Greenpeace Sets World Record Asking Facebook to Unfriend Coal

coal-Facebook-Greenpeace-world recordAt 1:00 AM Eastern Time Wednesday night, Greenpeace launched a day-long effort to break the world record for the most comments left on a Facebook post within twenty-four hours.  The subject of the post in question: A call from Greenpeace for Facebook to power its databases with 100% clean energy rather than coal and other polluting energy sources.  The world record-setting effort was part of an ongoing Greenpeace campaign focused on persuading Facebook to green its data centers.

In its Facebook note Wednesday night, Greenpeace invited supporters to “be part of a Guinness World Record by commenting on Facebook’s choice of electricity.”  To break the previous world record participants would need to leave at least 50,000 comments on the post within twenty-four hours.  By using the Facebook site itself to break the record, Greenpeace hoped to get the company’s attention in a way that had not been possible before.  “We want Facebook to run their massive data-centers on renewable energy, and ‘Unfriend’ dirty coal and dangerous nuclear,” said the post which participants were asked to comment on. 

Greenpeace provided instruction in nine languages for those who wanted to help set the world record.  Over the next day tens of thousands of people from all over the world wrote in to ask Facebook to power itself on clean energy.  By the time of the 1:00 AM deadline Thursday night, the original post from Greenpeace had accumulated over 80,000 comments, easily shattering the world record. 

Energy-hungry data centers are one of the fastest-growing sources of electricity consumption in countries like the United States, and worldwide are responsible for about the same volume of carbon emissions as the global aviation industry.  Yet many companies building new centers, such as Facebook and Google, cater to a demographic increasingly concerned about climate change and other impacts of fossil fuels.  Polls show that in the US at least, large majorities of people between ages 18-29 are worried about issues like climate change and reliance on foreign oil.  This creates a conundrum for companies the want to appeal to young customers but rely on huge amounts of energy to support their activities.

The obvious solution, advocated by Greenpeace, is to power data centers with clean, renewable electricity.  Google already seems to have chosen this strategy: some of the company’s biggest data centers now run on hydropower, and Google is also making massive investments in wind and solar projects to meet its electricity needs.  In contrast Facebook has made no concerted effort to address where its energy comes from, focusing instead on designing data centers to be as efficient as possible.  Though such actions have potential to reduce Facebook’s carbon footprint, they still leave open the possibility that what power the company does use will come from dirty fossil fuels.

To take a case in point, Facebook is building a new data center in Prineville, Oregon, that will buy power from utility giant PacifiCorp.  PacifiCorp generates 83% of its electricity from coal, fueling criticism that Facebook isn’t taking its carbon impact seriously.  Coal is the dirtiest of all conventional fossil fuels when burned, and is responsible for 80% of carbon emissions from the US electricity grid.

Thus the Greenpeace Unfriend Coal campaign, which challenges Facebook to meet its growing energy needs with clean electricity.  The campaign in the US first began to pick up momentum early last year, but the world record attempt is one of the most ambitious and creative tactics Greenpeace has used to get Facebook’s attention.  On Wednesday Greenpeace activists stood outside Facebook’s Palo Alto, California headquarters with a giant scrolling screen showing new Facebook comments as they came in on Greenpeace’s post.  By noon on Wednesday the world record had already been broken

“In places as diverse as Cairo and Madison, Wisconsin, Facebook is helping to foster activism and foment reform,” said Greenpeace campaigner Casey Harrel. “This world record shows that people want Facebook to lead a new energy revolution by committing to phase out coal and power its transformative services with clean, safe renewable energy.”

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