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  • Writer's pictureKartik Verma

Getting Started - the planet optimist

Updated: May 26, 2022

Hi! This is the first edition of our newsletter - 'the planet optimist'. We are so excited to be on this journey with all of you who have shown us the support to get this started. Climate change is a reality that our generation is facing and more often than not, stories of optimism or breakthroughs often get lost. Our goal is to make you not just more aware about climate change and how it is impacting us but also highlight those stories of change. We hope you like our attempt here and would love to hear your feedback.

What to expect today:

Where do our emissions come from?

To begin with, we thought it's best to begin with a sense of understanding where our emissions come from. Globally;

  • 24% emissions come from our use of energy in industrial processes (Iron & Steel, Chemicals etc.)

  • 18% emissions come from Agriculture, forestry and land use (Livestock, Deforestation, Crop burning etc.)

  • 18% emissions come from use of energy in buildings (11% from residential, 7% from commercial buildings; think A/C)

  • 16% emissions come from the transportation sector (Road transport accounting for 12% of the emissions)

  • 14% emissions come from other usage of fuel or emissions from energy use (unallocated fuel consumption etc.)

  • 10% emissions come from Industrial processes and waste management that do not require use of energy (Cement production, landfills etc.)

In total, 73% of our emissions come from direct or indirect energy use. As you can see, merely converting passenger vehicles from combustion to electric is not going to enough as they account for less than 12% of total emissions. According to the historic Paris agreement of 2015, we need to reduce our emissions by half before 2030 (from 2015 levels) to have a 50% chance of reaching our goal of limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees celsius and by 2050 we should have net zero emissions (so that the earth can start absorbing more CO2 than what we are emitting). If you read the previous statement again you will realize how big and mammoth a task it is going to be. We all need to do our part and this is our humble attempt to bring more awareness and stories of optimism to drive change for good.

Source: Our world in data, Climate watch, The World Resource Institute, The future we choose (book)

Microsoft's quest to go carbon negative

In Jan 2020, Microsoft announced that it will become carbon negative by 2030 and by 2050 Microsoft will remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted directly or by consumption since it was founded in 1975.

What’s the difference between “carbon neutral” and “carbon negative”?

While they sound similar, in fact they’re different.

  • Given common usage, companies have typically said they’re “carbon neutral” if they offset their emissions with payments either to avoid a reduction in emissions or remove carbon from the atmosphere. But these are two very different things. For example, one way to avoid a reduction in emissions is to pay someone not to cut down the trees on the land they own. This is a good thing, but in effect it pays someone not to do something that would have a negative impact. It doesn’t lead to planting more trees that would have a positive impact by removing carbon.

  • In contrast, “net zero” means that a company actually removes as much carbon as it emits. The reason the phrase is “net zero” and not just “zero” is because there are still carbon emissions, but these are equal to carbon removal. And “carbon negative” means that a company is removing more carbon than it emits each year.

Carbon tax?

Currently Microsoft charges a fee of $15/metric ton of emissions for their internal departments and unlike some other companies, their internal carbon tax isn’t a “shadow fee” that is calculated but not charged. The fee is paid by each division in their business based on its carbon emissions, and the funds are used to pay for sustainability improvements. Microsoft also announced a $1billion Climate Innovation Fund to invest into new technologies and expand capital access to people working on solving this problem.

Sucking carbon dioxide out of thin air?

It’s essentially a giant fan sucking carbon dioxide from the air and storing it permanently or for industrial applications. Giant systems like these are called “Direct Air Capture” and are part of a collection of technologies which come under the umbrella term “carbon capture, utilization and storage” or CCUS.

Investors are getting behind this trend too, recently, the Department of Energy announced $24 million in funding for nine research projects in Direct Air Capture. Elon Musk recently volunteered $100 million of his own money as part of an XPrize competition to be doled out to carbon capture startups. Bill Gates has backed Carbon Engineering, a prominent startup that scrubs CO2 directly from the atmosphere. VC-backed carbon capture startups took in $336.5 million last year (up from $250 million in 2019) to set a modest record, according to PitchBook data.

However, not everyone is convinced. Carbon capture methods have been around since the 1970s and have yet to find scalable, cost effective solutions. For example,

The International Energy Agency, an influential intergovernmental group, says that while carbon capture technology has not yet lived up to its promise, it can still offer “significant strategic value” in the transition to net zero. At present, CCUS facilities around the world have the capacity to capture more than 40 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year (for context, we emit close to 40 billion metric tons globally every year, yeah, we have a long way to go and every drop counts). The IEA believes plans to build many more facilities could double the level of CO2 captured globally.

Recommendations from the team

  • Take a quick quiz by Financial times - (I scored 9/12)

  • Kiss the Ground - A Netflix documentary on regenerative farming

  • WSJ - Coca-Cola's and Microsoft's Latest Gamble: A Giant CO2 Vacuum Cleaner

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