Google is dropping its support for a controversial Koch Brothers-backed conservative lobbying group after the tech titan's executive chairman denounced the group for "literally lying" about climate change.
Eric Schmidt made the comments during an interview Monday with NPR's Diane Rehm, and they represent an abrupt turnaround for a corporate giant that has faced mounting pressure to cut ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Schmidt's comments come amid strong new signs of popular and political support for policies designed to curb global warming, as scientists worldwide issue increasingly dire warnings about the impact of climate change on future generations.
Global greenhouse gas emissions jumped 2.3 percent in 2013 to record levels, according to new research published Sunday—the same day that nearly 400,000 people marched in New York City to demand that world leaders take action to curb global warming. This week, many of those leaders, including President Obama, are meeting in New York City at the United Nations Headquarters in an effort to seek solutions to a crisis that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says poses "sweeping risks for economic stability and the security of nations."
"The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts"
ALEC, which is funded in part by corporate giants including Exxon Mobil, Duke Energy, and Koch Industries, is a conservative group that opposes many initiatives championed by climate change activists. It has battled tougher regulations on coal-fired power plants, opposed renewable energy, and waged a campaign to cast doubt upon the overwhelming global scientific consensus that the Earth is getting warmer due to human activity, particularly the combustion of fossil fuels. It also helped develop and promote legislation that would require public schools to water down climate science education.
According to Bloomberg, which cited ALEC's senior director of public affairs, Bill Meierling, Google joined ALEC in August 2011 and was involved in a communications and technology task force. The company apparently paid ALEC about $10,000 a year.
Last month, a coalition of public interest groups called on Google to cut ties with ALEC over the group's stance on climate change, as well as its opposition to net neutrality, municipal broadband, and support of Comcast's controversial $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable.
On Monday, Schmidt, Google's former CEO who now serves as the company's executive chairman, accused ALEC of deceiving the public.
"WE SHOULD NOT BE ALIGNED WITH SUCH PEOPLE—THEY'RE JUST, THEY'RE JUST LITERALLY LYING"
"The company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts—what a shock," Schmidt said. "And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. 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," Schmidt added.
A spokesperson for Google declined to answer additional questions about Schmidt's comments, but the company issued a statement to Bloomberg confirming that it won't be renewing its ALEC membership at the end of the year.
Google is just the latest company to feel the pressure from climate change activists. Last month, Microsoft cut its own ties to ALEC over the group's opposition to renewable energy.
"It is unfortunate to learn Google has ended its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council as a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial," Lisa B. Nelson, the group's CEO, said in a statement.
Nelson added that ALEC believes renewable energy "should expand based on consumer demand, not as a result of a government mandate."
"If Eric Schmidt wants to be taken seriously, he has to do a lot more cleaning up"
Brad Johnson, founder of the Don't Fund Evil campaign, which has led the fight to pressure Google to cut ties to ALEC, praised the company's decision, but said it needs to do more to combat climate change deniers, which environmentalists accuse of peddling ideologically-driven junk science.
Last summer, Google donated $50,000—it was the top donor—to a fundraiser for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another energy industry-backed group that has battled climate change initiatives. A short while later, the company hosted a fundraiser at its DC office for Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican, who has repeatedly described global warming as a "hoax" on the floor of the US Senate.
"This is an important first step in Google restoring the integrity of its 'Don't Be Evil' motto," Johnson told me by email. "Unfortunately, the company is still financing extremist groups like the 'CO2 Is Life' Competitive Enterprise Institute and dozens of denier politicians. If Eric Schmidt wants to be taken seriously, he has to do a lot more cleaning up."