Unfriended: Facebook Divests From Anti-Climate ALEC

Facebook has announced that it will leave the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) under growing pressure regarding the group's ultra-conservative stances. The announcement came the day after Google made the same move.  

In August, Microsoft announced it would no longer be part of ALEC, so the departure of Facebook and Google appears to signal a complete sea change for Silicon Valley firms, a relatively new force in American politics, where both liberal and conservative causes are championed.  

On a radio show Monday, Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told host Diane Rehm that ALEC was “literally lying” about climate change.

“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,” Schmidt told Rehm. “And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”

Facebook's announcement was a bit more vague:

“We reevaluate our memberships on an annual basis, and are in that process now. While we have tried to work within ALEC to bring that organization closer to our view on some key issues, it seems unlikely that we will make sufficient progress so we are not likely to renew our membership in 2015.”

The public shifts were came as the world’s leaders, including President Obama, gathered in New York City for the United Nations summit on reducing carbon emissions. For these tech firms, the negative connotations that come with ALEC membership – being associated with anti-union policies, the controversial “Stand Your Ground” law that allowed George Zimmerman to be acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the destruction of the Earth – were no longer worth the political powerplay.

Green energy is big in tech circles and doubles as an opportunity to save money on electric costs. The anti-renewable energy stance of ALEC no longer fit the vision for their future.  

A Democratic state representative from Wisconsin recently attended an ALEC meeting in Dallas and told The Guardian that when Google’s senior policy counsel for energy and sustainability, Michael Terrell, sought changes within ALEC concerning climate change there was “little support for his views”:

Chris Taylor, a Democratic representative in the Wisconsin state assembly, who was at the meeting, said Terrell argued that the tech firms’ data centres required huge amounts of energy and that renewable energy was cost-effective. Terrell urged ALEC to work with the internet companies, recognising that their interests had not always been aligned.

Onlookers are hoping the Silicon switch will have a domino effect within the business community:

The organization said that while Schmidt personally is a forceful climate advocate, Google employees and the corporation’s political action committee had contributed $699,195 since 2008 to members of the “climate denier caucus” in Washington — their name for politicians who oppose regulations to curb emissions.

Now, given Google’s influence as one of the nation’s most valuable companies, environmentalists hope that Google will inspire an avalanche of other tech firms to leave ALEC.

“It’s an indication that climate deniers are the new tobacco executives,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, told The Chronicle on Tuesday. “Nobody wants to be seen with them.”

Nobody except Yahoo!, that is.

In an email following the latest ALEC departures, a spokesperson for the company cried nuance, saying, “At Yahoo, we engage in the political process in a variety of ways to promote and to protect the long-term interests of our users and our company. One of the ways we do so is is through memberships in organizations that help advance our business objectives. We may not agree with all the positions of an organization, its leaders or its supporters."

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