Google announced a new social network Tuesday on the same day it unveiled a truly newsworthy study on climate and the economy. Needless to say, the real news is largely being overlooked.
In a recent feature for Rolling Stone environmental vigilante Al Gore expounded on his exasperation over the state of climate policy and the media’s role in covering its significance. Gore compares the media to a referee in a pro wrestling match, almost comically distracted by minutae in the ring and milking the entertainment value rather than actually refereeing. Just as we’re reaching a critical point of no return, the media gets distracted by the latest Charlie Sheen saga.
Yesterday Google launched a new Google social network called “Google+” or “Google Plus.” It includes a number of product features, each with their own “+” demarcation and none particularly inviting-sounding. +Spark sounds like it allows you to share content with friends, similar to Twitter, and the big selling point, +Circles, allows you to share information with select groups of friends, as opposed to Facebook, which shares all your activity with all your friends.
Like most of Google’s social products, + sounds typically byzantine and hard to comprehend. They could have taken a lesson from Prince that using a symbol for your name tends to alienate audiences—usually the exact opposite effect you want when you’re building a social network.
But on the same day the Google social network was unveiled, the company made an extremely clear, extremely important announcement in an area where it particularly excels: the environment. Specifically, the announcement pertains to the intersection of the environment and the economy, which you’d think would make it even more newsworthy.
Google deployed its considerable brainpower to study the economic implications of implementing policies to encourage a transition to clean energy versus sticking with the status quo. The consensus? “Energy innovation pays off big.”
Transitioning to more climate-friendly energy policies, they found, would increase GDP $244 billion per year and create nearly 2 million jobs per year until 2030, and would save $3.2 trillion total by 2050. It would also lower oil consumption by 1.1 billion barrels per year and lower carbon emissions 21% by 2030.
This is huge news. Why would they announce it on the same day as the new social network, when national media is likely to fall into Al Gore’s foible of the wrestling referee? Who knows. But while Google has struggled to compete in the social media arena, they’re positioned to be a global leader on climate. They’re already a major investor in the world’s largest solar power plant, and have been licensed as a power utility to sell clean energy on the open market.
Sure, it behooves the company to try to stay competitive with Facebook. But for the sake of future life on earth (and to keep Al Gore from an apoplectic fit) the company would do well to focus its news releases on areas where its formidable smarts can really make a difference.
Check out the official Google blog for Google’s environmental/ economic study.