Despite Google’s pubic calls for action on climate change, a new report by the Guardian has revealed that Google has made “substantial” donations to some of the most notorious climate change deniers in the US.

The list of companies that Google supports financially who are known climate change deniers is a long one. An investigation by more than 20 Guardian journalists along with leading scientists and NGOs identified more than a dozen US organisations that have either campaigned against climate legislation, actively sought to repeal Obama era environmental protection laws or have questioned the need for action.

The list of organisations includes the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a conservative policy group that has pushed the White House to abandon even more environmental laws than it already has and managed to convince Trump to pull out of the Paris agreement.

Then there is the State Policy Network (SPN), an umbrella organisation that supports several Conservative groups including the Heartland Institute, a radical anti-science group that denies global warming and has recently tried to claim that “our natural environment is getting better.”

They also include the American Conservative Union whose chairman Matt Schlapp used to work for Koch Industries and was fundamental in founding the companies anti-environment policies, Americans for Tax Reform, which publicly criticises companies that support action on climate change and the American Enterprise Institute, which has also criticised what it calls climate alarmists. And there are others, which we will not name here for the sake of brevity.

Google Defends Its Support of These Entities

Google has defended its donations and contributions to these organisations saying it “does not mean we endorse the organisations’ entire agenda.”

A Google spokesperson said that they supported organisations from all political viewpoints as long as they have “strong technology policies”.

“We’re hardly alone among companies that contribute to organisations while strongly disagreeing with them on climate policy,” the spokesperson said.

CEI is known to have opposed regulation of the internet and antitrust rules and has defended Google publicly arguing that it doesn’t have an anti-conservative bias.

But the real reason for Google to back companies like CEI is to do with protecting its interests, particularly a section of the US law that is worth a lot of money to the technology giant.

The law in question is known as section 230 of the Communications and Decency Act. It became law in the 1990s when internet technology was in its infancy and has helped companies like Google and Facebook to rise to the power and influence they have today.

The law essentially gives companies such as Google legal immunity from third party comments by treating them not as publishers but as third-party distributors of content. This allows Google to be shielded from libel laws that can be the downfall of many media organisations such as newspapers.

The big tech giants such as Google and Facebook are not the only advocates of this law and it is also popular with several Democrats who see it as a triumph for freedom of speech and Republicans who see it as promoting free enterprise and innovation. Google’s support of organisations like CEI is nothing more than an attempt to win friends in conservative circles and support lawmakers on the right of US politics who are champions of section 230.

In a discussion that took place in March 2018, Adam Kovacevich, who was head of public policy at Google at the time, can he heard telling employees that it was important for Google to build relationships with the people in power and those who influence them.

“It can be hard sometimes to reconcile our business interests with our stated values, and finding that balance is something our team has to navigate really on a daily basis, and it has gotten more and more complicated,”  Kovacevich can be heard saying in a recording of the discussion that was obtained by the Guardian.

Environmentalists Say This Trade-Off is Unacceptable

Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democratic senator from Rhode Island who is a big advocate of climate action said that all corporate America should nail their colours to the mast on climate change.

“You don’t get a pass on it. It ought to be disqualifying to support what is primarily a phoney climate-denying front group. It ought to be unacceptable given how wicked they have been,” she said.

Bill Mckibben, a prominent US environmentalist said Google and other similar companies were practicing “functional greenwashing” and did not even use their own lobbyists to push for change on climate.

But a spokesperson for Google defended the company’s history of action on climate change.

 “Our position on climate change is similarly clear. Since 2007, we have operated as a carbon-neutral company and for the second year in a row, we reached 100% renewable energy in our global operations,” they said.

Edward Cowley