Q&A  | 

The climate impact of big tech, by Juantxo López de Uralde

"We cannot afford big tech companies contributing to climate change".

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Juantxo López de Uralde is one Spain’s most important environmental activists. From 2001 to 2010 he held the position of Executive Director of Greenpeace Spain, after which he founded EQUO political party. Currently, he is a member of the Spanish parliament as well as the president of the Commission for Ecological Transition and Demographic Challenge in Congress. As such, he is working on one of the most important pieces of legislation for the future of Spain: the climate change law.

Where are we in terms of climate change?

According to scientists, we are close to the point of no return, which they situate in 2030.

Very important reductions in emissions are needed to ensure that global average temperatures do not rise above 1.5ºC in the EU. Hence, we are facing a key decade in which the adoption of the appropriate measures can mean a better future.

Do you consider the European Green Deal goal of a 2050 emissions neutral Europe attainable?

Yes. In 2007 Greenpeace raised the possibility of Spain becoming 100% renewable in terms of energy, and I remember they called us utopians and almost crazy. Today everyone already assumes that possibility. Technologies advance very fast and there is a clear awareness that action must be taken. So I think it is possible.

Is technology on its own enough to mitigate climate change?

Technology is essential and although very important advances are being made in this field, changes need to be made in consumer habits and in the economic model itself.

In your opinion, which are the most important technological solutions in the fight against climate change?

There are many and in all areas. The development of wind energy in Spain, for example, is spectacular: in a few years we have achieved 20% wind energy. And it can grow much more. Efficient lighting is another example: LED bulbs reduce energy consumption substantially. In transportation we have seen the rapid advance of the electric car. And so on.

Do you consider big tech and its power usage to be a problem for the environment?

Their environmental impact should be taken into account and minimized. That’d be feasible if the big tech companies wanted to; they make an enormous profit and a part of it could -and should go- into mitigating those impacts. 

What can big tech do to mitigate its environmental impact, in addition to reducing carbon emissions?

Reducing emissions is essential. We can not afford technology companies contributing to climate change. It is also essential that they deal with planned obsolescence and that this ceases to be part of their business strategy, as well as reducing e-waste through circular economy strategies.

Greenpeace’s Oil in the Cloud report claims that Microsoft, Google and Amazon have all partnered with oil companies to use artificial intelligence in the search for and extraction of fossil fuels. Does this hinder global regulatory efforts to mitigate emissions?

That ‘s terrible. Oil companies themselves (as BP has said) acknowledge that the reduction in oil consumption is here to stay. Big tech should focus on clean energy research and not on trying to revive dead fossil fuels.

Finally, what can we do as individuals to mitigate the environmental impact of our consumption of technology?

I have my own opinion on this: I don’t really agree on individuals taking all the responsibility. Undoubtedly, we must act to minimize our impact as much as possible, but demanding changes from the tech companies to make this sector much more sustainable is crucial. In any case, as consumers, we should always prioritize the most sustainable products and minimize our consumption.