At Google’s annual shareholder meeting today, the company faced an uprising from stakeholder groups and shareholders over its membership in and financial support for lobbying groups that include some of the biggest opponents to climate change and renewable energy on offer in Washington, DC, a town which boasts quite a collection.
If the notion that Google supports climate change deniers and fossil fuel interests makes you scratch your head, you’re not the only one. After all, Greenpeace has been vocal in our praise of Google for its leadership in building a green internet, powering its data centers with renewable energy, and investing in the solutions to climate change.
Google is the most prominent technology company that on one hand embraces the science of climate change, while on the other supports institutions dedicated to denying climate science, but it unfortunately is not the only one.
Here is a quick rundown of the “stink tanks” – front groups for the oil, gas and coal industries that attack clean energy and climate science – with which some otherwise pro-clean energy tech companies are cavorting, and samples of their dirty energy agendas:
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), allows member corporations to pay to ghostwrite model legislation and then promote it in states around the country, mostly among right-wing state legislators. ALEC is actively collaborating with many of the nation’s worst polluters to kill clean energy and climate policies. In 2013, ALEC pushed model legislation to repeal renewable energy portfolio standards in over a dozen states, though it failed across the board. The group’s 2014 agenda includes continued assaults on renewable energy laws, like net metering, which is critical to home and business owners with solar panels. ALEC is also targeting the Environmental Protection Agency’s effort to limit global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.
Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a Washington, DC based think tank with a long history of denying the science of climate change and any efforts by government to address it. CEI has recently expanded to include a technology practice that has helped to bring in in new tech sector members, all of which otherwise support renewable energy development. Tech companies join CEI in spite of the fact that the oil industry-funded front group continues to be one of the most vocal opponents to addressing global warming pollution regulations inside the Beltway.
Tech Company Supporters: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft
US Chamber of Commerce
The US Chamber of Commerce has been a key part of the corporate effort to block federal action on climate change and undermine the scientific consensus on the issue. It continues to lead the effort to block the Obama Administration’s plans to regulate global warming pollution from US power plants, which currently make up the largest single source of US global warming pollution.
State Policy Network (SPN)
The State Policy Network serves as a coordinating umbrella group to advance a far-right agenda across a broad range of US states, often working in close conjunction with SPN members like ALEC. These groups, via SPN coordination, aim to pass state legislation that would undermine renewable energy growth and action on climate change.
Tech Company Supporters: Microsoft, Facebook
So why are Google and other companies that use innovative strategies to power the internet with renewable energy undermining those very efforts by offering their political support to organizations which are actively committed to sabotaging the clean energy revolution?
It’s likely not because Google or other IT companies have a secret anti-clean energy agenda. IT companies, especially Google, have deliberately increased their ties to conservative groups in recent years as part of the pay-to-play politics that they think are necessary to push their agendas in D.C around a variety of issues.
But that’s not an excuse. Google, Facebook and others can support conservative groups or politicians if they feel it necessary without lending their brand, their integrity, and their money to organizations that actively deny climate science and fight to maintain oil, gas and coal industry supremacy.
The IT sector has shown its ability to speak in its own voice on a range of issues such as immigration reform, government surveillance, and net neutrality, often doing so with members of both parties. Companies that have shown integrity in other ways, by supporting clean energy or standing up to illegal government surveillance, don’t need to swim in the Beltway muck by supporting climate deniers like ALEC or CEI. We have repeatedly heard claims from tech sector companies over the years about efforts to reign in business associations from the inside, to counter their fossil fuel patrons and get them to take a more reasonable position. But as we can see from the never ending attack on sensible energy and climate policies, those efforts have clearly failed, and it’s time to abandon them.
If Google and other IT companies are serious about being leaders on climate change and clean energy solutions, then they should heed the ask of today’s shareholder resolution and disclose all of their lobbying positions and payments. Then they should discontinue their support for groups that deny the reality of climate change or attack the clean energy revolution that their companies are otherwise helping to catalyze.