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Microsoft’s AI obsession is jeopardizing its climate ambitions

🌈 Abstract

The article discusses how Microsoft's increased focus on AI is making it harder for the company to meet its ambitious climate goals set in 2020, as training and running AI models is an increasingly energy-hungry endeavor that is contributing to higher greenhouse gas emissions.

🙋 Q&A

[01] Microsoft's Climate Pledge and AI Expansion

1. What was Microsoft's climate pledge in 2020, and how has their focus on AI impacted their ability to meet that pledge?

  • In 2020, Microsoft set a target of becoming carbon negative by the end of the decade, pledging to slash greenhouse gas emissions by more than half and then capture a greater amount of carbon dioxide emissions than it would produce.
  • However, Microsoft's recent obsession with AI is making that much harder to achieve. The company has invested heavily in AI, including over $13 billion in OpenAI, and is heavily promoting the use of generative AI tools like Copilot.
  • Microsoft's president Brad Smith stated that "in many ways the moon is five times as far away as it was in 2020, if you just think of our own forecast for the expansion of AI and its electrical needs."

2. How have Microsoft's greenhouse gas emissions changed since their 2020 climate pledge?

  • Microsoft's greenhouse gas emissions were around 30% higher in fiscal year 2023 compared to when they made their bold climate pledge in 2020.
  • The company pumped out 15.357 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over the last fiscal year, comparable to the annual carbon pollution of Haiti or Brunei.

3. Why is training and running AI models an energy-intensive endeavor that impacts climate?

  • Data centers used to train AI are even more energy-intensive than traditional data centers that already consume a lot of electricity to run servers and cooling systems.
  • Microsoft has plans to build a whole lot more of these energy-intensive data centers to meet its AI ambitions, with plans to spend $50 billion over the past fiscal year, a figure expected to be surpassed in the following year.
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