At first glance, Google’s decision to hold a fundraiser for climate-denying senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) appears bizarre. And on closer examination, the picture doesn’t get much clearer. The company has built a fairly strong reputation for its environmental efforts, which it says include a $1 billion investment in renewable energy. Greenpeace has even applauded the company’s efforts on clean energy advocacy.
So why fundraise for a politician that describes global warming as a “hoax”? A company spokesperson told the Guardian, “While we disagree on climate change policy, we share an interest with Senator Inhofe in the employees and data center we have in Oklahoma.”
Undoubtedly they do share that interest, but the question remains of what Google will gain from further political support for existing data centers. Is it after incentives for future data center development, perhaps? Sweeteners to keep it from leaving the state?
Even if the answer to those questions is “yes,” the incident still tarnishes a reputation that Google had just finished rehabilitating. It’s been less than two years since the company revealed its energy footprint , quieting environmental campaigners who railed against an alleged lack of transparency. And Google’s not the only one putting its environmental rep on the line: Facebook recently joined the search firm in donating to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has launched lawsuits accusing climate scientists of fraud.
The tech companies are on shaky ground. The country’s future climate policy – and therefore its contributions to climate change – continue to hang in the political balance. With their heavyweight stature, such companies’ carbon footprint actually extends well beyond scope 3, to a sort of scope 4: emissions attributable to political activity (or inactivity). This may never be quantifiable, but it’s the sort of impact that politically-minded consumers are likely to notice.
Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.