Google Goes to the Dark Side

By funding climate change deniers, Google betrays its "don't be evil" motto.

A visitor passes the Google logo on Sept. 26, 2012, at the official opening party of the Google offices in Berlin, Germany.

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It may be time to pronounce Google's famous "Don't Be Evil" motto dead, the victim of political cynicism.

Today, Google is promoting a prominent speech by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who denies the reality of climate change and held the government hostage for weeks in a failed attempt to kill universal health care. Cruz, who has received $12,500 in campaign funding from Google, is the main attraction at this year's American Legislative Exchange Council summit in Washington, D.C. 

The council, known as ALEC, is a shadowy lobbying group that helps companies and conservative foundations write model bills for Republican state legislators. The summit agenda this year includes efforts to fight EPA limits on greenhouse pollution, to roll back the Seventeenth Amendment, to block food-origin labeling and to eliminate public unions.

Shockingly, Google joined ALEC this year, even as the lobbying group lost the support of dozens of major companies over its role in spreading so-called "stand your ground" laws across the country.

[See a collection of political cartoons on energy policy.]

There is simply no squaring the moral ambition of the "Don't Be Evil" motto of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin with funding for a group that promotes "The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2." ALEC is exactly who Google Chairman Eric Schmidt was talking about when he said at a recent Google symposium: "You can lie about the effects of climate change, but eventually you'll be seen as a liar."

Google's top lobbyist, former Republican Rep. Susan Molinari, hasn't admitted why the company has joined ALEC. A Google Green representative did tell me when I asked at a Greenpeace forum, that it's not to support ALEC's long-running mission to eviscerate the renewable energy industry and block limits on climate pollution. However, the ALEC summit agenda does include a "Resolution on Autonomous Vehicle Legislation and Regulation" that argues that self-driving cars can eliminate the "human error" on today's roads and should be adopted as quickly as possible.

Is Google really selling its soul to get a foothold on the robot car market? As Google matures, will it be defined by the deep optimism that spawned a mission to organize the world's information? Or will the company sell out to an outdated, corrupt, and just plain dumb model of political engagement shaped by ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers?

[See a collection of editorial cartoons on Ted Cruz.]

Luckily, the people who get to decide how Google navigates this choice are the Googlers themselves. Unlike ALEC and Cruz, Google employees support scientific facts. Unlike ALEC and Cruz, Google employees are investing in a future powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Unlike ALEC and Cruz, Googlers like diversity instead of the politics of racial resentment and fear.

More than 30,000 Forecast the Facts members have signed a petition calling on Google to stop funding ALEC and other climate deniers. On their behalf, I have some requests for the Google workforce. First, learn more about ALEC. (It's easy – just Google it!) Find out what they stand for and what role the group plays in American politics. Second, talk to your co-workers about it. Third, ask Larry and Sergey and Eric Schmidt why they think this decision makes sense. And finally, think about what a corporate government relations policy that truly respects "Don't Be Evil" could look like, and then work to bring it about.

Google employees, whose code gets used by billions of people, are some of the most influential people in the world. But in this moment, they have a power far exceeding the reach of their apps. They can say that "Don't Be Evil" should still mean something, and one thing it should mean is that Google doesn't fund toxic groups like ALEC. 

  • Read David Brodwin on a new report detailing the coming climate change consequences.
  • Read Brendan North on how climate refugees suffer in obscurity.
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