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Google says its carbon footprint is now zero (bbc.com)
310 points by blauditore 13 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 329 comments

There's a really good explanation of different loopholes in calculating carbon emissions in the Microsoft carbon target announcement from last year[1].

Eg do you count secondary services your employees use, like food services or emissions from their commute? Do you count partner services, like shipping providers for physical product? These, along with your direct emissions, are categorized into three "scopes" of emissions. Do you include purchased offsets against emissions, and at what rate? This is what most companies (including MS, since 2012) use to be "carbon neutral". Companies are selective about which scopes they include, and they pay for the total in offsets.

The point of the blog lost is to be clear (and holier-than-thou) about MS's announced goal: to remove more carbon than they produce in all three scopes each year by 2030 ("net negative"), and to remove all the carbon Microsoft has ever produced in all three scopes from the atmosphere by 2050. Actual carbon removal, not offsets.

I have not read this article so I have no idea what google is or isn't claiming here. But I learned a lot from the MS blog post so I thought I'd share.

[1] https://blogs.microsoft.com/blog/2020/01/16/microsoft-will-b...

> do you count secondary services your employees use

I find this question to be a classic ridiculous slippery slope. For example: Do you count the foot print of the plane that takes employees on vacation bought using the company's salary? Or the foot print of the extra child they decided to bear thanks to the finical stability the company offers?

I feel these type of claims should not be taken literally but rather as "We made a substantial dent in our footprint".

It does not need to be a slippery slope though.

I would expect companies to count plane emissions when their employees go on business trips, but not on holidays.

I would also expect companies to count emissions produced by their employees when they work remotely, which should be a part of the total emissions of their home.

Sure, they may not be able to get an exact number, and it will be lots of estimates, but it does not mean that we should accept some approximate statement such as "We're trying our best"

If they didn't receive those high salaries they wouldn't be able to take those personal trips. The more employees the higher the multiplier. So what are we exactly offsetting.

But it makes no sense to attribute the personal decision of the employee into the carbon footprint. Because paying a high salary does not require that the person take airplane vacations. Some don't. And for those that do, they would have the option to pay to reverse or offset those emissions.

Should the company also reduce their carbon footprint calculations since paying employees more will make then more likely to own a tesla or other electric?

On average though, a reasonable very rough assumption is 0.5 kg CO2 / dollar (from what I read). You could make a complex model, but simply saying money = consumption = CO2 is a straightforward starting point.

A given employee might or might not fly or whatever. But statistically, the average is going to be pretty predictable, and it's not intellectually honest to pretend that because one doesn't know individual behavior, the average could be anything.

Microsoft is using the standard way to reckon GHG emissions in climate science, and accepting an order of magnitude more emissions into the calculation. The EPA has an OK explanation of the system:


Though I think the MS article is easier to understand. If you think this is not a reasonable or accurate way to measure emissions, there are some great peer reviewed journals you could write to.

Companies can't control their employees and you shouldn't be expecting them too. This is part of the problem. We are finally making headway yet people still complain and find ways to degrade. Just be happy that they kind of care and are trying to better our environment. Maybe instead of roasting them you could use your time wisely and suggest even more ways to reduce carbon foot prints.

Where to draw the line is a legitimate question and without it the claim that any real headway is being made is dubious. Some companies offer bussing services in the Bay for their employees so they don’t have to drive as far. If they remove those busses and their employees have to drive in is the company that much closer to carbon neutral even though now all their employees have to drive in and more carbon is in the atmosphere as a result?

Even with all those caveats, its still an impressive milestone and a step in the right direction.

I'm partially curious and partially skeptical. Is this "a step in the right direction" in the same way as recycling? (i.e. people thinking 100% of recyclables actually get recycled vs the reality being a lot of it end up in landfills or worse, and the parallel overproduction of plastics turned into a worldwide ecological disaster)

Maybe its a step in the rigt direction the way aluminium recycling is (i.e. actually useful)

I don't understand how we are comparing Energy generation with specifics about how it is generated and Plastic Recycling...what's that have to do with Energy production?

Totally separate things.

GP already provided some "devil-in-the-details" line items to poke holes at carbon offsets (e.g. are all types of emissions being considered correctly)

The parallel that I'm drawing is that recycling was largely touted in the 90s as the solution to the world's pollution problems, but what ended up happening is that people's impression of recycling and their actual implementations turned out to be woefully out of sync. One can argue that the long term damage of this discrepancy is that people will mindlessly buy plastic bottles of coke, ultimately contributing to the microplastics problem because they've been largely trained to think that recycling plastics works (instead of a hypothetical alternative reality where people might instead bring reusable containers to stores to buy things).

> recycling was largely touted in the 90s as the solution to the world's pollution problems

On the contrary that's not how i remember it - everyone was talking about how recycling was the worst out of reduce, reuse, recycle.

However people want to clear their concious for free, so they chose recycling above all else.

> everyone was talking about how recycling was the worst

Curious to hear some of these examples.

If you look at Japan, for example, they obsessively went all in on recycling. Look at how many different types of recyclables they have, the new electronics craze, the apartment complex obasans that would bring your unsorted garbage back to your unit door as a form of passive-aggressive social peer pressure, etc.

I distinctly remember being taught about recycling in school, and reading about it in children's books, but reduce and reuse were at best afterthoughts, if mentioned at all.

Governments spend a considerable amount on recycling education (e.g. pamphlets about what can and cannot go in a recycling bin), but the taxation incentives I'm aware of don't really paint a super convincing reduce/reuse-oriented strategy.

Granted, I was just a child in the 90s, but I remember all the messaging on TV from cartoons and movies was "recycle, recycle, recycle". I didn't hear anything about"reduce" and "reuse" until I read about it on the internet a few years ago. There were some mentions about making sure not to waste resources, but it wasn't a named thing like recycle was.

As a child in the late 80s it was the three r's. Then the bluebox program became the focus.

I think it is that Google says its carbon footprint is "zero", just like folks who maybe recycle 100% of everything they buy from the store, but in reality much of that isn't actually recyclable even if it has the logo on it. Thus this statement should likely be taken with a grain of salt.

I figure it's more money ("demand") going towards carbon offsets, which should mean increasing development in offsetting ("supply"). Whether that's R&D on carbon capture, greater economic viability for carbon free energy, or greater incentives for halting deforestation, it should all be a net good in a march towards drawing down carbon emissions.

One of the problems with the offset approach is it's not that repeatable. Only a certain number of companies can buy carbon offsets before there aren't really any more offsets to buy, and we have to start actually reducing the carbon to begin with.

Separately, one of the things that gets to me with companies like Google claiming a zero carbon footprint is that if you look at its corporate headquarters, it's mostly parking lot, and some building. The first time I visited Google's HQ, my first impression was just all the parked cars and no way to get to the HQ without Uber/Lyft. Same with Facebook. That picture alone seems wrong to me from an environmental standpoint. Why isn't there a train station there with electric trains instead of a parking lot?

(Google's Boston (Cambridge) office, on the other hand, is right across from a subway station which totally feels right.)

In which case the price of offsets spike, and actually reducing emissions become a more attractive option.

It aint perfect, but still seems to be in the right direction towards getting to where we need to go.

If history is any indication, I feel that what will happen instead is that someone else will start to sell "carbon offsets" for cheaper that secretly aren't quite following the spirit of carbon offset in some obscure overlooked sense. Then when the cat is out of the bag many years down the road, the big corps get to shrug and say "hey I did my part buying them" in some corporate speak that makes them sound good, and the rest of the public gets to feel smugly superior by tweeting at each other that Chinese carbon offset sellers or whoever aren't being ethical. Meanwhile the world continues to burn down, rinse and repeat until food/resource wars start.

And then you have laws and regulations for what is a valid offset.

Its not like this is a new problem - regulation of markets for fake goods has been a thing for a long time.

Don't they basically have a massive fleet of buses that cart in all the kids to work who cannot afford to live within 10 miles of the place? Are those buses natural gas?

But are the buses more efficient than 30 people driving separately?

With any reasonable passenger load, yes. It's fair for people to take that for granted and the burden of proof should be on someone trying to argue the opposite, that cars would be greener in this case.

Oh, sure, they exist, but why are there still parking lots almost full of cars?

And also, 10 miles is a really long distance. Most people consider anything more than 1 mile un-walkable for a commute, so what about all the people between 1 to 10 miles?

And what about visitors, contractors, interviewees, partner company employees, and everyone else who can't take the bus? Why aren't the buses a part of the local transit agency, and why does the local transit agency not even bother running frequent route anywhere near Google, Apple, Facebook, et al.? Why aren't there air-conditioned express Wi-Fi VTA buses, or better yet, fast (>80mph) electric trains, plying up and down 101 and 280 serving all the tech companies in one go, stopping at each HQ, considering they are almost all right next to either highway? That would be a low-carbon world.

Also, one of the inherent problems with employee shuttles instead is that they compete with public transit, and also reduce the flexibility for employees to go to other places after work. I've known many employees regularly go to FLAG companies via the shuttle but drive to work on days they have dinner appointments with friends. To a great degree this also propagates the cycle where public transit becomes progressively worse in coverage and maintainence, and progressively more for low-income individuals only.

Compare to many other public-transit-first countries which have trains/buses that are actually fast, clean, nice, comfortable, and not worse than taking a company shuttle + you have the flexibility to go whenever you want, as well as wherever you want after work.

> Why aren't there air-conditioned express Wi-Fi VTA buses, or better yet, ultra-fast electric trains, plying up and down 101 and 280 serving all the tech companies in one go, stopping at each HQ, considering they are almost all right next to either highway? That would be a low-carbon world.

You are describing something close to the original vision behind BART [1] that was proposed in 1956, but bear in mind that a significant number of people - predominately in the wealthy suburbs - opposed such a vision for a variety of reasons, and many of those same voices hold sway today.

> Why aren't there air-conditioned express Wi-Fi VTA buses, or better yet, ultra-fast electric trains, plying up and down 101 and 280

Rather than 280, they should serve 880, which goes to more affordable housing in the East Bay.

1. https://www.sfchronicle.com/local/article/This-is-what-BART-...

Last time I was in mountain view they were maybe 40-50% full, even by the 'main' campus - also they have a ton of free bikes to ride around, very rarely did I see Uber or Lyft (your point is well taken)

FAANG could easily pay for this and it would be approved almost without push back, but will they? And like in Demolition Man, there is a Taco Bell at every stop. Only Taco Bell.

Sure, but once you reach "zero" what's the incentive to improve now?

Offsets are better than nothing, but they're not sustainable. Low-hanging fruit will be used up at some point, and actually removing CO2 from the atmosphere is really expensive (most optimistic figure I've seen anywhere estimates $50/ton for the mid-to-long term). So the incentive is to push for actually zero emissions instead of net zero.

And as sibling comment mentions, climate change is bad for business too, so that's the incentive for net-negative.

Is $50/ton really so expensive? At that price you could sequester average household emissions for $375/yr.

Can't help but note, flood or wildfire insurance (for people in risk areas) has climbed in cost a lot more than $375/yr.

$375/household/yr sounds downright cheap to me, if it gets us out of this hurricane/wildfire/drought/flood cycle.

I get that, but they haven't actually arrived at zero. They've arrived at their version of zero, and thus have incentive to get to actual zero, since they're already at "zero".

Maintaining "net zero" takes a lot of work/money. It's not something you can do once. Every time you put carbon into the atmosphere, you have to go buy an offset. Over time those offsets get more expensive.

Wouldn't they be cheaper as businesses invest to use less carbon over time.

Like I said, low hanging fruit goes first. Later efficiency gains will be more expensive.

If all their current customers die due to global warming their profit will be lower, regardless of who created the carbon footprint.

You can sell the negative carbon as offsets to others. Lots of products are greened up by just buying offsets instead of really doing something, so there is lots of money in it.

Buying copious amounts of offsets is probably how Google gets to claim it’s carbon neutral in the first place.

Assuming they actually reached zero, who cares? I mean I'd love google to work on carbon removal efforts for the world at whole, but, capitalism.

Well presumably customers care. Azure positions itself in some markets as the ethical choice - large parts open source, actually net zero carbon, AI ethics board and terms that rejects dicey cases, etc etc. Argue against the usefulness or real impact of these moves all you want, the point is that they show the image MS is trying to build.

But speaking a bit more broadly, you'd get a good idea from the Wikipedia page on corporate ethics. It's a whole field of study.

they haven't, that's the point, and why I had the zero in quotes.

Capitalism does not mean we can’t have legislation to protect humanity —- think of the clean air act and a host of others (e.g. OSHA)

I actually agree wholly - I think we should pass regulation. But I don't understand why we don't regulate zero carbon and that's that. Beyond that, presumably it'd be the government's responsibility to purge remaining excess carbon from the atmosphere.

> Capitalism does not mean we can’t have legislation to protect humanity

Mostly, it does.

> think of the clean air act and a host of others (e.g. OSHA)

Those laws are at odds with capitalism, because they limit the control of private capital owners over the application of that capital in favor of social direction or limitation by the State on others’ interest.

Now, you can support that as necessary for the good of society or oppose it as an infringement on the liberty of owners, but in either case you shouldn't mistake it for capitalism.

This is correct and shouldn't be downvoted. You can like capitalism while acknowledging its faults.

Its a very missing the forest for the trees definition.

Like how my computer is technically a regular expression because the universe is finite so it can be simulated by a large enough finite state machine.

The post is presuming that limitations can not be placed on capitalism. As it is verbally used, capitalism is compatible with regulation. For example, slavery and child prostitution are illegal in essentially every capitalist economy.

I think I am conflating capitalism and free markets.

> do you count secondary services your employees use

No, you don't. If you pull the food service thread, you can go through the food wholesalers to farmers, then to John Deere, then to steel plants, then to miners, then to hard hats and eventually you'll end up in China where the game will be declared lost.

It is commonly done. I work for John deere and we have a team dedicated to making sure that our products don't use conflict minerals, which if I understand correctly means mined with slave labor. I know for a fact that we have all of our suppliers traced 6 levels deep just to ensure that the whole chain is okay. We can put whatever want on the list, though we sometimes run into problems because we are too small to get any chip maker to care. (electronics are about the only thing that we are small players in, our list is in general common with the likes of GM so there is a lot of pressure potential suppliers for must stuff)

That's not what conflict minerals means. That term means what it says: that the minerals come from a (civil) war zone where people are killing each other over the right to extract them. That extraction may well also include slavery in some places, but it's not exactly the same thing.

While this is not exactly the same, the idea is very similar. I was very surprised to find out the corporations drill multiple levels down through the layers of contractors to promote ethical stuff. That's impressive.

The credit must be given when it's due.

Those multiple levels have proved very powerful. When the big earthquakes hit Japan industry all over the world was quickly able to figure out parts of the supply chain was most critical, vs what could be sourced elsewhere. (as I recall all the pure silicon for chips is made in Japan, so those factories were given all the electricity needed, while other factories that had competition elsewhere had to wait to get the limited power left). Companies that had their suppliers traced out that far were able to work stay in production much longer than those that didn't find out until months latter when things got through all the levels.

If you want to be realistic about your actual effect on the environment that's literally what you have to do.

This is not some abstract game to be won. This making real changes in the real world.

And no: when the stakes are this high, it being extremely difficult is no reason to just assume it's impossible.

I Am Not A Climate Scientist. If you take issue with the 3 scopes model of greenhouse gas emissions, go argue with the EPA. Here's their explainer on it:


There are many more academic sources just a duckduckgo search away. (Or Bing, I guess) personally I find the MS blog explanation really clear, but obviously the EPA or a peer reviewed climate science journal are more reliable sources.

> emissions from their commute

Isn't stuff like this kind of out of their hand unless the state itself tries to fix this.

Not really, for a couple reasons:

1) They have enough money to start initiatives, even geographically dispersed initiatives, independent from the state

2) They have a history of working hand-in-glove with the city of Seattle and the state of Washington; it can be hard to distinguish "What Microsoft is trying to do" from "What Washington state is trying to do" sometimes.

Companies can help a lot by locating their offices in places that enable less carbon intensive commuting, lobbying local government, supporting initiatives that promote density, and supporting local transit initiatives (example: [0]). When businesses speak up and say, local business needs workers to be able to commute without a car, our competitiveness will suffer without it and we will fall behind, that speaks to a large number of voters who don't respond to environmental appeals.

[0] https://www.kxan.com/news/downtown-austin-business-leaders-s...

Most corporate campuses are located such that public transportation cannot serve it well. They tend to be isolated islands surrounded by parking lots and grass land, with no through street that transit could take that would get from on place to another. Thus the only transit ends at their building, this is okay for a zoo or shopping mall where people come and go all day, but offices tend to be everyone arriving at the same time and then no riders, so to make it worth while to serve you all day you have to be on the way to someplace worth serving. If you are not on the way then people with a choice will prefer to drive just for the one time that the kid gets sick and they have to leave early. (note places where traffic is a problem are also places that are on the way to elsewhere)

Yep. Carbon initiatives like the Microsoft one will force them to rethink the wisdom of building corporate campuses.

> people with a choice will prefer to drive just for the one time that the kid gets sick and they have to leave early

This used to be a major (underestimated, in my opinion) issue, and I used to bring it up all the time as something that needed to be addressed before people who were accustomed to driving would voluntarily leave their cars at home, but I think Uber and Lyft solve it, full stop.

Uber and Lyft are not a good solution. I could every trip on them as worth a weeks worth of driving alone since you don't know where those drivers are driving (or sitting stopped waiting for a call) when you call them. If everyone is normally using transit they are okay - but then there should be all day service to the campus so you don't need them. (I will agree if you say I'm over counting their environmental costs - I do that to make a point that is often ignored)

Or allowing work from home.

Work from home is useful, but there are real advantages to face to face conversation.

On the other hand, if people work from home then more people will focus on improving the "work-from-home experience" and making the business more suited for working from home.

>>supporting initiatives that promote density

This is not going to help you with "speaks to a large number of voters who don't respond to environmental appeals"

There is a MASSIVE over lab in people that do don't respond to (government regulation based) environmental appeals AND have no desire to live in densely populated cities.

Speaking as one of those people, the idea of living in an area of high population density is a non-starter for me, my current area is about 2,000 people per square mile that that is FAR FAR too dense for me. living in Seattle or LA with a Population density of 4x time is something nightmares are made of, and NYC at about 13x that is just a total night terror....

When people who don't like big cities are voting on transit and density initiative, it's because they live in or on the fringes of a big city. Most likely they are there because the money to be made is more important to them than their dislike of cities. Ergo, when business leaders say transit and density are needed for further economic growth, that message appeals to a strongly held value.

That's fine, you keep doing you. Just done stop other people from living the way they want to.

There is one group politically that wants to prevent people from living they way they want, and it is not Rural people

Not sure what "rural" has to do with this, because nearly all land in the US is rural and it's super easy to find any sort of rural life one wants, in addition to it being super cheap.

However, there is a massive undersupply of dense living in the US, because it has been legislated out of existence, not because people don't want it.

And I would point out that many "rural" towns have fantastic dense living in their core, that allow people to walk for daily errands, etc.

The real enemy of density is not rural vs. urban, because these do not tough each other at all. The people who prevent density are the suburban enclaves that, through heavy and excessive regulation, prevent people from building anything except for single family residential sprawl for miles upon miles, necessitating a car for something as simple as getting a pint of cream.

Which is the way that many people want to live, which is great for them, and they should be allowed to do that! But we need to stop letting them say to others: "I don't want to live in density, so you shouldn't have the very option of it because the mere existence threatens me."

I've been fighting for smart density in my town for quite a while, and no rural person would ever oppose this, because they are not in town! And I think they realize that the more people in town, the fewer crowding into their rural life.

Why would an employees commute be out of the hands of the employer? Companies already provide incentives to help employees with commutes: public transit benefits, wfh days, shuttle services.

It seems especially obvious at the moment that companies could simply eliminate tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of commutes instantly by letting the vast majority of their employees wfh permanently (or much more frequently at least).

Additionally it'd probably be pretty easy to brainstorm a dozen more less common ideas/incentives companies could start trialing: pay people to take public transit instead of just subsidizing partial costs, have more satellite offices or pay for wework type space, a welcome packet that includes an option for a bicycle and fitness trainer, additional shuttle services, long term plans such as working with the government to invest in bicycle/public transit infrastructure, etc etc

Because I can just not use those services and take my car to work? Like large employers can dangle some pretty substantive carrots but I don't think courts would let them get away with any sticks.

>Like large employers can dangle some pretty substantive carrots but I don't think courts would let them get away with any sticks.

The courts already let them get away with it. There's nothing illegal about discriminating against people based on their commutes. The employer can do anything they want, up to and including termination (or refusal to hire someone in the first place).

Commute discrimination already happens, here's one article detailing research on the topic: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-08-30/inner-cit...

Here's another article about it: https://www.boston.com/news/jobs/2018/03/26/no-offer-because...

No, they choose their location, and some tech companies provide transportation. Facebook is even building their own employee housing.

Look at the Apple spaceship. It will require tons of employee driving.

Companies do provide credits towards cycling and FB does this for even tube in London, but that will be still limited based on location. Though you are right about the location bit, they should force the hand of the state by speaking with their foot, I guess fear of losing talent opportunity scares them.

> Facebook even builds their own employee housing.

I wasn't aware about this, where are they building these?

Menlo Park, and apparently Google’s up to something similar in San Jose: https://levels.io/facebook-city/

Meh, if the tech workers lived in the city it would just be "gentrification". There's no winning.

Isn't this the definitive cultural bubble? Jesus.

The FAANG companies are so rich and so big that they’re now providing some of the commuting infrastructure for their employees in the form of buses. They certainly have quite a lot more control over their employees commuting impact than most companies, even if it isn’t total control.

Well, the model is not designed as a target for companies. It's designed as a way to categorize indirect emissions. It's 100% Microsoft's decision to take the broadest possible definition of their carbon footprint to target.

Where a public transit alternative exists, employers can often create strong incentives by limiting or charging for parking and/or subsidizing public transit.

Google could provide electric vehicles from zero-carbon-emission sources, if they wanted to.

No such vehicle exists. All vehicles require carbon-intensive processes in their manufacturing.

That's pretty much everything. I feel like that's a cop-out. Just as you can't be neutral on a moving train, you can't manufacture anything that isn't carbon neutral. Something somewhere is going to do something bad to the environment. Where's the goal post and how fast is it moving?

Isn't that better than petrol or diesel cars?

The short answer is yes, the long answer is "it depends on your local electricity generation but probably still yes." There are some places in the world where gas wins out because they burn coal to produce electricity but it's rare.

'There are some places in the world where gas wins out because they burn coal to produce electricity but it's rare.'

This statement always throws me - did we just make a complete context-switch from talking about car emissions to talking about gas turbines? Or is "gas" being used to refer to petrol ("gasoline")? The subject of the previous post was clearly cars, but that sentence is talking about gas and coal, better re-read the entire statement several times to double-check the context!

I don't want to be rude and shit on peoples' language, but FFS I hate the shortening slang-version of "gasoline" so much. THAT WORD IS TAKEN, IT MEANS VAPOUR.

It might be a US-ism? I've never heard anyone in casual conversion call it gasoline or petrol. You would get weird looks if you called it gasoline.

"You fill up your gas tank at the gas station and get a gas can just in case you get low on gas before you can hit the next station to gas up."

Not hard to see how it's confusing - you call it gas but it's not a gas, it's a liquid.

But it’s just a case of a word with two meanings that depends on context. That’s like the least weird thing that happens in English.

“You call returned soldiers vets, but they don’t work with animals.”

I always found the acronym LPG (Liquefied Petroleum Gas) funny for similar reasons.

The definition of the difference between gas and vapour is that a gas cannot be liquefied by pressure (so water vapour heated over ~374°C becomes a gas)

Reminds me of “I, Pencil”. Here’s Milton Friedman’s 2 minute video about it:


The sheer number of vendors google has makes it nearly impossible to be 100% carbon neutral.

If microsoft can do it, why not google? They have a vendor qualification process that includes a carbon assessment. Internal POs to the given vendor incur an extra "tax" based on the cost to remove (or offset, in Google's case) the calculated amount of carbon.

Large vendors already offer the estimated carbon emissions of an order, and they certainly do when Microsoft or Google ask them to.

Aside: the moral high bar MS sets here is being "net zero", which is quite different than carbon neutral.

> If microsoft can do it, why not google?

If you watch the two minute video or read the 5-page essay “I, Pencil”, you will see why.

The vendors’ vendors’ vendor is not in the loop. They will not know that the raw materials they are mining in a 3rd world nation are being consumed ultimately by google.

> to remove all the carbon Microsoft has ever produced

Does this include all carbon produced by all devices that have run MS OSes? All servers, computers, mobile devices, gaming platforms, etc.?

I Am Not A Climate Scientist, but here's the EPA's page explaining the three scopes model of emissions.


(IMO the MS post does a better explanation but this is obviously a more reliable source)

I doubt anyone counts indirect use of a general purpose tool, but hey read the link and you tell us.

How would one even begin to track that?

I assume MS has records of how many licenses they've sold (not much they can do about pirated software). They could come up with an estimate of how long a particular OS was probably used on average and calculate how man licenses were sold times how long they were used and then convert that amount of energy use into carbon credits. It's not perfect, but probably good enough.

Sorry, buts carbon offsets are utter BS. Google has a 500,000 square foot office in Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles gets 20% of its electricity from a coal plant in Utah. Power is fungible, you cannot select the source for your power if on the city's grid. Therefore, Google's electricity comes from burning coal.

Seriously, you cannot just cut a deal with the building next door and say, I'll give you a bunch of cash if you claim you're using the coal power so I can claim I am using the solar power. And then pretend to be carbon free.

> carbon offsets are utter BS

You seem to be mixing green energy and carbon offsets.

I'm not convinced that offsets are complete BS, even though a lot of bullshitting and optimistic metrics are likely involved.

"Additionality" and accurate measurement are usually the big questions. I'm pretty sure many "offsets" are just getting extra money from credit-selling for measures that would be taken anyways because they make economic sense, but in theory, additionality (e.g. by pushing something that wouldn't make economic sense into economic feasibility through the added reward from selling credit) is a requirement for offsets (or at least "high-quality" offsets).

Let's say you go to a third world country where people are cooking with wood on open fireplaces, and start handing out stoves that need 1/3rd of the fuel. (This is actually a real offsetting effort). You've not only improved the lives of those people, but you've also reduced the amount of wood that will be burned (and potentially forest that will be cut for it), which creates a calculable impact.

At least that's the theory. The carbon savings from all of these projects are estimated, and of course everyone involved is incentivized to make the project look successful by overestimating. For example, the cookstove projects' effects are disputed: https://www.climatechangenews.com/2016/08/10/are-carbon-mark...

Seems like its BS, but lets boil it down to a simple unit example:

Company g pulls 1 unit of electricity from a coal power plant that produces just that 1 unit of electricity. By buying carbon offsets, g indirectly funds a power developer to replace the coal plant with a solar plant.

In this example, offsets produce the same net reduction as building their own solar power plant. As long as you purchase offsets from reputable organizations that require the deployment of proceeds to directly offset carbon that would not otherwise have occurred, then it works.

Power may be fungible, but purchase agreements are less so. Someone has to contract with that coal plant. If nobody is buying from them they have to close. And if there's a lot of companies that want to give themselves a grain paint then there'll also be more demand for renewables than supply and more will have to be built. That is of course entirely dependent on the accounting being done correctly.

Right, that's what microsoft (nicely) says in the blog post, too. Read it! I promise it's interesting.

That's even their reasoning for targeting "net zero" instead. They are actually paying to have carbon removed from the atmosphere, and funding companies who are trying to make that cheaper.

> I have not read this article

Technically, this is also a small contribution towards reducing the carbon footprint.

Right. Just considering how Chrome uses energy on my Mac, I think they might have further to go before they are truly mitigating their own impact and reaching carbon neutral.

This is like rich countries moving factories to third-world countries where industry emits more CO2. They pretend to be responsible for less and less greenhouse gases even though they consume more physical goods, with larger carbon footprint. Worst, they feel fine flying and buying SUV because their not that dirty compared to people in undeveloped countries whose carbon footprint keeps increasing.

They aren't displacing factories to third world countries. They're displacing dirty power with cleaner power. Obviously this won't be sustainable forever, but it's a good start.

At least in europe, both have happened. A meaningful portion of the gains have been from deindustrialization of one kind or another.

This isn't an indictment of all carbon reduction. Most meaningful policies will have reshuffling. There are no perfect moves.

That said, it's important to try and get into the nuance, be skeptical. In this case, the guts are in the "what does carbon offset really mean?"

Any carbon accounting system (tradable credits, carbon taxes, etc.) is abstract. You can achieve "carbon neutral" by buying credits or by actually reducing carbon. FWIW, I think there definitely is a value to DIY as opposed to carbon accounting stuff. IE, powering your own data centre with clean energy is superior to using gas electric and offsetting that with purchased credits.

I've always been bewildered by the west's push to 'de-industrialize' it seems to be a terrible strategy to combat climate change and serves only to enrich corporations while weakening a country's geo-political position. Nations need to be able to produce things or they become dependent on other actors who have a track record of acting in bad faith, see China and Covid 19 PPE shortage as one example.

At least in the context I was speaking to, I don't think it was a "push." Deindustrialization (esp heavy industry) had been happening for a while. Environmental issues were one of the pressures, though that precedes the climate change agenda.

It just happens to be the case that when you look back at carbon reductions, deindustrialization is one of the key contributors. Clean energy too. A lot of europe already had a lot of clean energy though.

Displacing dirty power with clean power cannot bring your carbon footprint to zero. Your cleanest power cannot not emit. Google may become cleaner but that isn't the point.

Ofcourse it can, you can pull carbon directly out of the atmosphere and have negative emissions. Energy consumption of sequestation coupled with carbon footprint of solar/wind/nuclear works out to be nagative.

The IPCC stipulates negative emissions in the second half of the century.

Lastly, our carbon budget is not zero, if everyone kept to carbon budget of 3 tons of CO2 per person we'd never have climate change to begin with.

Isn't rest offsets? Like they helping cut emission from non Google things and using that to offset what they can't eliminate from their own emissions.

It still reduces emissions on the whole.

Not necessarily. They are buying renewable power, however, the actually generation that power their data enters come from the grid and includes coal and natural gas. When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, they are powered by coal, nukes, hydro, and natural gas.

Google would need to build its own grid to have it only use its own wind and solar. That is not reasonable.

Pretending to have an "all-time carbon footprint" to be "zero" isn't reasonable either.

Powered by nukes? That is not how nuclear reactors work.

But a ton of the "clean" power isn't clean. Solar needs to have standby fossil plants that keep at idle or else you get brownouts. Those high end molten salt solar plans take natural gas to startup. Most "wood chip" plants burn the same fast growing trees used by paper mills.

CO2 is a stupid thing to focus on. There are so many other forms of pollution that are so much worse. Factory cities in China that have lakes of toxic sludge waste. The massive amount of plastic particles in the ocean. Colossal e-waste from electronics only designed to last two years.

Real, meaningful changes that will stop environmental devastation require reduction of consumption. Unless Google finds a way to reduce their data center footprints, the CO2 numbers are most likely just cooked books; displacing CO2 with other environmental disaster.

We need to consume less things.

> Solar needs to have standby fossil plants that keep at idle or else you get brownouts

That's strictly cleaner than running the region on fossil plants only

> Natural gas to startup

That's strictly cleaner than running the region on natural gas only

>CO2 is a stupid thing to focus on. There are so many other forms of pollution that are so much worse. Factory cities in China that have lakes of toxic sludge waste.

Lakes of toxic sludge are bad, but they're a localized problem. Atomspheric CO2 balance threatens to crash the global ecology for everything larger than bacteria. Of the things you've listed, the risk factor for killing everyone is CO2 --> ocean plastic --> e-waste --> toxic sludge lakes.

> We need to consume less things

That'd be cool, but unfortunately, have you met humans? We've been trying the "Consume less things" approach my entire life; it doesn't take. We need the consumption to be more efficient and less environmentally impactful.

I understand your argument, but honestly, as someone living in a heavily polluted area, I couldn't care less about the CO₂ problem. When you have the immediate concern of people dying 15 years earlier than they might have, when your throat burns 300 days in a year, and you often can't see much farther than 400 meters, I would be very happy if we could just switch everything coal powered to natural gas.

As someone who also lives in a heavily polluted area, I agree, but I can also move.

Nobody can move away from the consequences of CO2 saturation. There's no second planet to move to.

Peaker plants are far dirties than base load plants.

> > Solar needs to have standby fossil plants that keep at idle or else you get brownouts

> That's strictly cleaner than running the region on fossil plants only

True, but from a CO2 and climate standpoint that's strictly dirtier than nuclear. And reducing emissions by enforcing good insulation norms, taxing the hell out of kerosene, etc.

Nuclear, of course, has its own dirty issue in sequestering byproducts (discounting the occasional meltdown, which---thankfully---is still generally a localized problem relative to CO2 emission's global threat, although it's not very localized... Chernobyl threatened much of west Asia and Europe in the worst-case scenario which, thankfully, didn't materialize).

It's a little hard to weigh those costs vs. benefits, since nuclear byproduct sequestration is relatively cheap but the consequences of failure are relatively high (dirty bombs). On the whole, I'd peg the risk factors for solar and wind as lower, but I'd still prefer to see nuclear plants replace fossil fuel plants if other options aren't available.

This is a problem of means. We don't have infinite resources to spend. For instance Germany spent 300 billions euros on wind and solar power since 2000. They decided to stop using nuclear, and are still burning masses of coal, and are still quite far away from clean electricity.

Would they have invested 300 billions in nuclear, Germany would run on 100% CO2 neutral electricity today, with an hefty margin (arguably 200 billions would have been enough).

Then while everybody speaks about electricity, they conveniently forget that it represents only 20 to 25% of all of our energy needs. The remaining 75-80% for industry, agriculture and transports are almost 100% fossil-fueled...

Looking in the mirror is enough. How much did you (and me, its nit about you specifically) spent as a student? 1k/month? How much you earn after tax? 5k? So if after 10years of work less than half a million on your account you spent on uneccessary things. (Ok... its all spent for the kids...)

Why the downvote. Seriously, if we believe we need to consume less, it might be a good idea to put it into perspective what that will actually mean for each individual. I am including myself into this as well.

> CO2 is a stupid thing to focus on. There are so many other forms of pollution that are so much worse. Factory cities in China that have lakes of toxic sludge waste. The massive amount of plastic particles in the ocean. Colossal e-waste from electronics only designed to last two years.

CO2, and other greenhouse gasses, are exactly what we should be focusing on. Sea level rise alone is more urgent than everything else you've mentioned, let alone unpredictable weather changes and their potential for causing war.

> Solar needs to have standby fossil plants that keep at idle or else you get brownouts.

There are lots of known ways to deal with this, including grid scale batteries and demand-response, both of which are now reaching the electricity market.

What we need is the political and cultural shift to support massive investment in these technologies. There will be room for natural gas as a bridge fuel, but coal has no future. And yes, it's not happening fast enough, and no snap of the fingers will do it.

> CO2 is a stupid thing to focus on

Only if you're willing to ignore the clearly visible impacts of global warming amplified destructive events worldwide. The waters are rising and the global warming denial island is getting smaller with every passing year.

> We need to consume less things.

We need to consume less-carbon-intensive things (hyphenation intentional). We can start by consuming longer-lasting things, consuming things whose materials are more readily recyclable, and reducing waste (where no utility is derived from the consumption). But the first step is to reduce the carbon intensity of things we already consume.

I actually help run a solar farm part time. Most of my work is to use a petrol powered snipper to cut all the weeds that are growing around it, and I wonder if cutting down trees to make way for solar lots is really the future? It's quite a big block of land that could be a forest or a park.

Also, the thing is that panels expire after 20 years, so new ones will need to be manufactured and the process to make them and mine the materials to make them is not exactly clean I guess..

Hawaii has one of (if the not the) largest solar farms in the world — and they use sheep for weed removal. We definitely should be reforesting land, but land that is already pasture has a lot of potential for regenerative agricultural practices which greatly increase the prairie’s carbon-capture potential. Particularly if animals are incorporated intelligently. One study showed that the panels themselves can actually help improve pasture soil.

Sheep produce methane which is far more harmful per unit mass than co2. I'm guessing sheep (especially plural) are less efficient than a fossil-fuel trimmer (maybe not after accounting for the carbon used to manufacture the trimmer?), but you could probably replace it with an electric trimmer and be even better off. Reasoning about carbon is hard.

It’s definitely tricky to reason about carbon. One potential improvement is the incorporation of seaweed into a ruminant’s diet, which can reduce their emissions by a third. There’s also progress being made on breeding sheep and cows that emit far fewer greenhouse gases. But it’s important not to ignore that the animals themselves play a key role in improving the soil (with proper management), which can lead to the storage of tons of carbon annually.

Methane dissipates in the atmosphere within ~12 years, CO2 takes hundreds to thousands of years.

Oh, interesting. TIL. Reasoning about emissions is hard.

if not for the problem of mitigating sand erosion, deserts seem well-suited for solar farms. I believe the statistic is that all the necessary power to power double humanity's electric consumption could be generated from a tiny patch of the Sahara---big enough to be seen from space, but tiny in the grand scheme of things (1)

(1) This is, of course, the foolish way to go about it, since distribution costs would be enormous and that kind of centralization is dangerous for a robust system. But it's a fun thought experiment to visualize the scale of the problem and the gap between the inefficiency of the modern system and potential improvements.

Battery operated trimmers have got very good. They used to be underpowered, but now they are as powerful (or more) and a lot quieter. I suggest that you ask for a modern battery replacement. Just make sure you get the battery in a backback, the battery is slightly heavier and lasts longer so you don't get as many breaks

> But a ton of the "clean" power isn't clean.

Emphasis on a ton — not all. Nuclear basically is. And as of this millennium at the latest it’s been safe. The nuclear deaths in the US add up to a grand total of 0 (zero). That’s better than eg. wind can say — at least one turbine has burst into flame during maintenance, forcing the workers to choose between burning or leaping to death. Google’s Ivanpah solar plant has also killed thousands of birds by burning them so they plummet out of the sky (not to mention the endangered desert tortoises who lose their habitats when land is bulldozed for solar, or human injuries from falling of roofs while installing solar panels).

And of course CO₂ danger is exaggerated, most scientists from the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union for the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) don’t believe there will be catastrophic effects of global warming (including from more potent greenhouse gasses like methane) in the next 50-100 years. And deaths from natural disasters are declining.

Both Fukushima and Chernobyl raise serious questions about the safety of nuclear power, unfortunately.

> And of course CO₂ danger is exaggerated, most scientists from the American Meteorological Society or the American Geophysical Union for the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) don’t believe there will be catastrophic effects of global warming (including from more potent greenhouse gasses like methane) in the next 50-100 years.

Have they looked into what's going on in the west coast of the US right now?

> Have they looked into what's going on in the west coast of the US right now?

Despite the current fires, wildfires are down and have been for decades. A lot of the current wild fires stem from reducing the number of controlled burns we use to do.

Also there is quite a significant amount of arson:

https://archive.is/GWLYq, https://archive.is/cFPbd, https://archive.is/xHiFO, https://archive.is/mhKtG, https://archive.is/US23e, https://archive.is/JyfJe, https://archive.is/owMeD, https://archive.is/rl2cm (and there are a ton more)

> wildfires are down

14 of the 20 worst wildfires have occurred in the past 15 years, and the size of fire season is growing.


Again, as of the last millenium at the latest. Chernobyl was last millenium. Fukushima was a tsunami. There were 0 (zero) deaths from radiation there (and ironically, perhaps there were deaths from irrational fear of it — from the rushed evacuation — perhaps it would be better named FUDushima). And tsunamis don’t happen in the US.

The west coast has had catastrophic human intervention in the natural fire cycle, piling up fuel year after year until it was too big of a hazard for humans to handle. https://www.wsj.com/articles/californias-paradise-lost-15420...

> Fukushima was a tsunami

Tsunamis, by themselves, don't contaminate ocean-water with radioactive material to a density high enough to create a 10-km no-fish-zone. https://www.nippon.com/en/japan-data/h00664/fukushima-fishin...

And while Chernobyl didn't happen in the past 20 years, I think it's naive to consider nuclear power safe when a continent-threatening disaster occurred in the past 40 years. "One massive disaster per generation" makes people justifiably leery. Personally, I think the grand calculus may tilt slightly in nuclear's favor over fossil fuels, but the risk can't be swept under the rug.

> The west coast has had catastrophic human intervention in the natural fire cycle, piling up fuel year after year until it was too big of a hazard for humans to handle

This is a concern, but I think we shouldn't discount that the hottest years recorded in California history of record-keeping have been, with only a couple exceptions, the most recent years (https://www.climatesignals.org/sites/default/files/resources...). The "natural" fire cycle will get further and further from its historical nature as ambient temperatures climb and rainfall diminishes.

> Tsunamis, by themselves, don't contaminate ocean-water with radioactive material to a density high enough to create a 10-km no-fish-zone

OK, fair enough, I think it may be a good idea not to build nuclear reactors in potential direct paths of tsunamis, or at least not on the seashore <20 meters above sea level, when there’s a local fishing industry, to minimize economic risk. But if the fact that the most powerful earthquake ever recorded in Japan, the fourth most powerful earthquake in the recorded history of the world, causing the only nuclear “disaster” to share the same maximum classification as Chernobyl, killed at maximum one person singular, a thousand times less than an average year of rooftop solar https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2008/03/deaths-per-twh-for-all... § The safety issues with Rooftop solar installations / http://www.osha.gov/Publications/Construction_Fatalities/Con..., “raise[s] serious questions about the safety of nuclear power,” I don’t know an appropriate adjective to describe the questions raised by one form of solar killing 3 orders of magnitude more yearly.

(Edit: On fires)

Heat may exacerbate fires, but it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t burn what isn’t there, and there simply wouldn’t be anywhere near as much flammable undergrowth, etc. if firefighters didn’t fight to prevent nature from removing it in smaller, safer quantities. The number of deaths from natural disasters relative to population is decreasing and there’s no reason for the west coast to be an exception (other than blaming the weather and ignoring inconvenient facts and logic).

Forest fires don't generally move fast enough to cause mass death. The property damage in the West coast, however, is extraordinary.

>...Personally, I think the grand calculus may tilt slightly in nuclear's favor over fossil fuels, but the risk can't be swept under the rug.


No one except the Soviet Union said the Chernobyl style plants were reasonable designs. That kind of design would have been illegal to build anywhere else in the world.

The death rate from Fukishima is far less than the death rate from any properly working fossil fuels source (or wind or rooftop solar for that matter). One estimate is that worldwide use of coal causes up to 800,000 deaths a year - this is much worse than all deaths from nuclear, including the bombs that were dropped on Japan!


A NASA estimate is that the use of nuclear power has saved approximately 1.8 million lives in the years 1971-2009:


No one ever promised that there would never be a nuclear accident - that would be unrealistic for any power source. But historically nuclear power has been safer than all the alternatives that were available.





Unfortunately anything at all related to nuclear is covered by the media orders of magnitude more than other power sources so many people have an understandable perception that it is much more dangerous than other sources of power. 200 thousand people had to be evacuated in CA a couple of years ago because of a lack of maintenance on a hydroelectric dam could've let to catastrophic failure. We got lucky that time as the rains stopped just in time, but how much did the media cover that story? How much would they have covered it if 200 thousand were evacuated because of a nuclear power plant?

It is possible there will be some major advances in grid storage that will allow us to stop using natural gas to cover for the intermittent nature of wind and solar. But what if that doesn't pan out? The dangers we are facing in the coming decades are immense. Is your fear of nuclear power so great that if you had to choose, you would prefer the world to suffer through catastrophic climate change rather than use nuclear power?

> don’t believe

Didn't, in thirteen years ago, when that survey was conducted.

Please do provide a more recent survey of comparable experts if it’s possible.

Very well said.

I wonder (actually I really dont - it is clear that it doesnt) if 0 emission include also creation of silicon resin, PCBs, wiring, electricity,... And to back up parent claim - where where they produced?

I am not saying it is nothing - surely better than nothing - but it is "a tad" spitting into the sea.

The major footprint comes from heavy industry that is creating the materials so google can actually operate and if I would be sarcastic - they actually create a greater need for materials where its production produce large amount of emissions.

I would even claim, that they would do far more if they would stop showing ads. The electricity footprint on world wide scale must be enormous - not from google serving them but actually reaching destination and browsers processing them - and not all electricity is coming from "green" sources.

I can claim 0 emission for myself except from (sorry, I just had to say it :D), farting and breathing. But once I start to count in how my food was produced, how the goods I am using were produced etc. this is just not true. Anyway as a decades long vegetarian, strictly driven on public transport or bicycle (:D) I do my best here.

This is just publicity stunt from google PR and it doesn't really mean anything.

But looks like it worked. BBC cached it and is doing an article about it.

Reduced to 0 is 0 net emission.

Compare: a company dedicated to nothing but planting trees can reduce its carbon emissions extremely quickly, well past the point where they're at net negative carbon emission, even though it probably took gasoline to drive the trees out to the planting site, the laborers eat food, the truck was made in a factory, etc.

Your 0 emission statement suffers from exactly the same criticism you're firing at Google. How was your bike built? How was your bus/train built? What's powering your bus/train? Also the assumption that a vegetarian diet is 0 emission is wrong - you're relying on a massive (oil-fueled) production system that emits a lot, to provide you with the food you buy. Sure, it's less than would be necessary if you ate meat but it's certainly not 0 emission.

Edit - I need to read more carefully, OP already went into this, apologies.

I think that I have explained it very well and I have put it there as an example why the claim from google is a fallacy.

> once I start to count in how my food was produced, how the goods I am using were produced etc. this is just not true.

I wasnt clear enough?

Sorry - I think I read too quickly (assuming you didn't edit your comment?).

Nope, I didnt. This was the whole point why I even put the statement there.

Emissions embedded in durable goods, that is the heavy industry you are talking about - are not actually that major.

Heating, electricity, transport and food are by far the majority of our emissions. Industrial processes are like 15% of uk emissions or so

Does the 15% count in the production of any of the industrial processes that have been simply displaced to other locations?

I don't get the analogy - could you explain more?

Disc: Googler.

I rephrased my comment (hopes it help). Another mediocre analogy on the subject that you may find both relevant and funny:

"I spread germs all over town today but I bought coronavirus offsets so we’re all good". via https://twitter.com/WeiZhangAtmos/status/1245890907511181312

Isnt this effectively what all governments are doing?

Paying people to stay home so that other people with essential roles can carry on with less chance of spreading covid?

No. That would be the case only if essential workers were using their government-issued permit to go to night clubs without mask nor physical distancing, and pretend to not spread germs because others are staying at home.

As far as I can tell the only problem with offsets is that it's difficult to account for. If you buy offsets for 1 ton of carbon, it's difficult to ensure that the offsets represent carbon that would actually be added to the atmosphere if not for that funding. Is your comment just extreme pessimism about the efficacy of the auditors or are you remarking that one can't offset their carbon (i.e., co2 isn't fungible)?

I don't think the analogy works; what would a coronavirus offset be?

Hrm, that's not a bad idea. Perhaps if we use the market to fix the pandemic. The Invisible Hand covering your mouth when you sneeze.

Google's energy consumption to make goods is zero. Achieving similar zero carbon foot print is next to impossible for lower profit margin fertilizer production. ( i.e. third world countries, as a whole, are working at quite less profit margins, and because of that, have trouble achieving similar zero carbon footprint. Ultimately All the profits are moving to west.

Weird time to flex, right?

Here's why offsets are bullshit. Imagine that I go and plant trees every weekend, because I like them and because I don't want to see my world burn. I'm planting trees, everyone is happy. One day, someone contact me and say "I like your work! Would you like to receive 50 cents for every next tree you plant? I want to support you. Just print a paper certifying that I'm supporting your work". I can't refuse that offer, right? I'm getting paid to plant trees! My new treelover friend is happy too: he's saving the world, and he can travel all over the world without remorse, since he's offsetting his flights.

To be clear, this isn't an indictment against carbon offsets, it's an indictment against fraud, because your hypothetical carbon certifier is committing fraud. Carbon offsets are supposed to represent a decrease in emissions or sequestration that would not otherwise happen without that funding. A proper example would be funding someone to go around $somePoorCountry (where wood fuel is common, highly polluting, and bad for respiratory health) and replacing their wood-burning stoves with electric stoves, and then revisiting that country every few years to make sure those new electric stoves are still in use.

Your analogy misses a critical component: Your 50 cent stipend is typically attached to doing more than you were doing before.

And while the point of your analogy is clear, your neighbor could only travel the world without remorse if they fund a huge number of new trees.

Offsets are not as illogical as you make them sound.

>typically attached to doing more than you were doing before.

I'd love to read the details.

Here [0], Easyjet pretend to be offsetting 100% carbon emitted during their flights: https://www.easyjet.com/fr/developpement-durable

Where are the huge Easyjet forests? Planted just so the rich can fly?

I'm sure they have some kind of contract, somewhere, but I can't verify that. And of course any "new" tree can be attached to an offset, that isn't the problem. How can a third-party says that this tree wouldn't have been planted otherwise, when whole world has no choice but go greener/cleaner? All those who make genuine efforts would be stupid not to take the cash (prisoner dilemma). Carbon offsetting is buying time to slow down changes in devastating behaviors.

Are you being willfully obtuse or do you seriously believe the only way (or even the most effective way) to lower carbon emissions is by planting trees?

He's saying when companies buy carbon offsets, they're potentially just giving money to people who would've planted the trees anyway.

Right, but (1) there's no evidence to support this, the whole point of offset certification is to prevent this sort of fraud and (2) there are lots of more effective carbon offset initiatives than planting trees, so of course we shouldn't expect to see massive new EasyJet forests.

You have accidentally made a point in favour of paying for planting trees while from the tone of your post the reader is lured towards the conclusion that it's somehow bad.

Reminder: Tesla is only profitable because it sell carbon tax credits to makes of ICE vehicles so they in turn can produce the less efficient cars which are basically just status symbols.

I have heard about similar things about hybrid car sails in the EU.

But I wasn't able to find any articles wrt. that anymore, so it might be wrong or outdated.

I'm always suspicious about carbon offsets. From what I've seen buying flights for example, the price seems surprisingly low. Either being carbon neutral is not as economy-killing as some say, or the true price is much higher. Does anyone have more expertise on this?

> Either being carbon neutral is not as economy-killing as some say, or the true price is much higher.

I think the distinction you're overlooking is marginal price vs true price. It could easily be the case that reducing carbon on the margins is cheap.

Going from 100% of current levels to 99% may involve giving up some very low value activity. Especially because in most of the world the cost of carbon emissions is zero to begin with. But going from 1% to 0% could be extraordinarily costly, because it involves the highest value usage of carbon.

Another way to think about it is that carbon offsets may be very cheap, because so few people buy them. If the practice became more widespread, either because of social norms or government regulation, then the demand could easily push up the price to where it does become a significant cost.

Pricing carbon emissions is tricky, obviously. A recent analysis put the cost of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at between $34 and $124/tn[1], depending on when you start the pricing. I was surprised how low these prices are.

[1] https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/08/new-carbon-price-foc...

Assuming only a small proportion of polluters are offsetting I would expect to pay towards the bottom end of the range. The more expensive offsets need only be considered once we approach net zero.

The issue is that this price doesn't scale. Let's say that the current price of an offset is $5/ton-of-co2. Let's say that presently all offsets are being put toward replacing inefficient wood-burning stoves in third-world countries with much more efficient electric stoves, because it's the cheapest way to reduce carbon emissions. Right now, only a very small amount of offsets are being purchased (relatively little carbon is being offset); however, if lots of offsets were to be purchased (lots of people trying to offset their emissions) then we would run out of wood-burning stoves to replace with electric stoves and people who sell offsets would have to finance a more expensive type of carbon-reducing project, increasing the per-ton cost of a carbon offset. As demand for offsets rise, that new more expensive project would run out as well, and we would have to move onto increasingly expensive projects and the price of offsets would continue to rise.

In other words, if the whole world were trying to offset its carbon emissions, the price per offset would rise dramatically.

The idea is though, once the low hanging fruit of cheap offsetting dries up, causing offsets to become more expensive, the more appealing the price of carbon neutral energy becomes.

Say now the reason people still burn coal is because it's cheap and you can offset it cheaply, once offestting becomes more expensive, you may as well spend the same total amount, but buy green energy instead of coal+an offest.

Absolutely. Carbon offsets are a pretty cool solution, but I really want border-adjusted carbon taxes (border adjustment is a tax on imports from countries without a carbon tax so we don't just ship our carbon emitting work overseas). I favor carbon taxes because they're mandatory and more fool-proof (it's easier to measure carbon emitted than carbon that is not emitted).

Ahhhh I thought the offsets were "standalone positives" , like planting trees. Indeed if an offset can be helping others reduce, it's definitely a lower cost (and less scalability, as you point out)

Yeah, I had the same experience when I learned about this stuff. It's really interesting; the trick is quality assurance--making sure that the carbon offset you buy actually represents 1 ton of carbon being removed from the atmosphere, or more commonly 1 ton that would have been added to the atmosphere but won't be on account of your offset. As far as I can tell, the difficulty of QA is the only valid criticism of offsets.

being carbon neutral is not as economy-killing as some say

I think this is a big part of it. Just look at carbon tax proposals. A commonly suggested initial tax is $40/ton. My family racks up about 4-6 tons of CO2 each year driving. That's $160-240/yr. By comparison, registration is ~$300 and insurance is ~$700.

A large portion of the voting public opposes virtually all regulation & taxes simply on principal. For this cohort, it simply doesn't matter what the math says.

What's really nutty is that if it were a tax and dividend system, the majority of households would actually end up with more money back in their pockets. That this hasn't already been implemented is absolutely maddening.

You're already taxed (potentially a lot) on fuel. Adding another tax that's harder to measure consumption for seems like a bad idea.

I'm not really stumping for the carbon tax here, it's mostly just a thought experiment on the relative significance of pricing carbon.

I have to add though, while carbon taxes would have challenges to implement, adding a carbon tax to fuel specifically is not hard to measure at all! We know exactly how much carbon is in the fuel. A $40/ton carbon tax means +$0.36 per gallon of gasoline.

P.S. The US federal fuel tax ($0.18) was last increased in 1993, and was not indexed to inflation.

The fuel tax generally doesn't even cover the full cost of roads. It doesn't even start paying for carbon offsets.

That's just because introducing a new tax opens a new avenue for taxes to increase in the future. Even if it's not significant now, the infrastructure will be in place to increase taxes later (after all, the first income tax was a measly 3%). Whether it's reasonable to expect this tax to increase significantly is of course a different question entirely, but the visceral gut reaction to yet another tax is somewhat understandable imo.

Now don't get me wrong, I am in favor of carbon taxing as it's probably one of the best tools we have to fight climate change. But the only way something like this is going to see widespread approval is if all of the proceeds are guaranteed to be paid back to the people and not disappear into the ether of government bureaucracy.

Because so few people are interested in offsets right now, there's a huge amount of "low-hanging fruit" options for cheap things humanity can do to offset carbon emissions. For example, look at some of the projects here: https://www.goldstandard.org/take-action/offset-your-emissio...

Many of them just involve getting very poor people access to clean water (so they don't have to burn hydrocarbons to boil the water) or cleaner-burning cooking gases. Prices are as low as 10-15 USD per tonne of CO2.

If we ever make a serious attempt to decarbonize the entire economy, we will run out of cheap/easy options and be forced to make harder, more expensive tradeoffs.

> Because so few people are interested in offsets right now, there's a huge amount of "low-hanging fruit" options for cheap things humanity can do to offset carbon emissions.

Yeah, that the trick. To put it boldly: What they offer is not sustainable. This means that these green initiatives hide the real price of CO2 or at least give a very wrong impression.

That statement is too bold -- the price of a CO2 offset is not a constant. As the easy methods become exhausted, we'll have to move to more expensive methods, yes. But currently there's still an absolute glut of fairly-cheap CO2 reduction methods that just aren't being done, or wouldn't be done without the offset pricing, so it's still a net benefit to do them.

> the price of a CO2 offset is not a constant.

Well asymptocially it is. And then the real intersting stuff happens, because economy becomes aligned.

> But currently there's still an absolute glut of fairly-cheap CO2 reduction methods that just aren't being done, or wouldn't be done without the offset pricing, so it's still a net benefit to do them.

There also is a net harm if people get the wrong impression of what the real cost of CO2 is.

What is the "real cost" of a loaf of bread? It doesn't make sense to talk of things as if they have an absolute inherent dollar value, as both the cost to produce these things and the relative utility of dollars both change. The asymptotic bound assumes current technology and current dollar values, which are both going to change in the tens of years involved.

Some of these sound like double counting too.

Like you can fund an already-built wind turbine plant - the capital is already built, so even without your funding this is going to stay open...

But even if we forget that, the people buying energy from these plants will be buying a 'green megawatt' - so surely that means each megawatt will have been both offset and sold as 'green energy'?

And then to add to that - these power plants are also claimed against national emission reduction targets (at least the one in Indonesia is) and were actually built as part of a government fund - so then it's kind of triple-counting too!

(i.e. well for every green megawatt we sell, the company we sell it to gets to say they have a green megawatt, the offset company gets to say that they offset a megawatt, and the government gets to say it's generated 1 megawatt of green energy! In reality no actual carbon was saved other than the government intervention)

Or how Canada can claim forest growth as carbon reduction, but then not count forest fires towards their carbon emissions...

> cheap things humanity can do to offset carbon emissions


Sent to the third world countries you mean?

In general. Fewer people == Less Carbon

Not buying the access to clean water = less burning of hydrocarbon.

The poor people by definition are resource strapped and will use any means of energy available, just for different purpose.

On the cynical side: clean water -> less mortality -> more population -> more carbon use to sustain said population.

It's pretty well established that lower mortality leads to less reproduction and lower overall population. When mortar is high, proof reliability over correct with extra "cushion" children.

Wealth is a far larger source of pollution than life.

> Wealth is a far larger source of pollution than life.

It's both. Wealth drives down the birth rate (as does empowerment and higher education of women [1]), but it also drives up the rate of pollution [2]. You need "Clean Wealth" (high quality of life with low or zero CO2 emissions, pollution, etc) if you want lower birth rates (which we do, we're on track to hit 10 billion people by the end of the century) and less pollution.

[1] https://ourworldindata.org/fertility-rate#what-explains-the-...

[2] https://ourworldindata.org/explorers/co2?tab=chart&xScale=li...

clean water -> less mortality -> less population (as people stop having extra children) -> roughly the same amount of carbon.

Yeah, but there is an "initial surge" of lots of additional people before the mortality-rate signal lowers it (maybe 2-3 generations?) And then you're stuck with a lot of people that are now consumers and generating more carbon than if you just told them "No" in the first place and gave them a good quality of life improvement. We're watching that happen right now, we're many generations in and most of the 3rd world is not slowing down their population growth fast enough despite lowered mortality rates.

Way I see it, any help or financial aid to 3rd world countries (with high birth rates) needs to be coupled with comprehensive and mandatory contraceptive, health-information and birth control drives that is overseen by independent 1st world entities such as the WHO with the intent on lowering mortality rates and birth rates. And if these countries' birth rates don't start following a downward trajectory after a short period, then stop giving fancy aid and switch to bare-bones humanitarian aid. Seems way better than "lending" them the money they need and then making them dependent on the 1st world in perpetuity.

> mandatory contraceptive

Starts to sound a lot like eugenics.

All the evidence suggests that if you raise standards of living and give women control of their own fertility, then birth rates drop naturally (and fairly rapidly). Turns out, when given the choice, most women prefer to have one or two children. This trend has been replicated across (all?) developed countries with very different cultures.

There's no reason to believe the kind of coercion you're proposing is necessary, if you could even justify it ethically.

I didn't say mandatory contraceptives, there was a whole sentence you missed the ending of.

"comprehensive and mandatory contraceptive, health-information and birth control drives"

You make it sound like like I'm saying people need to be forced to use contraceptives. Guess the phrasing is not great. Maybe 'program' would have been better? But the mandatory modifier was on the drive/program, not the usage of contraceptives.

It still seems very ethically dubious to me to have a bunch of rich people (with absolutely massive carbon footprints) telling a bunch of poor people they need to get their birth rate down.

If you were serious about a programme like this, you should at least phrase it in terms of carrots, not sticks: if you embrace feminism, educate and empower your female citizens, we'll reward that with increased foreign direct investment.

I once thought the same as you, so I did a quick estimation calculation. This is very back-of-the-envelope, so take it with a pinch of salt.

The flight in question was a roughly 1500 km + 1500 km = 3000 km roundtrip. I remember the airline offered to make my flight CO₂-neutral for about €20 or so. ICAO's emissions calculator [1] put my total contributed CO₂ emissions at about 280 kg. An economically very very inefficient baseline for counteracting CO₂ emissions is just extracting it from the air and storing it [2]. This is hard and expensive because the concentrations are so low in the atmosphere in general (away from emissions sources), but even in that case, numbers from pilot projects come out at $94-$232/ton [3]. Taking the optimistic estimate, that would mean my emissions could be undone for as little as roughly $26. Things seem to work out in roughly the right ballpark.

Of course the airline doesn't use direct air capture for this offsetting, but I looked into it and seem to recall the money going to sane projects. Another comment points out some of the much lower-hanging targets for emissions reductions out there, and they are of course much more effective per buck spent than direct air capture: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24469438

[1] https://www.icao.int/environmental-protection/Carbonoffset/P...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Direct_air_capture

[3] https://www.cell.com/joule/fulltext/S2542-4351(18)30225-3

Who told you going carbon neutral was economy killing? And if it is, why are all the world's governments commited to doing it?

I think you can probably trace that information source back to someone who makes their money pumping CO2 into the atmosphere.

> And if it is, why are all the world's governments committed to doing it?

Committed is not the same is doing. Everyone was more "committed" for Kyoto too.

How many have actually done it though?

Because saying you're going to do it and actually doing it are different things? The former buys lots of votes, the latter not so much.

Because it would most likely mean forcibly destroying petrol powered cars, which is pretty economy killing as well as vote killing.

Consider: if you don't do that, you're emitting a lot of CO2. You could wait until everyone upgrades to electric cars but it takes several decades for the vehicle fleet to turn over, so even if everyone started buying nothing but electric now, it would take decades to phase out the old vehicles. And they're not all buying electric cars now. So on the kind of timescales that governments are making these "commitments" the only way to stop people driving petrol powered cars, given how useful they are, would be to seize and destroy them.

As for why they're committing to it, well, they still think academic models are accurate for COVID and are acting as if that's true. Climatology is mostly a modelling based discipline. 2+2 = ...

In bunch of countries phase out of ICE cars is planned for the 2030-2040 time frame.

But the details of that phase out are nowhere to be found. Given today's electric car sales and vehicle fleet turnover rates, if they started in 2030 and were serious it would require not only making all ICE cars illegal to buy, but it would also require seizing and destroying cars that were already in existence, to speed up the turnover rate.

Given that electric cars require new factories and supply chains to scale up, the chances of this being achieved by 2030 is minimal. Not only can't the cars be built fast enough short of some Manhattan-style program (very expensive for all but tiny countries), but neither can the factories that build the cars.

And this evades the whole question of people who like or want ICE vehicles for whatever reason.

I guess the price is low because no-one is buying offsets. You'd expect the cheapest ways to offset emissions to be sold first.

I always think the carbon offset offering for flights are only for peace of mind. I still have this mental note to look into it. I suspect prices include Value added Tax (around 20% in Europe) and a margin for the airline company. So not much left for a third party. And then I wonder how that is invested as well...

I looked into it a while ago after having my chosen airline tell me it'd cost $2 to offset, which sounds suspiciously cheap, and while I can't remember the exact third-party site I went to a remember their offset calculation being at least 10x greater.

I bet this is something that isn't regulated properly so we have Airlines straight up misleading customers about how much offsetting does cost.

To be blunt, carbon neutrality is indeed not economy-killing and you have been lied to by people who want you to believe that it is.

It's complicated.

For one, yeah, those offsetting companies calculate very generously. E.g. I once looked a bit into this and they make arguments like "we don't consider construction of the airport, because it's already there". The calculations for the offsets are also often calculated very generously, e.g. they often use the same mechanisms as the so-called Clean Development mechanism (which is part of the european emission trading system), which is known to overcalculate savings enormously.

The other thing is they offset things the cheapest way possible. That works as long as there are cheap ways to save carbon. It doesn't scale.

Yeah, it's like Shell was offering customers to pay one cent extra per liter of fuel to drive in a "CO2 neutral" way. If it really was that cheap to offset carbon emissions, we wouldn't have any climate problem by now, would we.


It seem's super cheap for planting trees. But it is not completely crazy. If I use the Lufthansa calculator to offset flights I roughly pay 20 Euro per 1000kg CO2 [1]. A litre of petrol produces roughly 2.3kg CO2. So roughly 450 litres produce 1000 kg CO2, meaning Shell can compensate CO2 for a quarter of the price of Lufthansa. It is suspicious, but with economies of scale it might be possible.

[1]https://www.lufthansa.com/am/en/offset-flight [2] https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/oee/pdf/...

This is quite impressive, but it is also somewhat meaningless. I suppose I'd draw an analogy to a cake shop boasting that it had achieved net-no industrial accidents over its existence - a great record, but also not really a particular stretch to achieve.

Carbon emissions aren't about servers. They are about, in order of priority:

* How do we feed people cheaply without fossil fuels (both as fertiliser & for crop transport)?

* How do we extract minerals cheaply (especially aluminium) without fossil fuels?

* How do we maintain the cheap logistics network that gets us stuff without fossil fuels?

The first two are non-negotiable, the 3rd is quite important. If those 3 problems were solved then fossil fuels would just go away quietly. Google isn't involved in any of those things; it is part of the 'these carbon emissions are incidental' category of emissions that we can reasonably get rid of.

But, again, good on them for setting clear goals and achieving them.

Yes, I agree that the title should be "Google data centers achieves zero carbon footprint", but still it is not zero effort to achieve it. I would imagine data centers to use non trivial power to run.

Wondering if that also applies to Alphabet as a whole or only Google. I find it especially interesting due to everyone screaming "but muh CO2 footprint", every time big ML projects are announced by them (e.g. AlphaGo) that use enormous resources for training.

a cake shop boasting that it had achieved net-no industrial accidents over its existence

I'm curious about how you offset an accident to get back down to net no accidents. Can you explain?

You contribute funds to a company that works on safety initiatives, then claim you prevented an accident that offsets the one you had.

You buy casualty offset from licensed companies.

Not sure it’s correct way to view the problem but in my mind if google could

1. Ensure all employees traveling to work had zero emissions

2. The production of energy to power their offices and servers produced zero emissions

3. The sourcing of materials to build and maintain the energy production produced zero emissions

4. The food required to feed the people working for them produced zero emissions

I think 3 and 4 are going to be the hardest for the world to figure out

1 and 2 we have good solutions either solar/ hydro or mass transit or electric cars. But the supporting infrastructure that’s harder maybe?

At Google at least there's some reasonable support for EV charging at work. The Mountain View office support for this is better than my own (Waterloo) where we have only 4 chargers for the entire office -- located indoors underground right in the office building making them competitive spaces that people use even though they don't need it.

But the infrastructure in California is actually quite impressive, and they were early to the game on that.

But better than making driving less CO2 intensive is to have people not drive at all.

Globally, data centers account for 1-2% of the worlds total energy consumption. Any efficiency improvement in such a big piece of total energy consumption is very significant.

> How do we feed people cheaply without fossil fuels (both as fertiliser & for crop transport)?

Agriculture (even without fossil fuels) has a far greater impact on the environment than all fossil fuel use combined. Why the focus on fossil fuels for all your points?

> Agriculture (even without fossil fuels) has a far greater impact on the environment than all fossil fuel use combined

Can I get a source for that claim?

A quick Google gives me the following:

> Globally, fossil fuel-based energy is responsible for about 60% of human greenhouse gas emissions, with deforestation at about 18%, and animal agriculture between 14% and 18% (estimates from the World Resources Institute, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and Pitesky et al. 2009


Here's a full infographic with sources [0].

I did watch this documentary, and while I don't agree with some of the conclusions or outlook, it does serve up some facts I wouldn't have looked into had I not seen it.

[0] https://www.cowspiracy.com/infographic

Cowspiracy's numbers on global warming are bull shit. That infographic attributes 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions to animal agriculture.

The US EPA says that 24% of global emissions are attributable to all agriculture and land use changes as of 2010:


The IPCC's more recent accounting says 23% of global emissions are attributable to all agriculture and land use changes:


Here's a detailed critical review of Cowspiracy from the Union of Concerned Scientists:


According to Cowspiracy, the major source of global warming pollution isn’t fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas, as the world’s scientists are telling us. No, it’s animal agriculture—not just eating cows, but all other kinds of meat, and eggs and milk and fish too. So the principal solution to global warming isn’t renewable energy. It’s for everyone to become a vegan.

Central to Cowspiracy’s conspiracy theory is the supposed “fact” that a 2009 study found that 51% of all greenhouse gases are produced by animal agriculture.

A good deal of the movie is taken up with interviews with people from environmental organizations, such as the Rainforest Action Network, Oceana, and the Natural Resources Defense Council, who don’t seem to accept this “fact,” and therefore must be part of the conspiracy to cover it up. Greenpeace politely declined, twice, to be interviewed, proving that they’re part of the cowspiracy too. ...

Can you provide an alternate source? I'm not sure if cowspiracy is adequate for the claim you are making.

This has been very commendable from Google, since they started working towards it.

Sure, there have been environmental impact from this as others have pointed out, but since they were one of the earliest movers on these things, we can expect them to run into issues which hopefully they will work towards fixing for everyone. Also, we do need to compare the impact with the impact of what it replaces to keep things in perspective.

I am glad that more companies have joined them on this, since it looks like it will be very hard to convince some governments to course correct on these issues.

This story is in reaction to the Amazon TV ad campaign that just launched pledging that Amazon will be carbon-neutral by 2040 and they're "not sure how we'll get there, but we will."

Obviously two tech companies with drastically different carbon footprints, considering Google doesn't own a global multimodal logistics fleet.

Correct me if I am wrong, but from the blog post, Google is claiming that they have been carbon neutral from 2007. They just took care of offsetting the emissions before 2007. The 2030 aim is to be carbon free. Not sure how it compares to Amazon.

disc: Googler.

> not sure how we'll get there, but we will.

This reminds me of Bezos’s announcement that Amazon would be making deliveries by drone by 2018.

What I love about that announcement is that it came right during Christmas shopping season. Hey everybody, we have nothing concrete to announce, but while we have your attention, remember that Prime is a great way to buy holiday gifts for people!

Offsets are helpful, but are not the solution. At best, they're a stepping stone.

The only sustainable solution is reduction in usage. I'm not sure how feasible that is, or how to achieve it necessarily, but that's the only sustainable basis to proceed on.

>I'm not sure how feasible that is

This is actually why I 100% believe we will not be able to change any amount of global warming, and if anything will make it worse as more and more countries become industrialized.

The only way to reduce usage is to change our lifestyles. Less consumption, less travel, less of the 'modern conveniences' people in wealthy counties have become accustomed to.

Maybe I'm too cynical, but I genuinely believe humans are incapable, en masse, of that type of sacrifice - the tragedy of the commons and whatnot.

The only time something will change is when everything crashes down around us because of major disruption, famine, migration, and other life-altering events. Only then will we change, but not by choice - only because we will have exhausted all other options to keep our soft lives the same.

In our situation, optimism is a moral duty. I understand the cynical attitude, because I have it at times. But I also think we can't just say there's nothing to do. I'm afraid that would strengthen the tendency of many people to downplay what's happening, and ignore the truth. Even in the face of disaster, I want to keep valuing truth, and I want to be surrounded by people who value truth.

> But the claim to have "offset" all of Google's historical carbon "debt" needs scrutiny.

> The company tells me its offsets so far have focused mainly on capturing natural gas where it's escaping from pig farms and landfill sites. But arguably governments should be ensuring this happens anyway.

Go figure.

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