Trade-offs are more than just carbon credits when it comes to tech trying to combine sustained growth with sustainability.
Tesla’s move to buy $1.5bn in bitcoin illustrates the cutting-edge consequences affecting climate change. As our Moral Money newsletter points out, an electric carmaker that makes most of its profits from selling its carbon credits to its rivals is now investing in creating more carbon.
The intensive computing power needed to mine and validate bitcoin has already been calculated to produce nearly as much carbon as the nation of Sri Lanka. “Crypto does significant environmental damage without creating any improvement in living standards,” commented UBS economist Paul Donovan on Tesla’s move. “Can sustainability investors consider owning companies associated with crypto?”
Our Big Read on how Big Tech is setting itself climate targets includes criticism of Amazon from Greenpeace. With warehouses and delivery trucks as well as data centres, it is a far bigger consumer of electricity than Google or Microsoft, but has been slower to tackle the problem.
Rolf Skar, a campaign director at Greenpeace, says: “I think there is some hypocrisy, especially in some of the PR moves Amazon has made recently. There are a lot of headlines, and a lack of transparency, and a lack of specifics.” He highlights the support for carbon offsets in Amazon's climate pledge of reaching net zero by 2040, saying it could be a “false solution” to rely on buying credits, rather than cutting its own emissions first.
It is currently the biggest corporate buyer of clean power in the world. Its green deals covered just 42 per cent of its power consumption in 2019 but it aims to power all of its operations with renewables by 2025.
In the data centres, companies like Amazon and Google can upgrade to more efficient processors and servers, but the challenge is keeping up with the more intensive workloads of next-generation technologies, as AI, machine learning and the Internet of Things play more of a role.
The combined power usage of Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook and Apple is more than 45 terawatt-hours a year, about as much as New Zealand. The IT sector directly accounts for 1.8 per cent to 2.8 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, roughly the same as emissions from the aviation sector in normal times.
Whatever its shortcomings, Big Tech can’t be accused of not taking climate change seriously now, with companies racing to outdo one another and defined emissions targets set by all. The same can’t be said for the media in the shape of Rupert Murdoch. Simon Kuper’s latest column says his media empire is under pressure over its approach, which varies from downright climate denial to cheerleading for hydrocarbon industries to casting climate as a cultural-economic issue.
1. Microsoft Pinterest interestMicrosoft approached Pinterest in recent months about a potential deal to acquire the $51bn social media company popular with hobbyists posting home decor, food and wedding collages, we discovered. The talks are not currently active and Lex says, as with TikTok earlier, the interest in Pinterest is hard to fathom.
2. Investors make beeline for BumbleBumble, the online dating business, has made a match with Wall Street today, trading well above its initial public offering price in a surge that valued the company at more than $14bn. Shares debuted at $76 on the Nasdaq, 77 per cent higher than the price set the night before.
3. Uber food for thoughtRapid growth in Uber’s food-delivery business was not enough to offset dwindling demand for rideshares in the fourth quarter. Rideshare bookings were down 50 per cent in the October-December period, as lockdowns were reinstated in some markets. Revenue for the segment declined 52 per cent year-on-year, missing analysts’ targets. In contrast, its delivery platform continued to outperform expectations, generating revenues of $1.36bn, up 224 per cent on the same period last year.
4. Biden reviewing WeChat banThe Biden administration says it is reviewing former president Donald Trump’s proposed ban of the Chinese messaging app WeChat in the US, a day after announcing a similar pause to consider the fate of the video app TikTok. A court filing has requested a hold on WeChat legal proceedings.
5. The UK’s home-made vaccine programmeWith Britain vaccinating its population against coronavirus faster than the US and Europe, our Science editor Clive Cookson has the story of how vaccine manufacturing capabilities in the UK are being rapidly expanded from needing to mostly import to making enough “to supply vaccines to the UK population, provide vaccines to the world and leave the country a legacy for the future”.
Microsoft announced today it would make its dual-screen Surface Duo device available internationally from next week, plus US buyers can now benefit from a $400 price drop. The cut means the Duo is available for $999.99 (£724) in the US, which means UK buyers may find it somewhat less appealing when they realise they will have to pay £1,349 for the same product here when it is released on February 18. The Verge says its review on the Duo, launched in the US last September, had praised the hardware but found the buggy modified version of Android for the two screens made it difficult to use at times. Updates since haven’t done enough to improve the software experience, it says.