GIF by Daniel Stuckey
James Inhofe is Oklahoma's senior senator. He's also perhaps the most prominent foe of climate change science currently serving in the US government. There are myriad congressmen who dispute the scientific consensus that the globe is warming—and who routinely vote against any action that would address it. But Inhofe is in a league of his own. So why is Google, a major investor in clean energy and purported doer of no evil, throwing this man a fundraiser?
The tech giant is hosting a $250-2,500 per plate lunch for the senator on Thursday, July 19th, and climate activists are crying foul. This is politics in action.
Google has data centers in Oklahoma, so the company has business interests in the state. But the climate advocacy group Forecast the Facts (FTF) quickly started a petition exhorting Google to "Cancel your July 11 fundraiser for Sen. Jim Inhofe and pledge to never fund climate deniers again."
As of this writing, it had obtained nearly 6,000 e-signatures. At 10,000, it will be delivered to Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt. FTF notes in the petition that Schmidt has previously taken on climate change deniers—those who circulate anti-scientific ideas and mistruths about global warming—and pointed to Google, and the internet in general, as a way to combat misinformation about global warming.
In a short speech at the "How Green is the Internet?" summit, Schmidt said that the primary reason action on climate change has proved elusive is "the fact problem." People don't have enough access to real facts about climate science, he argued, but the internet will eventually deliver that access, and expose those spreading falsehoods in the process.
"The media gets confused because they don't believe in facts, and public policy people get confused because they don't believe in innovation," he said in the same speech, according to the Verge. "You can hold back knowledge, you cannot prevent it from spreading. You can lie about the effects of climate change, but eventually you'll be seen as a liar."
Inhofe is precisely the kind of man he's talking about. The senator not only doubts that temperatures are rising, but believes the notion to be the product of an intricate conspiracy that stretches from grant-hungry scientists to (surprise) Al Gore to shadowy luminati-type characters he imagines pulling the strings at the UN. This is not an exaggeration, and Inhofe wouldn't flinch from such a portraiture—he'd proudly embrace it. His ideas are all laid bare in his 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
Inhofe talks to Oklahoma Horizon TV about climate change.
Requests for comment from Inhofe's DC office were not immediately returned, but a spokesperson for Google said the focus was Google's Oklahoma interests, not the climate.
"We regularly host fundraisers for candidates, on both sides of the aisle, but that doesn't mean we endorse all of their positions," wrote the spokesperson. "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."
Google is currently in the process of expanding its data center in that state. According to a 2012 Data Center Knowledge report, the search giant has invested $700 million to double server capacity at the Oklahoma facility, and added 50 jobs in the process. It also gets some of its power from a nearby wind farm.
But Brad Johnson, the campaign manager for Forecast the Facts, says fundraising for Inhofe is inexcusable.
"With its support of the likes of Inhofe and CEI, Google is funding climate denial," he wrote me in an email. "Why Google is betraying its claimed ethical standards and the interests of its customers and shareholders by funding anti-science conspiracy theorists is unclear."
The CEI is the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a renowned conservative think tank that pushes for lower taxes and "free market" reforms. It also routinely propagates doubt about climate change science, despite lacking the scientific authority to do so. Johnson notes that the Washington Post recently revealed "that Google was the biggest single donor to the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s annual dinner on Thursday, June 20, dropping $50,000 in support of this anti-science group."
As Google's already mammoth ambitions continue to expand, and the company gets more heavily involved in politics, such contradictions will likely continue to arise. It has invested millions in wind power and offshore grid projects, and promptly responded to criticisms that it drew too much dirty power from its data centers by buying more renewable energy. A lot more. But Inhofe is one of the biggest impediments to meaningful climate policy in Congress—he played a central role in killing legislation that would reduce carbon pollution.
As such, this fundraiser is illustrative: Google's executives can sincerely believe that their products will eventually help to end the climate problem, by eroding the credibility of climate liars. But by fundraising for Inhofe, they are are simultaneously helping to validate and sustain his anti-science platform. Doing no evil continues to be a thorny business.
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