Back in June, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt had strong words for climate change deniers at Google's "How Green is the Internet" summit, saying "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." Yesterday, he brought his company one step closer to making that a reality, publicly announcing on the Diane Rehm show that the company will no longer fund the American Legislative Exchange Council. This is something that the members of the organization I founded, Forecast the Facts, have been demanding for more than a year, so I was delighted to hear Schmidt's announcement. But what made me even happier was Schmidt's explanation for his decision.
When Rhem asked why Google was leaving ALEC, Schmidt said, "Well, the company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts -- what a shock. And the facts of climate change are not in question any more. Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people -- they're just, they're just literally lying." (Emphasis mine)
This sounds a lot like what our members have been telling Google, and it's a big deal that Schmidt agreed so unequivocally. By doing so, Schmidt acknowledged that if we want climate change denial to fade away, it's not enough that people have access to accurate information online, which was the gist of his comments in June. Rather, if we want climate deniers to be seen as liars, mainstream institutions like Google have to treat them as such.
This all stands to reason, given that the prevalence of climate change denial in this country is the result of a massive, well-funded, coordinated effort to cast doubt on climate science and stymie policy efforts. And its impact has been disturbingly successful. While over 95 percent of climate scientists will tell you that climate change is predominantly caused by humans, less than 60 percent of Americans think that's true. The result: even as hundreds of thousands of people take to the street, the mainstream climate conversation in our country still involves considerable debate about whether climate change is even happening, as opposed to what we should do about it.
This will only change when institutions like Google refuse to associate with climate change deniers, just like dozens of companies did when they fled the Heartland Institute, another campaign led by Forecast the Facts members. When climate change denial becomes as unacceptable as arguing that smoking doesn't cause cancer, it shifts the public debate toward solutions.
But getting there takes a lot of work. Google's decision took more than 225,000 petition signatures from Forecast the Facts members and partners like Sierra Rise, SumOfUs, Roots Action, and Center for Media and Democracy. It took hundreds of people protesting at Google headquarters and behind-the-scenes dialogue with Google staff. It took Oklahoma solar entrepreneur Steve Wilke, whose business has been hurt by ALEC's attacks on renewable energy, flying out to Google's shareholder meeting in May to challenge Google's executives face-to-face. It took our allies in the shareholder activism community successfully pressuring Microsoft to drop ALEC, adding fuel to the fire. It took more than 50 organizations, led by our partners at Common Cause, joining the call for Google to drop ALEC earlier this month. And, finally, it took executives like Eric Schmidt listening to this input and recognizing when he and his colleagues had made a mistake.
Today we celebrate a victory in the fight against climate denial. But tomorrow, we keep pushing on companies like Google, which still have a lot of work to do too. Because even as Google cuts ties with ALEC, it continues to give large sums to climate change deniers in Congress -- nearly $700k since 2008, as chronicled in Forecast the Facts' recent Disrupt Denial report. More than anyone, it is the deniers in Congress who are holding our country back from acting on climate change. When Google and others start treating them as the liars they are, that's when the real change will begin.