Over the past decade, scientists have warned that the effects of climate change are imminent. The world’s temperature has already increased by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880 — according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) — with most of that taking place during the last 35 years. Some communities are already seeing increased drought or flooding, stronger and more frequent storms, and other signs of world climate change. With climate change standing as one of the world’s most pressing issues, people often put pressure on individuals, but there’s a lot that tech as an industry can do.
Tech workers have called upon their employers to drastically reduce their carbon emissions, with a special focus on companies like Amazon, whose free one-day shipping has a huge carbon footprint. In April, 4,500 Amazon employees published an open letter to CEO Jeff Bezos on Medium, writing:
“Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis. We believe this is a historic opportunity for Amazon to stand with employees and signal to the world that we’re ready to be a climate leader.”
Although big tech companies claim to be working on reducing their emissions, Singularity Hub noted that some seem to be operating with cognitive dissonance. In 2007, Google committed to keeping its operations carbon neutral and has continued to meet that goal. In 2017, Microsoft said that it would reduce its operational carbon emissions to 75 percent by 2030, and the company reported it’s currently on target to reach that goal. Despite these claims, both Google and Microsoft are working with oil companies to develop AI tools to maximize oil recovery — effectively “automating the climate crisis.”
“It is indeed disturbing to see the tech industry helping move civilization back into the fossil age even as they purport to be about cutting edge technology intended to lead us into the future,” Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Penn State, told Gizmodo about the tech giants working with oil companies. “It ultimately speaks to the amorality of corporate interests.”
A 2017 study by the Carbon Majors Database found that just 100 companies are responsible for over 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988. The report noted that since human-induced climate change was officially recognized by the establishment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988, “the fossil fuel industry has doubled its contributions to global warming by emitting as much greenhouse gas in 28 years as in the 237 years between 1988 and the birth of the industrial revolution.”
By partnering up with companies to enhance oil production, big tech companies are sending a message that their green “commitments” are no more than publicity stunts.
There are entrepreneurs in tech taking up the challenge of tackling climate change. Zume pizza’s co-founder Julia Collins’ launched Planet FWD last year, a company that focuses on using regenerative agriculture as a way to save the planet. This form of farming aims to capture carbon in the soil instead of contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
“It’s unlikely, particularly given our current administration, that in the short term we’ll be able to move the needle, through political forces on that issue [global warming], but I believe in the power of private companies to make a change,” Collins told AfroTech. “Imagine a world where all food companies shifted to a regenerative organic agriculture system. That would actually get us to a point where we were carbon negative.”
Global climate change cannot be prevented because it has already begun. Many of its impacts will remain. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a lost cause. While we may not be able to reverse something that’s already occurred, changes can be made to consumption habits (in the U.S. especially) to help mediate its effects.
There are also other steps tech can take, such as pushing consumers towards more climate-friendly purchases and even shipping options. Overall, it’s clear the tech industry needs to prioritize people over profit.