Last year, Microsoft announced that it would be carbon-negative by 2030. “If we don’t curb emissions, and temperatures continue to climb, science tells us that the results will be catastrophic,” the firm wrote on its official blog. Microsoft deserves credit for discussing the climate crisis, being transparent about its own greenhouse gas emissions, and at least having some sort of plan to reduce them.
The elephant in the room is that Microsoft is one of the top 10 corporate buyers of commercial flights in the US. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, in the financial year 2019, the firm’s business travel alone accounted for 392,557 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.
That is far more than my entire Pacific island country emits in a year. Tuvalu is well-known for its vulnerability to the effects of climate change. We contribute almost nothing to global greenhouse gas emissions, but their consequences affect us on a monthly or even daily basis.
Microsoft’s high level of corporate air travel is not a good look for a company that talks big on climate, sustainability and racial justice, especially one that literally has its own videoconferencing platform. Surely an advanced tech firm that claims to be “reimagining virtual collaboration for the future of work” should practice what it preaches, crank up Microsoft Teams, and fly less.
Microsoft is hardly an outlier among tech firms. Five of the 10 largest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft. These digital giants, along with the big consulting firms, are among the top buyers of flights globally.
Although one might expect these big, growing companies’ large number of employees to fly to many meetings, there are plenty of even bigger employers that fly less. Companies that tout technological innovation as the key to tackling climate change should be savvy enough to use video calls, rather than shuttle employees around the planet on airlines that before the pandemic burned 7 million to 8 million barrels of oil per day — more than India.
In May last year, a paper in the journal Nature Climate Change found that the pause to aviation accounted for 10 percent of the decrease in global emissions during COVID-19 lockdowns. Given that only 4 percent of the global population took an international flight in 2018, and that half of all aviation emissions come from just 1 percent of the global population, this outsize impact shows not only how often the 1 percent fly, but also that flying is a function of privilege. According to the International Air Transport Association, many, if not the majority, of frequent flyers are businesspeople.
Microsoft, which is so committed to business travel that it has its own priority check-in lane at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, sits near the top of a highly unequal and skewed global carbon hierarchy. The wealthiest — and often the whitest — pollute the most, while those who emit the least — predominantly people of color, the socially vulnerable and inhabitants of the Global South, including the Pacific — bear the costs.
Comparatively wealthy flyers must recognize their responsibility to those less fortunate, who deserve to live without fear of global warming’s effects. Climate-vulnerable people want to maintain their homes and identities as citizens of their country, rather than being forced to migrate elsewhere.
If concern for equality and climate justice will not cure big tech’s corporate flight addiction, maybe money will. The profits of Amazon and other large technology firms soared during last year’s lockdowns, even when commercial flights were reduced to zero for many months.
Chief financial officers and accountants are therefore wondering whether the expense of business flights makes any sense. Employees can hold more meetings in a day over videoconference, and business flyers say the pause in air travel either had no impact on their productivity, or actually improved it.
Bill Gates has predicted that business travel will decline by half after the pandemic. If that is the baseline, then what would a company truly committed to urgent climate action do?
With that question top of mind, a coalition of non-governmental organizations, advocates and Microsoft customers launched JustUseTeams.com, calling on Microsoft to announce that it will permanently lock in all of its reduction in business flights last year.
Once Microsoft shows some leadership on this issue, the campaign would expand to other tech firms. On the road to net-zero emissions, any step that advances that goal while saving a company millions of dollars a year should be considered low-hanging fruit.
Tech firms would claim that they have been trying to pluck it, but their actions are inadequate to the climate crisis. Microsoft, for example, is part of an initiative to promote sustainable fuels, but the airline industry has consistently failed to meet its own targets for scaling up such fuels, which still account for less than 0.1 percent of the sector’s use.
Many big tech firms buy “carbon credits,” and maintain that this somehow erases or “offsets” flight emissions. This claim is losing whatever scientific credibility it might have had. A recent investigation revealed that the most popular carbon-offset scheme used by airlines is based on a flawed system, in which “phantom credits” are often sold on the promise to protect forest areas that were never at risk of being cut down. In reality, neither airlines nor their biggest corporate customers are in a position to claim that their flights are “carbon neutral.”
Microsoft and other big technology companies therefore must commit to remain permanently at their flight levels last year. This is possible, necessary and fair. It is also good business.
Richard Gokrun, a former meteorologist, is executive director of Tuvalu Climate Action Network.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
Russian President Vladimir Putin is an expert at bluffing and keeping the West on its toes, pushing relations to the edge before pivoting without warning. However, hemmed in and fuming, he is deadly serious about being heard on Ukraine. Those close to the Kremlin said that the Russian president does not want to start another war in Ukraine. Still, he must show he is ready to fight if necessary in order to stop what he sees as an existential security threat: the creeping expansion of the NATO in a country that for centuries had been part of Russia. After years of disillusionment
At a time when China continues its assertive policy toward its neighboring countries, the regime of Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Bhutan last month to resolve a longstanding border dispute. However, this is not the first time China and Bhutan have taken such efforts on this issue. Over the years, China has expanded its claim over territory in Bhutan. China claims over 764km2 of Bhutan’s territory, which includes Doklam, Sinchulung, Dramana and Shakhatoe in the northwestern region and the Pasamlung and Jakarlung Valleys in the central part of Bhutan. Although the two sides held
Among the voices expressing concern for Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帥) over the past two weeks, one was barely audible — that of her long-time former doubles partner Hsieh Su-wei (謝淑薇). Following their defeat in the WTA Finals championship match in Mexico on Nov. 18, Taiwan’s Hsieh and her Belgian partner Elise Mertens fielded questions via a Zoom call. Chinese state media had just released an incredibly suspicious e-mail, purportedly from Peng, and Canadian tennis Web site Open Court broached the issue. With the entire tennis world chiming in, seeking Hsieh’s opinion seemed obvious. However, the Web site’s reporter prefaced her question
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) sixth plenary session has ended and from all appearances, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has set the stage to rule for the rest of his life. Some might be tempted to declare that this calls for Xi to do a victory lap, but all is not well on the other side of the Taiwan Strait. To parody a line from Ya Got Trouble, a song from Broadway musical The Music Man: “There’s trouble in River City, (aka, Beijing). Trouble with a capital T, which rhymes with C for CCP.” Why? Taking control of a nation is always much