The technology sector continues to make bold promises to reduce emissions, but when you spend money in Washington, the government doesn’t have to do the same. Big Tech says it cares about the climate – but are its lobbyists doing it?
Polls show that a strong bipartisan majority of the American public supports climate change, and the nascent Biden administration has made climate a political priority. A strong community movement for environmental justice has reconciled climate change issues with the broader fight for justice and justice for all. By 2021, we will have the opportunity to learn more about the relationship between the technology industry and its lobbyists and the government.
So far, technology has not hit the right time, but the time for climate change is coming. Where is the influence – and the influence – to speak out for or against the climate sector?
CEO Jeff Bezos, who has given hundreds of millions to pro-climate groups and pledged to make the company carbon neutral by 2040, has only enough money in his pocket to hire climate change activists. To be fair, Amazon is not the only big technology company with a climate change agenda. A new report says 115 of Amazon’s lobbyists are working on climate change, but many of its top executives, such as Chief Financial Officer Eric Schmidt, are largely absent.
Alphabet, the Google parent, has disclosed contacts with members of Congress about renewable energy. E & E’s reporting and lobbying shows that, despite its growing presence in Washington, Facebook has not yet begun lobbying on climate change. As the company’s sustainability manager, I have seen firsthand how little Facebook is doing about climate change, but there is no sign that it is actually taking a stand. CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives at Facebook and Google have been very vocal on the issue, condemning the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement, for example.
But how much of the $59.4 million that companies spent on lobbying in 2017 was actually spent fighting for climate-friendly policies? Although the exact accounting is not public, it is clear that the lion’s share has been taken over by companies such as Facebook, Google and Alphabet, the parent company of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent company.
In a really smart and hopeful move, Microsoft has just hired a lobbying firm to step up its lobbying on climate change. Apple’s political agenda, led by former EPA Director Lisa Jackson, has been against climate change. As the game changes and new climate policies come to the city, technology companies are stepping up their lobbying for the climate. But climate policy will need business allies to make it law, especially now that the White House has strong leadership.
The other side will face this political struggle with full force and it will cause great headaches for both sides of the aisle.
Tech companies need to do more than just make a statement and sign a letter; they really need the power to address the problem in a way that matters to them. If the climate-friendly technology sector starts spending its lobbying dollars on real business priorities, it will make a pretty big difference. Only the technology sector, which is expanding its influence over the US government, has the kind of economic and political power that acts as a counterbalance.
Politicians who are now aware that they are neither conservative Democrats nor Republicans will listen to the economy on this important issue. It is not as if the technology sector is playing both sides of the problem, giving the impression that it is adopting a climate-friendly stance just to serve a Biden administration. This kind of inauthenticity is the opposite of a brand – obsessed with a sector like technology.
Technology companies like to lead the way in change, and now that we are monitoring the entire economy, the bold steps they are taking need to influence public policy. It should come as no surprise that the thousands of workers who are driving this success and deeply committed to the causes of climate change will be looking closely to see what their employers are doing and what they are saying.