Did Facebook, Microsoft, and Google Really Just Sponsor an Event With a Climate Denial Session?

Feb 5, 2019 4:00 PM ET
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Did you happen to see the story the other day; Facebook, Microsoft, and Google were high-level sponsors of the libertarian student conference, LibertyCon, which featured a session denying climate change?

Considering the immensity of the climate challenge that lay before us, these companies could not be more offside. Do they really think that a quick PR response can hide their lackluster interest in addressing our looming climate catastrophe(IPCC Special Report)? Perhaps it takes a slip like this to show where their true motivations lie.

To defend their decision, Microsoft told The Verge that;

“Microsoft’s engagement with LibertyCon was…to discuss topics including rural broadband and privacy.” The statement also said, “Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time.” And that our “commitment to sustainability is not altered or affected by our membership or sponsorship of an organization.”

That’s a strange way of showing their commitment, and thank goodness for stating the obvious, that climate change is “one of the most important issues of our time”. To use the language of the President of Microsoft, Brad Smith, from a blog article dated November, 14, 2017: “At Microsoft, we believe climate change is an urgent problem that demands a global response from all industries. We are committed to doing our part and have been taking steps to address and reduce our carbon footprint for nearly a decade.”

Perhaps Mr. Smith should have added, unless of course, the opportunity arises to support a conference that features a session denying climate change, if we think it can bring new customers into our fold.

And let’s not forget the response from Google, also speaking to The Verge;

Our sponsorship “doesn’t mean that we endorse the organization’s entire agenda or agree with other speakers or sponsors.”

Very reassuring. Using that logic, would Google sponsor a conference that featured a session entitled: Was Nazism all bad or were there some positive attributes?

I can’t decide what is more disturbing…the fact that these companies thought it was a good idea to sponsor this event or the fact that it’s not completely toxic for their brands to be associated with an event that espouses this kind of willful ignorance.

For those who think that the challenges that lay before us lie in our hands as consumers, I would ask that you to try and live a day or two or better yet a year, without using the products that these three companies offer. And if that’s next to impossible, how can we tell these companies that their charade with regard to their concerns about climate change, isn’t fooling anyone? And furthermore, we’re pissed off that they aren’t using their influence to share the irrefutable science of climate change, to build a dynamic global discussion regarding the solutions, and lobbying politicians to immediately establish regulations for this issue. The fairy tale that the free market can or will address this issue was explored in an earlier article entitled, “The Unholy Marriage Between Crony Capitalism and Sustainability”.

How can we tell these companies that we’re pissed off that they aren’t using their influence to share the irrefutable science of climate change, to build a dynamic global discussion regarding solutions and lobbying politicians to immediately establish regulations for this issue?

Are these companies so indoctrinated into the capitalist dogma of shareholder maximization, deregulation and business optimization at any cost, that they will forgo the scientific warnings of our gathering storm and align themselves with dangerous ideas in order to not miss a chance to market their brand? Or is our society so misinformed (or brainwashed) as to the coming climate catastrophe that these companies simply don’t see any downside with this sponsorship placement.

And now ask yourself the vital question: How many people in American leadership positions whether in government or business, spoke out against this hypocritical and dangerous decision by these 3 enormous companies with a market cap of over 2 trillion dollars?

Just two!

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez D-N.Y (twitter @AOC) and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine (twitter @chelliepingree) sent a letter addressed to the CEOs of the three tech companies.

They said in the joint letter:

“The example you have set promoting sustainability and evidence-based science is compromised by your implicit support of the session organized at LibertyCon,” the congresswomen wrote. “Given the magnitude and urgency of the climate crisis that we are now facing, we find it imperative to ensure that the climate-related views espoused at LibertyCon do not reflect the values of your companies going forward.”

The letter concluded with:

“Today’s coordinated campaign to deny climate change, or to put a positive spin on its effects, is not unlike that of the tobacco companies which once sought to discredit their product’s link to cancer. Their propaganda kept the nation from addressing a public health crisis for years, leading to many preventable deaths. We cannot afford to make the same mistake again with climate change.”

The joint letter appears to be in response to a Mother Jones articlefrom last week that noted Google, Facebook and Microsoft were sponsors of the convention earlier this month along with a group called the CO2 Coalition, which denies climate change and attempts to promote the supposed benefits of CO2 emissions.

Ocasio-Cortez is currently spearheading the Green New Deal— a bill that has brought climate change into national conversation as it aims to prevent the world from warming no more than 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.

Read the full letter here.

Brad Zarnett is the Founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS) which has been showcasing sustainability leadership since 2008. Brad is considered a “tribal” leader in the Canadian sustainability movement; he is a connector of people and ideas. Brad has a Masters in Environmental Studies from York University in Toronto and regularly writes and speaks on the topic of corporate sustainability. You can follow Brad on twitter at@bradzarnett or on LinkedIn