Science | October 8, 2020 8:01 am

Real Talk: Google and Amazon Need to Cut the Crap on Climate Change

Their "green" initiatives mean nothing as long as they continue to fund climate denial

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos at the National Press Club
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announcing The Climate Pledge in September 2019.
Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Amazon

During the recent wildfires that have devastated the western United States, one quote stuck out to me. It was from California Governor Gavin Newsom, and I first saw it plastered next to a photo of him walking through rubble. He said, “The debate is over around climate change.”

That statement, from a scientific and public opinion perspective, is undeniably true. Scientists across the world have been ringing the alarm about the climate crisis for years, with U.S. federal agencies during the Trump administration noting that the severity depends on “the amount of carbon emissions humans produce,” and most American understand this. According to Pew Research Center, 79% of U.S. adults believe human activity contributes “a great deal” or “some” to climate change, and that even includes a majority of conservative Republicans! Go figure.

So why the hell does it still feel like the debate around climate change isn’t over? We have the hard data that shows the climate crisis is going to hit every single American, and hit them hard, whether by sea-level rise in Florida, increasingly brutal wildfires in California or declining crop yields for already struggling farmers everywhere in between. (Don’t care about that? What about the economy?) Meanwhile, the U.S. is not only delaying sufficient action to protect Americans, present and future, but the current administration has actually been rolling back environmental regulations. On behalf of the overwhelming majority of Americans, I’m here to ask: What gives?

The reason the debate isn’t actually over is because climate deniers have an outsize influence in our society, and I’m not just talking about the Democratic versus Republican battle that you’re sick of hearing about. One of the biggest problems no one is talking about is that companies like Google and Amazon, who continue to pat themselves on the back for their climate action, give money to these climate deniers.

That’s right, Google, which was recently praised for eliminating its “carbon legacy,” funds climate deniers. Amazon, which is naming a freaking NHL stadium “Climate Pledge Arena,” also funds climate deniers. And guess what? If they continue to back disinformation about the science and solutions for the climate crisis that is already at our doorstep, that has already made migrants and even refugees of Americans, then none of their so-called climate leadership matters.

Who are these climate deniers? They’re groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a nonprofit think tank that calls the scientific consensus around the threat of climate change “global warming alarmism,” and opposes the Paris climate accord and any regulation of carbon emissions by the EPA. In fact, Myron Ebell, a director at CEI, worked on Trump’s EPA transition team and not only pushed the president to withdraw from the Paris agreement but thought he wasn’t undoing climate change regulations fast enough. This is one of those guys who screams about economic growth and individual liberty, but only means in his lifetime for people like him; he doesn’t care about how inaction on climate change tanks the economic forecast after he’s scheduled to kick the bucket.

This is just one example of the type of group Google, Amazon and other major companies are giving money to (there’s plenty more to read about, just ask Extinction Rebellion). And while they do try to keep these kinds of contributions under the rug, or at least obfuscate the amount, Google’s current Trade Associations and Membership Organizations list (where they list “the most substantial contributions”) includes CEI, and Amazon helped pay for a Game of Thrones-themed gala for the group last year. 

Of course, these companies have a standard defense which they trot out over and over, which is why I didn’t reach out to either for comment. An Amazon spokesperson is on the record saying their monetary support of climate denial “will help advance policy objectives aligned with [their] interests” (like not breaking up big tech), and a spokesperson for Google said to the Guardian, “We’ve been extremely clear that Google’s sponsorship doesn’t mean that we endorse that organization’s entire agenda – we may disagree strongly on some issues.”

I’m sorry, anonymous Google mouthpiece, but that clarity does not matter as we reach tipping point after tipping point for keeping the future habitable for all. That may sound hyperbolic, I’ll grant you that. But to show you how messed up this is, let me put it a different way:

Pretend you have a friend who is an enthusiastic supporter of Joe Biden for president — he wears Biden/Harris T-shirts, donates money to the campaign, posts TikTok videos doing a Biden impression with aviators — but then you find out that he is secretly also donating huge sums of money to the Trump campaign. (Or vice versa, says he supports Trump but donates to Biden.) I don’t care who you’re voting for in the election, if you found out one of your friends did that, you’d be justified in saying, what the hell is wrong with you?

And that’s exactly what we should be saying to Amazon and Google, and all the other companies that pretend to be climate leaders while undermining the basic foundation that all climate solutions are built on. We cannot solve this issue until the debate over the reality of the climate crisis is finally over. Because right now, thanks to disinformation hubs like CEI and the people who fund them, the debate drags on despite Americans wanting action.

So I’ll ask it: Google and Amazon, what the hell is wrong with you?