To Scale Climate Solutions We Need Policy, Not “Greenwishing”

Scale is the superpower we need to reach the science-recommended goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050, as the sobering International Energy Agency report makes clear. Some in the corporate sector — like the newly-announced Business Alliance to Scale Climate Solutions — think scale can be achieved by accelerating their own sustainability efforts and helping other companies follow their lead. That’s laudable and well intentioned, but business leaders who think private-sector actions alone will save the planet are engaging in the kind of self-aggrandizing myopia that investment manager Duncan Austin calls “greenwishing.”

Much more on point is Elizabeth Sturcken from the Environmental Defense Fund, which convened the alliance. Her take is that scale requires public policy (in addition to private action): “A few companies will never get us where we need to go. We need both groups like the Business Alliance to come together and infuse capital and funding and we need policy solutions to ensure the rest of the economy comes along.” Amen to that! So where are our corporate superheroes when it comes to scaling climate solutions through public policy? Policy outcomes are determined by influence and power — yet our corporate leaders seem unwilling to use theirs for climate policy.

The uber-powerful Tech sector knows how to innovate on climate and influence policy — and Big Tech in particular emerged from the pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever. The Big Five — Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Alphabet/Google and Microsoft — have issued lots of pro-climate statements and earned real credit for decarbonizing their own operations. Even Jeff Bezos launched a massive Earth Fund despite his company’s disturbing habit of firing climate protesters. Bill Gates, before he had other things on his mind, went so far as to invest in efforts to block the sun’s rays. Yet these individual efforts, in the absence of public policy, are not nearly enough to keep global warming to the livable goal of 1.5°C.

It’s going to be hard to achieve scale as long as Big Tech and other companies stay on the sidelines in the climate policy fight. As leading climatologist Michael E. Mann has written, pro-climate forces are in a climate war with the fossil fuel industry over public policy. Mann points out that the surest way to lose a war is to fail to recognize you’re in one. Does the Tech sector realize, as InfluenceMap reported earlier this year, that the fossil fuel industry devotes nearly 40 percent of its considerable lobbying firepower to stopping pro-climate legislation? If so, why can the top five Tech firms muster only a measly 4 percent of their even bigger lobbying operations to fight for climate?

The climate policy battle is already escalating in Washington, and so far Big Tech is still letting Big Oil dominate. Big Oil has their own dark powers to call on, like the Big Tobacco-tested canard that everyday Americans are responsible for climate change and their individual actions can fix it. They’re morphing their message to sound more pro-climate, and lying in wait for any climate legislation with real teeth that might emerge from what will undoubtedly be a tough fight over pro-climate elements of the infrastructure bill. They have the powerful backing of the sneakily malevolent Chamber of Commerce, which manages to rake in money from Big Oil while still getting the backing of four out of five Big Tech firms.

If the challenge from Big Oil doesn’t get Big Tech off the sidelines and into the climate policy fight, pressure from their own employees — with rising leverage in a go-go economy — just might. In a new survey, 80 percent of employees said they expect their companies to lead on important social issues like climate change. Some employees may be satisfied by their company’s sustainability plans or signing on to the Business Alliance. But many of today’s Tech workers are actually pretty cynical about the top Tech firms — and they’d be thrilled to see their companies actually coming through for climate in the upcoming policy fight.

Tech employees we’ve contacted through ClimateVoice’s new 1in5 Campaign show this divided consciousness when we ask them to sign a petition calling on their company to step up its pro-climate lobbying. Some insist that their companies are already doing enough in their own operations and by investing in innovation. But hundreds of others who have signed on understand the imperative for policy to address climate at scale, and they want their companies in this fight.

“Big tech is the only sector that has the clout and financial backing to stand up to the lobbying spend of big oil…Let’s step it up!” said one Tech employee who backs our effort. Wrote another: “If [my company] truly wants to help win the global fight against climate change, it must take a public stand on the issue and use its power to encourage climate-positive policies in the US and globally.” Now that’s a real path to scale.

(Want to help urge Big Tech to counter Big Oil’s negative lobbying on climate? Sign the 1in5 petition! Employees of Big Tech, students, and everyone else are welcome to sign — and every voice helps!)




Founder and Executive Director of ClimateVoice. Former Green Energy Czar at Google and Director of Sustainability at Facebook. Climate warrior.

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Bill Weihl

Bill Weihl

Founder and Executive Director of ClimateVoice. Former Green Energy Czar at Google and Director of Sustainability at Facebook. Climate warrior.

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