Show an ad over header. AMP

Big Tech takes the climate change lead

The tech industry is playing a growing role in fighting climate change, from zero-carbon commitments to investments in startups and pushing for the use of data to encourage energy efficiency.

Why it matters: Big Tech is already dominating our economy, politics and culture. Its leadership in helping to address climate change — and reckon with its role in contributing to it — could have similarly transformative impacts.

Driving the news: Amazon and Shopify revealed the first recipients of their investment funds this week, comprising $2 billion and $5 million, respectively. Microsoft has a similar fund of $1 billion.

  • CarbonCure Technologies, which makes climate-friendly concrete, announced investments this week from Amazon and Microsoft (among others). Shopify is backing the firm by buying offsets, credits of CO2 stored in the concrete made by its technology.
  • Other startups receiving tech money this week include Pachama, which uses artificial intelligence to preserve forests, and TurnTide Technologies, which makes more efficient motors for a range of purposes, including HVAC and refrigerators.
  • Amazon isn't disclosing the exact amounts of the investments, but they range "from hundreds of thousands in seed and early-stage investments to multi-million dollar investments," spokesperson Luis Davila said.

"Each one has something very different to offer," Kara Hurst, Amazon's global lead on sustainability, said at a virtual Axios event Thursday. "But, there is a unifying theme that they are driving decarbonization and they have the potential to lower our carbon footprint."

The big picture: Tech firms have been leading investors into energy startups since 2016, according to the International Energy Agency.

But, but, but: Tech giants are under pressure from their employees and the public about their own carbon footprints, and especially their deals with oil and gas companies helping them extract more fossil fuels.

  • In what is likely at least a partial acknowledgement of that pressure, Microsoft announced this week it was partnering with BP to help the oil giant cut its emissions.
  • “What you’ll see is a lot of the partnerships that we announce moving forward will have significant components to a net zero transformation as part of them," Lucas Joppa, Microsoft's chief sustainability officer, said in a recent interview with Axios.
  • Google announced this week that it's aiming to run all of its data centers and corporate campuses around the world on 100% carbon-free power by 2030. It said earlier this year it was not inking new deals with oil and gas firms (though it didn't have much business to begin with).

Between the lines: The amount of money the firms are investing is tiny compared to their bottom lines. PR concerns about corporate social responsibility is likely a driving factor too.

  • But “I don’t care about their motivations if it does some good,” says Nick Johnstone, chief statistician at the IEA.

The intrigue: Separate but related from the tech industry's investment ramp-up, a new coalition is forming called the Digital Climate Alliance. Revealed here for the first time, it will lobby lawmakers on ensuring digital solutions are part of climate policy.

  • Led by Intel and Johnson Controls, the group has six members and aims to more than double by next year. The coalition will lobby Congress to get a digital title into pending climate policy.
  • The other members are Trane Technologies, Xpansiv, The Water Foundry and Nautilus Data Technologies. At least one oil producer is likely to join, organizers of the group say.

How it works: One idea proposed in a recent peer-reviewed study is for tech companies to shift digital requests like web searches to data centers in locations where excess electricity, such as from solar in the middle of the day, is otherwise wasted.

  • Another component will assess emissions on a granular level, like a specific building or different types of fossil fuels.

What they’re saying: Digitizing energy data has “huge potential benefits” to cutting emissions, says Johnstone of the IEA. But there’s more.

  • “To be totally frank and not surprisingly, from the standpoint of our industry, it’s important because it’s a market,” said Intel policy director Stephen Harper. Intel’s chips help power data centers around the world.

Go deeper: Amazon stakes on climate startups

2020 early voting has already reached 61% of 2016's total turnout

Early voting in the 2020 election across the U.S. on Friday had already reached 61% of 2016's total turnout, according to state data compiled by the Elect Project.

Why it matters: The coronavirus pandemic and its resultant social-distancing measures prompted a massive uptick in both mail-in ballots and early voting nationwide, setting up an unprecedented and potentially tumultuous count in the hours and days after the polls close on Nov. 3.

Keep reading... Show less

Republicans gear up for day-of and post-Election Day litigation

Republican Party officials say they're already looking to Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Nevada as likely battlegrounds for post-election lawsuits if the results are close.

The big picture: As pre-election lawsuits draw to a close, and with President Trump running behind Joe Biden in national and many battleground state polls, Republicans are turning their attention to preparations for Election Day and beyond, and potential recounts.

Keep reading... Show less

Federal Reserve expands lending program for small businesses

The Federal Reserve said on Friday it would again lower the minimum loan size for its pandemic-era small business program.

Details: Businesses and nonprofits will be able to borrow a minimum of $100,000 from the facility, down from $250,000 — a move that might attract smaller businesses that don't need as hefty of a loan. Since the program launched earlier this year, the minimum loan size has been reduced twice.

Keep reading... Show less

Whoever wins the presidential election will steer the auto industry's future

President Donald Trump and Democratic challenger Joe Biden would likely steer automotive policy in different directions over the next four years, potentially changing the industry's road map to the future.

Why it matters: The auto industry is on the cusp of historic technological changes and the next president — as well as the next Congress — could have an extraordinary influence on how the future of transportation plays out.

Keep reading... Show less

Higher education expands its climate push with new degree programs, schools

New or expanded climate initiatives are popping up at several universities, a sign of the topic's rising prominence and recognition of the threats and opportunities it creates.

Why it matters: Climate and clean energy initiatives at colleges and universities are nothing new, but it shows expanded an campus focus as the effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent, and the world is nowhere near the steep emissions cuts that scientists say are needed to hold future warming in check.

Keep reading... Show less

The pandemic isn't slowing tech

Thursday's deluge of Big Tech earnings reports showed one thing pretty clearly: COVID-19 may be bad in all sorts of ways, but it's not slowing down the largest tech companies. If anything, it's helping some companies, like Amazon and Apple.

Yes, but: With the pandemic once again worsening in the U.S. and Europe, it's not clear how long the tech industry's winning streak can last.

Keep reading... Show less

Texas early voting surpasses 2016's total turnout

Texas' early and mail-in voting totals for the 2020 election have surpassed the state's total voter turnout in 2016, with 9,009,850 ballots already cast compared to 8,969,226 in the last presidential cycle.

Why it matters: The state's 38 Electoral College votes are in play — and could deliver a knockout blow for Joe Biden over President Trump — despite the fact that it hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1976.

Keep reading... Show less



Get Goodhumans in your inbox

Most Read

More Stories