Corporations Can’t Fix the Climate Crisis-The Utah Daily Chronicle
A few weeks ago, I stumbled ito YouTube video from Google. The video, posted on Nov. 18, 2020, provides a timeline of Google’s various sustainability actions, including achieving carbon neutrality in 2007. After watching the video, I found myself completely confused that Google was became carbon neutral, something that many other major companies are hoping to achieve next 10-20 years. And it’s not just Google – in early 2021, Announced by GM that they will have 30 options for electric vehicles by 2025 and will only sell electric vehicles by 2035. By 2020, a record number of companies have promised to reach net-zero emissions. Over the past 6-12 months, the commitment to climate action seems to have jumped to another level. For the first time in my life, going green wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the cool, economically beneficial thing to do as well. Every day, it seems like another company relies on the bandwagon to announce their carbon-neutrality goals. But not all carbon-neutrality claims are created equal, especially Google.
“Carbon neutrality,” “net-zero carbon,” “carbon-free” and many other terms are used to describe a company’s climate commitment, but the confusing meaning of those terms is difficult to understand. how the company interacts with the environment. To be carbon neutral, which Google has claimed since 2007, a company needs to purchase enough carbon offsets to balance carbon emissions from their operations. Google stated that most of their carbon offsets are derived extraction of natural gas escape from pig farms and landfills. While it is certainly beneficial for the climate to prevent methane gas from being released, buying carbon offsets allows Google to continue polluting while claiming carbon neutrality. As an incentive to do every business, companies will look for the cheapest carbon offset rather than the more expensive alternative of eliminating their own carbon emissions. With the cheap carbon offsets available, many companies will continue to calculate that producing more goods and services, and, thus, more carbon emissions, is the prudent financial thing to do. In a carbon offset economy, growth is good.
Let’s look at 2009, two years after Google’s carbon neutrality claims, as an example of how they interacted with climate. Based on an estimate provided by Google that year, every Google search account is about 0.2g of carbon dioxide released into the air. Of the approximately 800 billion searches to come in 2009, Google searches alone are responsible for 176,000 tons of carbon emissions. Google searches, of course, are only a small part of Google’s overall operation. Not only is Google still contributing to a culture of carbon emissions through carbon neutrality, but they are actively taking a role in weakening legislation that could greatly reduce our national carbon footprint. In 2018, the company donated to 111 members of Congress who voted against climate law 90% of time While Google has developed a more ambitious climate plan highlighted in their YouTube video, their lack of transparency and history has kept me cautiously optimistic about their ability to protect and restore the environment.
Changing Social Beliefs and Greenwashing
Real climate action may be less of a priority for major corporations, but its appearance is important. In 2017, 69% of North American consumers that they expect companies to take care of the environment. In other continents, except Europe, the percentage is higher. Then Australia’s historic wildfire season in 2020 and the similar wildfire season in the American West, climate change has become a more important part of the 2020 presidential election than any previous election. In 2016, approximately 2% of voters cited climate change as the most important issue influencing their decision; in 2020 it jumped to 12%, including 22% of Democrats. Coincidentally just two weeks after the 2020 presidential election, which the more environmentally-focused candidate won, Google posted a video on YouTube revealing that they had been carbon neutral for a decade. The general consensus about the severity of the climate crisis has shifted, and companies are paying attention.
Consumers appreciate the perceived retention of various companies and firms that care about convincing consumers to buy their products. Due to, primarily, time and energy restrictions, most consumers rely on businesses to inform them about the maintenance of their products. Greenwashing is the skill of showcasing a product, through marketing and misinformation, that is more environmentally friendly than this. Without easily accessible, transparent information about those products, it is impossible for consumers to know if companies are actually fulfilling their claims.
A Better Model
While Google failed to be upfront about their contributions to anti -climate lawmakers and chose carbon offsets rather than reducing their own emissions, another search engine built a new type of search engine, one with stated goal of combating climate change. In 2009, Ecosia was launched with the goal of using 100% of the profits from their search engine business to fund reforestation. Today, Ecosia has planted more than 125 million trees, providing communities in developing countries with well -paid jobs in the process. By 2020, 335% of their energy use will be generated from their renewable energy power plants. Between the trees they planted, the renewable energy they made, and the reductions they made in their own carbon emissions, Ecosia removed 10,000 times more carbon emissions than did last year. In addition, their employees are paid time off to take part in climate protests. All of this information is easily available on their website and published on their monthly financial report.
While I generally hope that increasing concern for climate change will lead to some corporate changes, I am skeptical that profit-motivated companies will be able to take meaningful climate action. Despite ambitious climate goals, I won’t be switching search engines anytime soon.