Activist hold a demonstration near the upcoming Glasgow climate conference.
Activist hold a demonstration near the upcoming Glasgow climate conference. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

In politics, timing is everything—particularly when it comes to an issue like the climate crisis, which we’re running out of time to address. With the Glasgow climate conference approaching next month, Congress faces a deadline to enact bold and comprehensive climate solutions. To avoid having President Biden face world leaders empty-handed, the time to act is now.

That’s why it’s disappointing to see some of Washington state’s most iconic companies funding a powerful trade group that is working to sink the best shot we’ve ever had to rapidly reduce climate pollution at the pace that science demands. Microsoft and Amazon have both made strong commitments to climate action and are making major investments in solutions. So it is disappointing to see both of these companies remain as members in groups like the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which are spending heavily on advertising aimed at killing President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Agenda.

The opposition at a key moment is especially galling given that the two companies have taken admirable steps to reduce the climate footprint of their own operations in recent years. Microsoft is investing in emerging clean energy technology like geothermal to help run their Redmond campus around the clock without fossil fuels, and set a strong corporate emissions reduction goal. Amazon’s electric delivery vehicles are already a common sight on the streets of Seattle, and this week thousands will gather at Amazon-sponsored Climate Pledge Arena, the first arena in the world that can operate without using fossil fuels like methane gas for heating.

But these individual steps will do nothing without systematic change and comprehensive policy. Climate science is crystal clear: to avoid the worst climate outcomes, we need to make big, systemic changes away from fossil fuels and towards clean energy as fast as possible. Corporations may have a role to play in that transition, but it won’t happen on the scale or at the pace needed unless they join in calling for bold action by governments to help more people access clean energy. As Microsoft President Brad Smith stated last year when he announced the company’s aggressive climate goals, one of the key pillars for climate leadership involves it “using our voice on carbon-related public policy issues.”

The Build Back Better Agenda is that kind of bold action. If passed, it would reduce the country’s climate pollution nearly in half by 2030—putting the country on the path to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accords and showing the world that the United States is committed to climate action ahead of next week’s pivotal international climate conference. It contains funding to move the country’s electricity grid away from fossil fuels, makes the largest investment in public transit in American history, and invests billions in removing lead pipes, weatherizing and decarbonizing homes and schools across the country.

These investments have passed key committees in the U.S. House, thanks in large part to leadership from Seattle’s Rep. Pramila Jayapal. But the package is currently being held up in the U.S. Senate, where two Senators are reportedly threatening to drop key climate provisions. At this key moment, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with funding from Amazon and Microsoft, is helping water down these key measures because the package would modestly raise corporate tax rates.

The last time we were this close to the federal government passing transformative climate action was 2010, when the so-called Waxman-Markey climate bill came up short amid strong opposition from business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This climate led one of Microsoft and Amazon’s largest competitors—Apple—to leave the U.S. Chamber rather than be a party to climate obstruction. Similarly, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce—the premier voice for businesses in our region, left the U.S. Chamber in 2009 due to its opposition to climate action.

A lot has changed in the last decade—the public has grown more concerned about the impacts of climate change after living through worsening extreme weather like this summer’s heat dome that killed hundreds of people and a billion marine animals in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. The rapidly changing climate is stressing entire ecosystems and the communities that depend on them—from Eastern Washington’s apple and cherry industries to the Quinault Indian Nation on the Olympic Peninsula to crabbing in Alaska, where scientists recently cut harvest numbers by 90%.

But something that badly needs to change hasn’t yet. Powerful corporations that benefit from the status quo continue to quietly participate in efforts to fight needed change, even while trying to convince the public they’re on the right side of this existential threat. Microsoft and Amazon need to match their laudable corporate climate commitments with tangible support for critical policy in Washington DC. It’s “Go Time” for climate action—and we can’t waste another decade if we want any shot at a livable future.

Ross Macfarlane is Vice President for Conservation at the Sierra Club. He previously was a partner in a major law firm and was Senior Advisor for Business Partnerships at Climate Solutions.