Last month at Google’s “How green is the internet?” summit, Eric Schmidt, the company’s Executive Chairman, discussed the new digital age and how it could address global warming’s “fact problem.”
Schmidt said in his talk that “you can hold back knowledge, but you cannot prevent it from spreading. You can lie about the effects of climate change, but eventually you’ll be seen as a liar. It may take 5 years or 10 years.” Well, in the case of Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, one of the leading figures of what President Obama called “the flat-earth society,” it might take even longer, thanks to some help from Google.
Last Thursday, the company held a fundraiser at its D.C. headquarters - a $250 to $2,500 lunch - to benefit Inhofe as well as the national Republican Senatorial Committee. Why would a company whose Chairman basically just called climate change deniers liars support a senator who said that “global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”? Well, Google was happy to explain:
“We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn’t mean we endorse all of their positions. And while we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma,” a Google spokesperson told the Guardian.
If you look at Inhofe’s positions, you will find that Google probably disagrees with him on every subject, from net neutrality to LGBT rights to immigration reform. Actually, it might be that the data center in Oklahoma is the only thing Google and Inhofe see eye-to-eye on. Well, maybe that and the need to have a low corporate tax.
One group that wasn’t impressed with Google’s explanation was the campaign group Forecast the Facts, which launched a petition calling for Google’s CEO, Larry Page, to cancel the fundraiser. “Google’s support for Sen. Inhofe is an affront to every one of the company’s stated principles,” said Brad Johnson, campaign manager of Forecast the Facts.
More than 13,000 people have signed the petition but Google didn’t seem to be impressed and the fundraiser took place as planned. During the event, Huffington Post reported, dozens of protestors demonstrated outside of Google’s Washington headquarters, chanting, “Google, don’t fund evil!” Jesse Coleman, a research assistant with Greenpeace who attended Thursday’s protest, told Huffington Post Google is trying to have it both ways. “They get put into this liberal corporation box, but really they’re as mercenary as anyone and they want to have as much power to accomplish what they want to accomplish as possible.”
While Coleman might be a bit harsh in his description of Google’s behavior, it would be very hard to deny that Google is supporting a Senator who is working to promote an agenda that to which Google is very much opposed. To top it off, Google was also the largest donor to an annual fundraising dinner held last month by the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, which “has launched multiple lawsuits aimed at trying to discredit the science behind climate change,” and you start wondering if there’s some sort of pattern here.
Well, apparently there is. Google is, first and foremost, a capitalist company as Schmidt explained last May (the exact quote was actually “Google is a capitalist country…company“), and it does whatever best serves Google. “Don’t be evil”? Even Eric Schmidt said that when he joined Google, he thought “this was the stupidest rule ever, because there’s no book about evil except maybe, you know, the Bible or something.”
The idealistic days of Brin and Page are long over. What you have now is a company with ambitious business goals and a set of values that, instead of shaping the company’s goals, are shaped by them. This way, the company feels it has a greater freedom to do (almost) anything it wants to do, no matter how much it bends Google’s moral spinal cord, or how little sense it makes for outside observers.
This way, Erich Schmidt can tweet at the beginning of the month, “the White House takes real action to help with climate change; finally someone is acting to help avert crisis,” and a few day later, sponsor a fundraiser for a politician that has probably done more than any other to fight this sort of action.
Google might defend its decision to do the fundraiser by bringing up the fact that its data center in Oklahoma is using wind power. Inhofe showed some support for wind energy in the past so, in a way, the data center is helping the climate change fight. Yet, it still doesn’t justify the support they give Inhofe as any simple cost-benefit analysis, taking into account the impact of these data centers vs. the impact of Inhofe’s actions in Senate, would show.
The bottom line is that even if we aren’t supposed to be surprised that Google is not acting as we would expect a “good business” to act, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be demanding it to do so. Google is hedging its bets, presenting a nice and clean techno-utopian vision that believes technology and innovation can help solve problems like climate change and downplaying real politics’ role in shaping reality, while playing politics as dirty as it gets.
When this will end? When stakeholders will stand up and tell Google to stop it. Until then this fundraiser would probably not be the last time Google will be putting its money where its mouth is supposedly isn’t.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and Parsons The New School for Design, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.