents to public health.

As it did with the earlier disinformation dozen report, Meta, Facebook’s parent company, disputed the methodology the CCDH used to compile its latest study. “The 700,000 interactions this report says were on climate denial represent 0.3 percent of the over 200 million interactions on English public climate change content from Pages and public groups over the same time period,” a spokesperson for the company said. It also pointed to the recently announced expansion of features like the Climate Change Information Center as evidence of its commitment to tackling misinformation on the topic.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Imran Ahmed, the chief executive of the CCDH, said the organization looked at approximately 7,000 articles published between October 2020 and October 2021. He called the sample “robust” and said there was enough data “to derive representative finds of trends.”

Additionally, the report examined the financial incentives involved in publishing climate change denial content. The CCDH estimates eight of the companies included in the Toxic Ten made $5.3 million in Google ad revenue over the last six months, with $1.7 million going to the search giant. "We recently announced a new policy that explicitly prohibits publishers and YouTube Creators from monetizing content that promotes climate change denial. This policy will go into effect on November 8 and our enforcement will be as targeted as removing ads from individual pages with violating content," a spokesperson for Google told Engadget.

“When you put it all together, you’ve got these two industries, Big Oil and Big Tech, and they are the two industries that pose the greatest threat to the survival of our species,” Ahmed told The Post.

The timing of The Toxic Ten report comes as delegates from around the world meet at the UN’s COP26 climate summit in Scotland in what’s been described as “the world’s last best chance” to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Without dramatic reductions, the planet is currently on track for a “catastrophic” 2.7 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. With every additional degree of warming beyond the 1.5-degree target put forward by the Paris Agreement, there’s a greater risk of the planet passing specific tipping points that could lead to even more dramatic changes to the climate.

Meta details its latest efforts to combat climate change as COP26 starts

Meta (Facebook's parent company) has joined other major tech companies in making more climate change pledges as the UN’s COP26 summit commences. Along with taking measures to reduce its own carbon footprint, Meta is focused on "helping people find accurate, science-led information, while also tackling misinformation," according to Nick Clegg, Meta's vice-president of global affairs and communication.

The company says that when its fact-checking partners rate a piece of content as false, a warning label is added and the post pops up less often on users' News Feeds. There's a keyword detection feature that Meta switches on during "critical public events" to help fact checkers find relevant content faster. This will be enabled during COP26 to help fact-checkers in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, German, French and Dutch find and debunk climate misinformation more quickly.

The Climate Change Information Center, which debuted last year to provide users with knowledge from experts on the issue, is now being rolled out to more countries and it will soon be available in more than 100 territories. The hub will also show national greenhouse gas emissions alongside countries' targets and commitments to perhaps make governments more accountable. On top of that, in more than a dozen countries, Facebook is expanding its use of labels on climate change posts to direct users to the center.

The UN will soon update its ActNow chatbot on Messenger, Instagram and its website to suggest 10 more actions users can take to fight combat change. There are new camera stickers on Messenger, Instagram and Messenger Kids that aim to help users "strike up a conversation" about climate change.

In addition, Meta is starting up a program to help businesses that use its apps reduce their carbon footprint and adopt more sustainable practices. The Green Boost for Small Businesses project will start this month in the UK and Spain, primarily centered on food producers, restaurants and the hospitality sector. Meta will broaden the program to Italy, France and other nations in 2022.

Elsewhere, Meta says it's a founding member of the Sustainable Aviation Buyers Alliance. The group's goal is to push toward net zero air travel by investing in sustainable aviation fuel.

These efforts are intended to complement internal actions Meta has undertaken to combat climate change. The company hit net zero carbon emissions in 2020 and as of earlier this year, it's using 100 percent renewable energy. Other environmentally conscious efforts include reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 97 percent in the last four years and supporting measures to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Like Microsoft, Meta aims to restore more water than it uses by 2030.

Is Big Tech 'greenwashing' its environmental responsibilities ahead of COP26?

COP26, the UN’s climate change conference billed as “the world’s last best chance” to prevent the most disastrous effects of global warming, kicks off in Glasgow on Sunday. Delegates from around the world will convene to hammer out another round of emission reduction targets with a goal of achieving “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions by mid-century and keeping our rapidly heating planet temperature rise to a more manageable 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than the calamitous 2.7 degree bump currently predicted.

With the eyes of the world firmly focused upon humanity’s disastrous planetary stewardship to date and wondering what might be done to rectify our past pollution, leading tech companies in recent weeks have become increasingly vocal in their pledges to reform business operations to help “save the planet.”

Apple, for example, announced the launch of 10 new environmental projects as part of its Power for Impact initiative as well as that 175 of its suppliers will switch to using renewable energy, the company said in a statement Tuesday, and that, by 2030, every device the company sells will have a net-zero climate impact. The company also noted that it has already reduced its carbon emissions by 40 percent over the past five years.

Google, on the other hand, pointed to its goal of achieving net zero emissions “across all of our operations and value chain by 2030,” according to a blog post published on Monday. The company also called out its efforts to assist its partners with reducing their own emissions, such as through the Environmental Insights Explorer (EIE) program which helps cities map their pollution data, air quality and solar power potential. Google also made sure to mention just how sustainable its products actually are for consumers.

Microsoft

Microsoft made even loftier claims on Tuesday: to be “carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted, either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975,” before expounding on the rapidly increasing efficiencies of its massive data centers.

Amazon, for its part, announced that its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund investment program has selected three low-carbon startups: Resilient Power, which produces transformer-based EV charging technology; CMC Machinery, an order-specific-sized shipping box manufacturer; and Infinium, which devised “ultra-low carbon fuels that can be used in air transport, marine freight, and heavy truck fleets,” per the company’s blog post.

But do these protestations of environmental progress signify a legitimate effort by Big Tech to clean up its collective act or are they simply more PR spin seeking to offset their bad behavior? Because we’ve seen this sort of behavior before. It’s called greenwashing.

What is Greenwashing?

Merriam-Webster defines greenwashing as “expressions of environmentalist concerns especially as a cover for products, policies, or activities.” The term was first coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in an essay examining the hotel industry’s practice of leaving placards in guest rooms admonishing them to reuse their towels to help “save the environment.” Back then, people got their news from three places: newspapers, television and radio — the same sources for virtually all advertising at the time. This information availability imbalance created a system wherein corporations could promote themselves in any flattering shade they wished, regardless of their actual actions, with little fear of the public actually realizing that a deception had even occurred.

The practice of greenwashing in America goes as far back as 1953 — though it wasn’t called as such at the time — when beverage manufacturers launched the Keep America Beautiful campaign, reminding the public to be good environmental stewards and not litter, in what was actually an effort to forestall incoming regulations on the use of disposable containers. Greenwashing metastasized in the 1980s as Big Oil companies ladled out their own laudations while they sought to minimize their own liability and culpability in environmental pollution scandals and global warming. These companies went so far as to work to actively prevent the government from passing clean energy laws. But you wouldn’t know it from their television ads.

The spot above is from ​​Chevron’s People Do campaign. It should be noted that many of the programs promoted in that campaign were actually government-mandated actions and that while this campaign was running, Chevron was repeatedly found in violation of the Clean Air and Water Acts, and was caught dumping oil in wildlife refuges.

Exxon’s actions through the ‘90s were equally abhorrent. The company continually muddied the waters around humanity’s role in climate change, knowing full well how the burning of fossil fuels inflamed the growing crisis.

In 2017, a Harvard study of ExxonMobil’s climate change communications (both internal memos and public-facing advertorial newspaper content) produced between 1977 and 2014 found that while more than 80 percent of internal documents acknowledged that human activity was largely responsible for global warming, just 12 percent of the company’s advertorials did the same.

"Within hours of publishing our study, ExxonMobil responded with ad hominem attacks," Harvard Research Associate Geoffrey Supran, told Client Earth last year. "I was invited by the European Parliament to testify about ExxonMobil's history of climate denial. The day before, they sent a private memo (which has now been leaked) to Members of Parliament to try to discredit me. If these experiences tell us anything, it's that the Exxon tiger hasn't changed its stripes."

Greenwashing in the modern era

Greenwashing remains a widely-used marketing tactic even today — and not just the mealy-mouthed word salads regurgitated by oil executives during a House Oversight Committee hearing this Thursday.

Take bottled water, for instance. Nestle alone has spent millions of ad dollars over recent years in an effort to convince the public that, as it claimed in 2008, “bottled water is the most environmentally responsible consumer product in the world.”​​ This despite the fact that barely 31 percent of plastic water bottles actually get recycled and the rest end up cluttering landfills and the ocean — scientists estimate that around 8 million metric tons of plastic entered the ocean annually.

And they are far from alone. Coca-Cola came under fire in 2015 in Australia when it rolled out Coke Life, a supposedly light sugar variant packaged in a bright green can. Sure it made consumers feel like they were making a health conscious purchasing decision but that was despite health advocates pointing out that “the reduction to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a 600ml bottle made little difference in terms of health impacts.” More recently the company launched its World Without Waste campaign which, at its essence, pushed consumers to simply recycle more, rather than actually adjust the way the company conducts its business.

The fashion industry is a huge contributor to the climate-and ecological emergency, not to mention its impact on the countless workers and communities who are being exploited around the world in order for some to enjoy fast fashion that many treat as disposables. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/pZirCE1uci

— Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) August 8, 2021

In 2013, Tyson Meats was taken to task over the fawning self-framing of how it cares for its animals and their relative well-being, not two years before five Tyson supplier employees were charged with 33 counts of criminal animal cruelty for repeatedly kicking and punching pigs. And who can forget Volkswagen, which launched a “Clean Diesel” marketing campaign amid the Dieselgate emissions scandal?

Why Greenwashing works so well

So why do companies insist on greenwashing their operations rather than actually reform themselves? Because it is far more profitable to simply adjust public perception than it is to make meaningful reforms. A 2015 Nielsen poll found that 66 percent of respondents would be willing to pay a premium for “environmentally sustainable products” and among those willing to pay more more than 50 percent were influenced by sustainability factors such as “a company being environmentally friendly (58 percent), and company being known for its commitment to social value (56 percent.)”

It’s also because we, collectively, keep falling for it. Consumers’ desires to help address the climate crisis, especially in the face of barely tepid responses from world governments, primes us to view virtually any action on that account as a positive one. “SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] and ‘net zero’ have kind of created an opportunity for a lot more greenwashing, because it allows you to describe yourself as a green company when you’re doing a thing that’s fundamentally not green,” Dave Powell, co-presenter of the Sustainababble podcast and the former Head of Environment at the New Economics Foundation, told Client Earth. “You effectively buy your way out of trouble, for example, by promising to plant large numbers of trees.”

"As part of their climate strategies, many companies are relying on voluntary carbon offsetting. However, if not done well, offsetting can result in greenwashing,” Dr. Aoife Brophy Haney, Research Lecturer at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at the University of Oxford, added. “To mitigate this risk, government and society at large should support the use of best practice guidelines, such as the recently released ‘Oxford Principles for Net Zero Aligned Carbon Offsetting’, to help ensure offsetting is done in a rigorous and credible way that ultimately contributes to net zero goals."

And, most importantly, companies continue to engage in greenwashing because there is very little downside to doing so, at least from a regulatory perspective. In the US, the FTC guidelines for environmental marketing claims are only voluntary, though the FTC does retain the right to prosecute outright false or misleading advertisements.

However, cracks in the greenwashing facade may be beginning to show, starting in the financial sector, as regulators’ interest in ESG fund (environmental, social and governance) oversight grows. As Financial News London reported Monday, German asset manager DWS has recently been investigated by both US and German regulatory agencies after a former employee accused the company of fudging the environmental credentials in its 2020 annual report.

“You have to be careful, as there is a big reputational risk,” an unnamed senior executive at a European asset manager, told FN London. “We’re not saying we were bulls***ing before, but there’s a recognition now that it’s more complicated.”

“Most have probably been a bit too pushy in marketing their alleged ESG expertise and they are now applying more caution,” ​​Philip Kalus, managing partner at consultancy Accelerando Associates, added. “Some would even say there is panic in the house. Nobody wants to be the next one being accused, but it is an important and overdue wake-up call for the industry.”

That’s not to say that environmental pledges made by Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon are meant to intentionally gaslight the public (though Exxon, Shell and Chevron absolutely did). These companies have a vested financial interest in at least appearing as positively as possible to their customers because, frankly, nobody’s going to have time to talk about the slick new features of the Pixel 8 or iOS 15 when we’re in the midst of a global climate meltdown-slash-water war.

Is Google’s “moonshot goal” of operating its data centers and campuses entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030 going to make more than a blip of difference when it comes to mitigating the impacts of climate change? Probably not, definitely not on its own and certainly no more so than Microsoft’s promise to reduce water use in its data centers by 95 percent by 2024 or Apple’s plan to build robots to more effectively recycle old handsets. But these claims do not, in and of themselves, constitute greenwashing. Their changes may not be enough to make a noticeable impact at this point, but these good faith efforts attempt to do something, anything, to stave off what could well be humanity’s self-inflicted extinction. And given how America’s most recent effort to invest in environmentally responsible energy technologies was single-handedly killed off by the coal-loving Senator from West Virginia, these sorts of corporate initiatives may likely be the best we’ll soon see.

Google Cloud will show users their gross carbon emissions

Google Cloud has added tools to help users gain a better understanding of their environmental impact as part of the company's broader efforts to combat climate change. The Carbon Footprint feature shows the gross carbon emissions linked to the electricity consumption of someone's Cloud Platform use. It displays emissions over time and can break down the data by project, product and region.

Companies will be able to roll this information into their own emissions data for internal audits and making carbon disclosures (they can export the data to Salesforce Sustainability Cloud, for instance). Google stressed that the figures relate to a user's gross carbon emissions, since the company has been carbon neutral for over a decade. It plans to run entirely on carbon-free energy by 2030.

Google Cloud will also flag applications that are not in use, as well as their carbon emissions. Google suggests that deleting apps identified by the Unattended Project Recommender will help companies mitigate security risks, lower costs and reduce their carbon footprint.

Google #EarthEngine is now available in preview to commercial customers via Google Cloud Platform. We're building on our long track record on environmental impact to enable companies and governments that want to make progress on climate action. https://t.co/j2EXcalf4h

— Google Earth (@googleearth) October 12, 2021

In addition, Google is bringing Earth Engine to the Cloud Platform for select users. Using satellite imagery, data sets and other tools, companies can harness Earth Engine to "track, monitor and predict changes in the Earth’s surface" caused by extreme weather events or human activity. That, Google says, will enable businesses to reduce and mitigate risks, "become more resilient to climate change threats" and save money. Companies can apply for access to Earth Engine through Google Cloud.

Last week, Google unveiled a string of features that highlight the environmental impact of consumer choices. Shopping results can promote greener options, while Google Flights started showing carbon emission estimates for almost all trips. The Nest Renew program, meanwhile, can switch your thermostat on or off depending on the availability of clean energy. In addition, Google is hoping to use AI to improve the efficiency of traffic lights and reduce pollution from idle cars.

YouTube blocks ads on climate change denial videos

YouTube's reduced tolerance for misinformation now extends to climate science. The Google service has enacted a new policy barring ads and monetization for content that contradicts the "well-established scientific consensus" surrounding climate change, including videos that claim climate change is a hoax or reject the human link to global warming. YouTube will start enforcing the policy in November.

The company stressed that it would allow ads for videos discussing those bogus claims as well as other climate-related subjects, such as the exact degree of human impact or debates on climate policy. YouTube is basing its judgments on "authoritative" expertise, including contributors to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The firm wasn't shy about the reasoning for the move: advertisers just don't want their ads linked to climate change denial material, and creators don't want those ads on their pages. YouTube is concerned it could lose business, and dropping monetization for bogus science is an easy way to prevent that loss.

This effort stops short of banning climate change denial, although that's not surprising. Unlike anti-vaccine misinformation, climate change denial doesn't carry the risk of short-term harm. YouTube can keep the content visible for the sake of debate and expression without worrying that it will directly lead to illness. This won't stop science deniers from moving to other platforms or using their videos to peddle products like books, but it might discourage 'casual' attempts to profit from climate misinformation.