More than 1,100 Google employees have signed onto a public letter demanding that their employer commit to eliminating its carbon footprint by 2030 and terminate all contracts that enable fossil fuel extraction.
Employees who signed the letter, which is addressed to Google’s CFO Ruth Porat, say they are agitating for change at Google because they are concerned about how their work accelerates climate change.
“We, the undersigned Google workers, in accordance with the gravity and urgency of the global climate crisis and its disproportionate harm to marginalized people, call on Google to commit to and release a company-wide climate plan,” they wrote today in a piece published on Medium.
The news arrives after Amazon employees articulated similar demands in September and staged a 1,800 worker walkout on September 20 during the global climate strike. (Google, Twitter, Facebook, and Microsoft workers also participated in the strike.) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos responded by pledging to cut Amazon’s massive carbon footprint by 2040 (workers said the promise didn't go far enough.) Ahead of the climate strikes, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced the company would make the “biggest corporate purchase” of renewable energy in history.
While Google employees publicly endorsed the demands made by Amazon workers during the climate strike, today is the first time they have directed those demands to Google’s leadership.
Google workers are also demanding that the company end collaborations with “entities enabling the incarceration, surveillance, displacement, or oppression of refugees or frontline communities,” and cut funds for climate denying think tanks, lobbyists, and politicians. Last year, Google funded 111 members of congress who vote against climate change legislation more than 90 percent of the time.
All of Google’s products run on energy intensive data centers across the world. In 2018 alone, Google used about 10 tera-watt hours, which is the amount of energy used to power nearly 1 million U.S. homes for an entire year. (Google, like many other tech giants, offsets large chunks of its greenhouse gas emissions with its investments in renewable energy. But this is different than not polluting in the first place.)
Sharon Campbell-Crow, a climate change activist and senior technical writer at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, says that Pichai’s promise to purchase vast amounts of renewable energy does not go far enough—and believes that increasing public pressure on Google in particular has proven to be an effective way to win policy changes.
“I’ve been inspired by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, and Amazon workers were inspired by Google workers’ walkout over Google’s mistreatment of sexual harassment cases,” said Campbell-Crow. “Every worker-led action helps build the momentum.”
Over the past year and a half, Google employees have been at the forefront of an unprecedented employee-driven movement in the tech industry. The letter arrives days after the first anniversary of a historic 20,000 employee walkout protesting Google’s $90 million payout to Andy Rubin, the creator of the Android, who had been accused of coercing an employee to perform oral sex in 2013.
The demonstration was widely acknowledged as the inspiration for many protests, letters, and walkouts that have followed it. Just last week, 240 employees at the data visuation company Tableau staged a walkout demanding the company demanding it cut ties with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP).
“Climate anxiety is a huge stressor for me in day-to-day life,” Sam Kern, a UX cloud engineer at Google who signed onto today’s letter, told Motherboard. “I can’t feel good about my job knowing that the profits I help generate and the technology I help build furthers an extractive economy that displaces its harmful effects onto vulnerable communities.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.