Mon. Sep 26th, 2022
A serious man in a suit speaks into a microphone.
enlarge Google CEO Sundar Pichai testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in 2018.

Google says it will “not build custom AI/ML algorithms to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry,” the company announced Tuesday. This is a small but important victory for climate activists.

Google’s comment coincided with the release of a new Greenpeace report highlighting the role of its three leading cloud computing services – Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure – in helping companies find and extract oil and gas. . Greenpeace notes that extracting known fossil fuels would already be enough to warm the world by more than 2 degrees. Building extra reserves will eventually lead to even more warming.

Climate activists argue that these contracts conflict with the tech giants’ broader efforts to fight climate change. All three companies have committed to making their data centers carbon neutral over the next decade. Amazon aims to reduce company-wide net carbon emissions to zero by 2040. Jeff Bezos has even pledged $10 billion of his own money to fund efforts to combat climate change.

At the same time, Greenpeace points out that all three companies have actively courted cases of oil and gas companies that will ultimately contribute to a warmer planet. Microsoft and Amazon both sponsored oil industry conferences last year. Until recently, all three companies had “oil and gas” sections on their cloud computing websites encouraging the use of their machine learning algorithms to find fossil fuels. All three companies have recently revamped these parts of their websites to focus more broadly on the energy sector.

“In 2018, Google recruited former BP president and general manager Darryl Willis as VP of oil, gas and energy at Google Cloud, where he was tasked with developing new products and solutions and building trusted relationships with key leaders and companies in the oil and gas sector,” reports Greenpeace. In August 2019, Willis left Google to become vice president of energy industry at Microsoft. Perhaps accelerated by Willis’ departure, the Google Cloud Platform has restructured its verticals to no longer have a dedicated business unit for oil and gas companies. to take.”

The companies respond:

Amazon defended its ties to the industry in an email to Ars Technica.

“The energy industry should have access to the same technologies as other industries,” the company said. “We will continue to provide cloud services to companies in the energy sector to make their legacy businesses less carbon-intensive and help them accelerate the development of renewable energy companies.”

Microsoft pointed us to a blog post about the Greenpeace report. It called the shift to renewable energy “one of the most complex transitions in human history”.

“Technology can accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon future, so we’re helping our customers reduce their carbon footprint and co-innovate in low-carbon solutions,” Microsoft wrote.

In an email statement to Ars Technica, a Google spokesperson downplayed the magnitude of Google’s business with the oil and gas sector.

“Google Cloud is a platform for general infrastructure and data processing, so we have companies from different industries that use this platform to leave their data centers and run their IT systems in the cloud,” the company said. “In 2019, our oil and gas revenues were approximately $65 million, which is less than one percent of total Google Cloud revenue over the same period and decreased 11 percent as total cloud revenue grew 53 percent.”

In short, none of the companies is ready to go as far as Greenpeace would like. But Google seems to be expressing a desire to reduce ties with the oil and gas sector over time, while Microsoft and Amazon are not inclined to do so.

Why this fight matters

Microsoft, Amazon and Google don’t have the power to make or break the oil and gas industry. There are other cloud computing providers and companies like Chevron and BP are perfectly capable of building their own data centers and hiring their own machine learning experts if needed.

But this battle could still be significant if it helps change public attitudes toward oil and gas companies in general. Think back to the 1990s, when anti-smoking campaigns succeeded in labeling tobacco companies as outcasts. That, in turn, fueled political momentum for legislative measures to curb smoking, from higher cigarette taxes to smoking bans in bars and restaurants.

Climate activists are trying to achieve something similar with oil and gas companies. They want to convince a critical mass of people that extracting fossil fuels from the ground is harmful, just as selling cigarettes is harmful. If the campaign succeeds, future climate reforms will become more politically appealing, even if those reforms ultimately bankrupt oil and gas companies.

So the significance of Google’s modest announcement isn’t so much that it will make it impossible for oil companies to get cloud computing services — it’s what it says about the stance of Google’s leadership. Google made only a small concession to the activists, while Amazon and Microsoft have not conceded to providing cloud services to oil companies. Still, the fact that all three companies have revamped their websites to downplay oil and gas exploration is a sign that it’s a touchy subject for each of them.

One possible reason for this is retention of talent. Google, Amazon and Microsoft have all faced pressure from activist employees pushing for more action on climate change. High-tech workers have many choices about where they want to work, and a company perceived as lagging behind on climate change could be at a disadvantage in hiring workers who care about this issue.

By akfire1

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