Microsoft: We Need More Carbon Capture Businesses to Reverse Climate Change

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft's Chief Environmental Officer

Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental officer, speaks at the Techonomy Climate conference.

Stephen Shankland / CNET

Microsoft is trying to reverse its lifetime carbon emissionsthe total amount of the greenhouse gas it’s responsible for sending into the atmosphere since its founding in 1975. To get there, it needs more companies it can pay to capture carbon dioxide from the air.

That’s the word from Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s chief environmental officer, speaking at the Techonomy Climate conference Tuesday. Carbon capture is expensive and can not operate at anything like the scale needed to pull significant amounts of carbon dioxide out of the air. Microsoft wants to buy carbon capture services in part to advance the technology and bring its costs down.

“The market can barely support Microsoft’s demands. There’s just not enough supply,” Joppa said of carbon capture. “That’s fine now, kind of, but it’s not fine for 2030. It’s not fine for 2050. The rest of corporate America needs to get into this game.”

His call to action represents one facet of the tech industry’s attempt to wrestle with climate change. That includes efforts to cut the industry’s own climate footprint – for example, Google’s efforts to shift to renewable energy sources – and to capitalize directly with businesses that profit from fixing the climate.

At stake is whether humans can fight the climate change we’ve caused and its dangers: extreme weather events like storms, more heat, more drought and plunging biodiversity.

Microsoft is applying its purchasing power to carbon capture. “We came along and said we want a million metric tons. That blew the lid off the market,” Joppa said. “We bought 1.3 million metric tons in the first year. That was the vast majority of what the world had to offer.”

Idealab Studio Chief Executive Bill Gross, another Techonomy speaker, helped create one startup working the problem, CarbonCapture. Gross hopes it’ll eventually pull carbon out of the air economically and at large scale to lower carbon dioxide to the levels it was decades ago.

“We have to go backward in time if we want to give the same Earth I inherited to my children and grandchildren,” Gross said.

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