Google – a company headquartered on Earth – has not always been keen to cave to the demands of its increasingly vocal and organised staff. Nonetheless, 1,000 Googlers have now signed a letter seeking to force the company to reckon with its role in accelerating climate change, a thing that would seem to be a no-brainer.
Within the burgeoning movement of tech workers organising to hold their respective megacorporations to account, Googlers have been some of the most outspoken, rallying around causes as diverse as government censorship, partnerships with the military, and the comparatively poor working conditions of contractors. Their efforts have often led to tangible victories. Nor is this the first time Google workers have made their voices heard on the subject of climate accountability. Alongside fellow tech workers at Amazon and Microsoft, an estimated 700 Googlers walked off the job as part of a massive climate action protest in late September.
So what does Google have to do with the warming of Earth and the resulting catastrophic weather events? As my colleague Maddie Stone reported at length, “data centres, computers, smartphones, and other internet-connected devices take a prodigious amount of energy to build and to run, thus contributing to global warming and hastening our collective demise.” In Google’s case, that was around 4.9 million tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018, according to the company’s environmental report. And while a data centre humming away in some exurb doesn’t have the same sheen of wastefulness or pollution as the aviation industry or, say, a coal plant, tech does its fair share of working hand-in-filthy-glove with many of those dirtier sectors.
Amazon, rather infamously, has aggressively pursued relationships with oil giants like BP and Aramco, while Microsoft has partnered with the US petrol company Chevron. Google was found to have made considerable contributions to climate denier groups, like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, according to a recent report from the Guardian.
Not coincidentally, these thousand workers are calling on Google to not only reach zero emissions within the next decade but to abandon business relationships with fossil fuel or climate change denial entities of any kind.
“I work in customer support. I signed the letter because when I work on a support case from the oil industry I see my effort going to destroying the planet. Google needs to tackle its impact across the board with comprehensive and swift action,” David Newgas, one of the signatories and a technical program manager on Google Cloud, told Gizmodo in an email. “Google has customers using our servers and our software to find and extract oil. The technology Google provides the oil industry technology leads to more CO2 going into the atmosphere. At the same time, Google is donating to politicians with a voting record of denying or delaying action on climate change resulting in policies that accelerate the climate crisis. In the 2018 cycle Google’s PAC donated to 111 politicians who voted against climate legislation at least 90% of the time.”
The letter is addressed to the company’s chief financial officer, Ruth Porat. The group targeted Porat rather than CEO Sundar Pichai because Porat has “the highest level of direct responsibility for climate change [and] is responsible for overseeing climate-related issues as she has visibility across all of the company’s operations,” in the words of an Alphabet report on the company’s climate change response.
Google declined to comment. You can read the letter in full below, while the complete list of names can be found on Medium.
We, the undersigned Google workers, in accordance with the gravity and urgency of the global climate crisis and its disproportionate harm to marginalised people, call on Google to commit to and release a company-wide climate plan incorporating:
1. Zero emissions by 2030.
2. Zero contracts to enable or accelerate the extraction of fossil fuels.
3. Zero funding for climate-denying or -delaying think tanks, lobbyists, and politicians.
4. Zero collaboration with entities enabling the incarceration, surveillance, displacement, or oppression of refugees or frontline communities.
These demands have been set by workers across the tech industry, including Amazon and Microsoft. As Amazon employees wrote in their open letter:
“Climate change is an existential threat. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report predicts that a warming of 2° Celsius, which we’re currently on track to surpass, will threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people and put thousands of species at risk of extinction. We’re already seeing devastating climate impacts: unprecedented flooding in India and Mozambique, dry water wells in Africa, coastal displacement in Asia, wildfires and floods in North America, and crop failure in Latin America. Vulnerable communities least responsible for the climate crisis are already paying the highest price.”
Google is a global company with billions of users across the world, many of whom are already bearing the brunt of climate disaster. Google’s code of conduct requires respect for users and for opportunities. As Google workers, we are committed to putting our users first, and Google must do the same.
Featured image: Mason Trinca (Getty)