Microsoft's climate goals don't include cutting off Mitch McConnell

Microsoft, purported climate wunderkind, is still bankrolling the re-election campaign of America's most insidious climate denier.

Microsoft has been getting a lot of praise for its climate commitments lately. It’s not hard to see why.

Last week, the tech giant announced that it plans to make its operations not only carbon neutral, but carbon negative by 2030—meaning that in the next 10 years, the company will take more carbon out of the atmosphere than it emits. According to CNBC, Microsoft said it will “move rapidly to mop up the equivalent of every bit of carbon it has put into the atmosphere since its founding in 1975.”

When they say “every bit” of carbon, too, they apparently mean it. Microsoft wants to address not just the emissions from the company’s direct operations, but also its “Scope 3” emissions—meaning the carbon emitted from customer usage of its products, and all other inputs to those products. No other big tech company has done that yet.

Another thing Microsoft is doing that no other big tech company has done to this scale is investing heavily in carbon capture technology. Really, it has to do this to meet its goals—because as CNBC reported, “not all of the technology Microsoft would use [to suck carbon out of the atmosphere] is commercially available yet.” The amount Microsoft is devoting to carbon capture research—$1 billion—was chosen “to show that it’s a priority,” company spokesperson Jessica Dillon told CNBC.

But Microsoft also understands that $1 billion is nowhere near enough to achieve the rapid growth of carbon capture technology needed to meet its goals. So it’s encouraging others to invest, too. "This is a bold bet—a moonshot—for Microsoft," Smith said in announcing his plan. "And it will need to become a moonshot for the world."

Indeed, the entire world needs carbon capture technology to rapidly improve if warming is to be limited to 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius. (This has to happen alongside huge carbon emissions reductions, too. It’s not one or the other, as fossil fuel companies are trying to have everyone believe.)

“The company understands this is not something we can address alone,” Dillon said.

For all this, Microsoft has gotten a lot of press—and nearly all of it pretty good. Quartz called the company’s plan “a picture [painted] in brilliant technicolor of what direct action on climate and carbon reduction looks like.” On Monday, Microsoft was rated as one of the best corporations for sustainability in the United States.

But none of the coverage has yet pointed out that Microsoft likely requires policy changes from the U.S. government to achieve its carbon reduction goals.

And none of the coverage has pointed out that Microsoft is directly helping to ensure those policy changes never happen.

Microsoft is bankrolling America’s biggest obstacle to climate action: Mitch McConnell

As HEATED reported back in October, Microsoft is one of many purportedly eco-conscious corporations funding the re-election campaign of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—a man who has given fossil fuel interests disproportionate power over U.S. elections; packed U.S. courts with anti-climate judges; and aggressively targeted climate legislation and regulation directly.

Last year, Microsoft donated the $10,000 maximum to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s re-election campaign and $20,000 to the Bluegrass Committee, McConnell’s leadership PAC. 

As CNBC notes, “[carbon capture] technology’s use will likely need to be mandated by governments to become widespread.” Other governments are doing this through carbon prices; Europe, for example, is projected to raise $10 billion for carbon capture technology through climate taxes. And the United States could raise up to $180 billion if it instituted some sort of carbon fee.

But if McConnell is re-elected, it’s safe to say there will be no significant legislative action on climate change for the foreseeable future.

So why does Microsoft, purportedly the most climate-friendly tech company in America, continue to bankroll the re-election of America’s most insidious climate denier? It’s unclear. A company spokesperson who emailed HEATED notifying us of Microsoft’s climate plan did not respond to two requests for comment.

Microsoft also did not respond to HEATED’s request for comment on its campaign donations to McConnell when we reported on them in October.

Other critiques of Microsoft’s climate policy

There have been other critiques of Microsoft’s climate policy as well, most notably that the company will continue partnering with big oil companies like ExxonMobil and Chevron to use artificial intelligence to enhance oil discovery.

As Earther reported last week, “Microsoft holds multi-year deals to sell cloud services to Shell and Chevron, and is developing artificial intelligence technology with BP. In February, Microsoft announced a partnership with ExxonMobil that could expand the oil giant’s production by up to 50,000 barrels of oil a day by 2025 from the Permian Basin.”

“Teaming up with Exxon, BP, Chevron and others to extract more oil and gas is a major disconnect and makes the climate crisis worse,” Greenpeace’s Senior Climate Campaigner Elizabeth Jardim said in a statement to Earther. “To truly become carbon negative, Microsoft must end its AI contracts with Big Oil.”

Can Microsoft walk its talk?

Microsoft’s climate commitments are certainly ambitious, especially compared to other big tech companies.

But the challenge of climate change is almost overwhelmingly large, and up until this point, action from the world’s biggest companies has been overwhelming lacking. So action that seems very ambitious is still often not enough to meet the challenge.

Microsoft does, however, seem to recognize this fact, at least based on the type of language it uses to describe the problem. Microsoft has said it considers global warming a "crisis," and has called for "clear action" to "mitigate the worst impacts." It has said that “The time of raised ambitions and grand announcements without clear action plans is also past.”

The company has also said it is willing to make more changes in the future. “There is still much work to do within Microsoft to embed sustainability more deeply across the company and into all that we do,” it said in a recent blog post. “We are committed to doing this work and being transparent about our journey.”

We’ll update you if the company eventually responds to our request for comment.

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