In 2004, I freaked out about climate. I was a computer scientist, a professor at MIT, then a CTO, and I realized that when I wasn't at work deeply engaged in some hard problems, I was thinking about climate change. That at three in the morning when I woke up and I couldn't go back to sleep my brain was spinning out thinking about the climate and the path the world was heading down so I changed careers.

I lucked out and in 2006 Google hired me as their Green Energy Czar to figure out how they could help solve the climate problem. I subsequently spent 6 years (2012-2018) at Facebook as Director of Sustainability where I built a team to direct their work on sustainability and energy efficiency across the company. In 2018, I left the cushy world of Tech to focus on directing the massive influence of companies to help address the climate crisis from the “outside” by starting my own initiative, ClimateVoice. Former colleagues have described me as a “shit stirrer and some might say I can’t keep a job…

I was honored by TIME Magazine as one of their Heroes of the Environment in 2009 in recognition of the work my colleagues and I did at Google, in 2016 I was honored with the Global Green Award for environmental leadership, and in 2018 I was honored by GreenBiz with the VERGE Vanguard Award. I’ve had op-eds published in Newsweek co-written with Michael Mann, The Hill, Fast Company, and The Chicago Tribune, I currently serve on the Board of Directors for the Sierra Club Foundation and for Acterra, and I hold an SB degree in Mathematics, as well as SB, SM, and PhD degrees in Computer Science, all from MIT.

Ask me anything about:

  • Why Tech needs to do more than just innovate when it comes to climate.
  • How employees are the real power centers of large corporations - especially Big Tech.
  • How corporations have been the driving force behind other consequential US policy.


Comments: 99 • Responses: 31  • Date: 

gorillaglue1232 karma

What are your thoughts on the following?

  1. Bitcoin/crypto energy consumption
  2. Nuclear energy
  3. Carbon tax

Thanks for your time

BillWeihl41 karma

  1. Bitcoin: way too much energy consumption - and powered too much by fossil fuels today
  2. Nuclear: too expensive today. It makes sense to keep existing plants running. And to do R&D on new safer/cheaper nuclear technologies.
  3. Carbon tax: one potentially useful policy. It's not a silver bullet, however. It's unlikely, for example, to drive rapid decarbonization of transportation or buildings at the pace we need it. There are also serious equity concerns that aren't simple to address.

BillWeihl21 karma

People often point to a carbon tax as something that will drive innovation. The most effective policies that have driven innovation are

  1. Direct investment in R&D (usually by the federal government).
  2. Standards that drive deployment - and the resulting scale drives technologies down the cost curve. State RPSs (Renewable Portfolio Standards) are a great example of this - they helped drive the massive cost reductions for wind and solar over the last 15-20 years.

A modest carbon tax is unlikely to have the same impact on innovation, cost reduction, etc. A very high carbon tax might, but is politically very unlikely to happen. (And the equity concerns get even bigger with a high carbon tax.)

KameScuba3 karma

What do you think of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act(H.R. 2307)?

BillWeihl1 karma

It's one useful policy. It will likely accelerate decarbonization of the electric grid. But I'm skeptical that it alone will drive much innovation. We need standards to drive rapid deployment of EVs, heat pumps, and other technologies - both to rapidly accelerate decarbonization of those sectors (I'm skeptical that a modest carbon price - $100/ton or less - will change those sectors much) and to drive the innovation that will drive the cost of those technologies down. (Check out Wright's Law and various studies on what has contributed to the massive cost reductions in wind, solar, and batteries over the last 10-15 years.)

ClimateVoice has a climate policy guide that lays out the broad range of policies we need - - I recommend reading it for more info.

Dignidude2 karma

I'm really curious about portfolio standards and their potential future role in the EU. Most of our success is built on feed-in premiums so far, but I feel like standards (or quotas) are a more market-based approach.Combined with certificate trading should be the way to go for the next stage of the clean energy transition.

BillWeihl1 karma

Feed-in tariffs have been effective, but as things scale, can lead to pretty high costs. Portfolio standards have been more effective in some ways, I think. And are more applicable to sectors like transportation (e.g., the ZEV standards in California and other states in the US).

Dignidude1 karma

Agree! Are you active in the EU or do you have partner organisations here?

BillWeihl1 karma

We're not currently actively in the EU. There are a number of groups working to mobilize students around corporate action on climate, but they're mostly focused on operational sustainability, not policy advocacy by companies. InfluenceMap does a great job of analyzing how well companies are using their influence on climate policy. We hope to expand to the EU at some point, but not this year.

xopranaut14 karma

Are we fucked yet?

BillWeihl35 karma


If we stay on our current path, we're in for a lot of pain - potentially devastating extreme weather, lots of human suffering, and massive ecosystem losses.

But we don't have to do that. The IPCC says we need to cut emissions approximately in half by 2030. We have the technology to do that today. But it requires moving much faster than we're moving now. And that takes policies - standards and investment - to move at the speed and scale required.

And we have the creativity to develop solutions for the "hard to decarbonize" sectors (e.g., cement, steel, aviation, marine transport) - we just need to invest in the R&D.

BillWeihl19 karma

But we're not moving quickly enough to enact the kinds of policies we need.

Mostly because the fossil fuel industry is very good at using its influence to stymie useful climate policy.

We need other companies - especially the big tech companies - to step up and advocate. They have tons of influence - they're just not using it much on climate today.

Sign our petition to add your voice calling on Big Tech to lobby for the climate policies we all need:

MadHat77711 karma

So, we're not fucked, yet, but no one is currently doing anything that would keep us from being fucked.

Is there any evidence that any of the industries or specific companies in question have the internal will to make enough of these changes a reality that we won't be fucked?

BillWeihl18 karma

They need to see that it's in their self-interest. Some companies - Patagonia, IKEA, and others - are lobbying hard for policies that will solve the climate problem for all of us. Most aren't.

They don't quite have the internal will - that's why we're running the 1in5 campaign to give them more reason to step up. If their employees, the students they want to hire, and others raise their voices, they'll listen.

This worked with LGBT rights - companies were silent on public policy until employees pushed them - and it was clear that college students wouldn't be happy if the companies stayed silent and were complicit in discrimination.

Sign our petition at and help motivate the companies to speak up loudly for climate policy.

BillWeihl13 karma

Companies can move mountains when they want to. We need to make them want to do it.

I've had execs inside some of the companies say to me "I agree with you - we should do that - but someone has to make us do it"

If employee recruiting and retention start to depend on their doing the right thing, they'll do it.

TakeCareOfYourM0ther2 karma

Your form for general public is throwing up an error for me even though I filled it out properly

BillWeihl1 karma

We haven't been able to reproduce an error. Is it still happening for you? If so, can you provide a screenshot of the error, or otherwise tell us in detail what you're putting in that's generating an error?

streetgrandma12 karma

I just got my masters in corporate environmental science and management. I graduated last year but have been having a hard time breaking into the sustainability industry, professionally. You mention employees are the power centers of large corporations, any tips on getting my foot in the door, particularly sustainability in tech?

BillWeihl3 karma

Check out the group Work On Climate. Great community for exploring jobs where you can contribute to climate solutions. Also Jason Jacobs's My Climate Journey (MCJ).

Pure sustainability jobs aren't that common - the sustainability teams are usually pretty small, even in big companies. But those 2 groups are a good place to learn about opportunities and network with other people.

coolcatjames9 karma

  1. What kind of changes would you like to see across the tech world? I feel like a lot of companies are just smokeshows with nice verbiage, but don't really provide the resources, either in time or capital.
  2. Building off the last Q, what's the best tangible positive response you've had? Everybody says "I care about the environment" but I want to hear an example of a person/org who followed through.
  3. Which facet of 'environment' are you most concerned about? Air quality, ocean health, climate change, deforestation, etc. They're interconnected, but is there one that stands out the most to you?

BillWeihl18 karma

  1. I may be biased (given the word I did at Google and Facebook), but hundreds of companies are taking really meaningful steps to clean up their own operations. They’re investing time and money into powering their operations with 100% clean energy, making systems more efficient, etc. But: they’re too quiet on public policy - allowing the fossil fuel industry to be the dominant business voice in the policy debates. If they made climate policy one of their top advocacy priorities, that would make a huge difference. That’s the goal of our 1in5 campaign. They know how to lobby - they just aren’t doing it much on climate. Sign our petition at to help pressure them to step up.

BillWeihl22 karma

  1. Patagonia, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and others are “all in” on climate and the environment. Most companies, if they are doing anything, are focused on their own operations (and maybe their supply chain). We need companies to treat climate like any other issue that could be existential for their business - including in their advocacy.

BillWeihl7 karma

(Those companies aren't perfect - but they're doing far more than most.)

BillWeihl17 karma

  1. Climate is the mother of all issues - it affects everything else. They are all interconnected - see the Global Commons Alliance for lots more info about that. Climate stands out the most to me because we are approaching tipping points with runaway feedback effects that could lead us to irreversible damage. But we can’t ignore any of these issues. We are in danger of hitting irreversible catastrophic damage on all of them.

coolcatjames3 karma

Thanks for this reply. It's nice to know that there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes for these companies to 'do their part'.

As a follow up Q, it sounds like a lot of these operations are also self-beneficial financially; I can't imagine an exec saying no to something that reduces cost and simultaneously helps the environment. Are there cases where you see a company make a drastic shift and prioritize the environment over profits (big drives or product launches, not "changing plastic straws to paper straws")? The only example I can think of is Patagonia refusing corporate partnerships.

BillWeihl11 karma

That kind of thing is very rare. That's part of why we need to change the rules of the system - i.e., public policy. And given the enormous influence that companies have over public policy, we need the help of the companies that care (or claim to care) about climate to counter the negative influence of the fossil fuel companies who are working so hard to preserve the status quo.

But to be clear: investments in energy efficiency usually end up saving money (at least over the long term). Investments in green power contracts took significant time and money, and in some cases didn't pay back - or at least not very quickly. (So the companies would have gotten a better ROI investing in other things.) The companies didn't spend vast sums on this - but they didn't necessarily save money. They did see it as good for the environment, and good for their reputation - and that was perhaps the biggest "return" on their investment.

shivelry6 karma

What specific types of climate policy would you like these companies to lobby for?

BillWeihl11 karma

Check out our climate policy guide for business leaders at

Broadly, we need:

  1. Standards - for clean electricity, clean transportation, clean buildings, efficiency, etc.
  2. Investment - in R&D, in infrastructure, and in government procurement. (Leveraging private investment as much as possible.)
  3. Incentives - to reduce the "green premium" and spur adoption of technologies that aren't yet cost-competitive. (These can be coupled with a price on carbon to reduce the "green premium" from the other direction.)

BillWeihl13 karma

We really need companies to start from the perspective that we need bold climate policy - without getting hung up on which specific policy at the beginning.

And we need policies that center issues of equity and justice. Frontline communities have suffered for decades from air and water pollution - we need to clean that up, and ensure that everyone can benefit from the investments that are being made in new infrastructure. And we need to ensure that there is a real transition for workers whose jobs might go away (as we're already seeing with many jobs in the coal industry).

Jamers23065 karma

What entry level jobs are available for those trying to join the fight against climate change? Really interested in regenerative agriculture but going against “big ag” seems daunting

BillWeihl2 karma

Check out and Work On Climate - both are good places to start if you're interested in jobs that help in the fight against climate change. And scour corporate job listings for anything that mentions sustainability or climate. Good luck!

followmonth3 karma

I just got my masters in corporate environmental science and management. I graduated last year but have been having a hard time breaking into the sustainability industry, professionally. You mention employees are the power centers of large corporations, any tips on getting my foot in the door, particularly sustainability in tech?

BillWeihl1 karma

Sustainability teams, even in big companies, are usually pretty small. So the number of openings isn't that big. Check out the group Work On Climate, and the site And get engaged with Net Impact chapters and the Greenbiz community. Those can all help you find leads and build a network.

BillWeihl3 karma

Thanks for the good questions!

place_artist2 karma

How do common people get our voices heard by tech giants? Do we send in shareholder proposals? Become engineers and change from within? Go to the media?

BillWeihl2 karma

Speak up! Write letters to the editor or comments on articles that cover the issue. If there's an article talking about the amazing work a company is doing (e.g., setting a net-zero target) and the article doesn't mention public policy, comment on it.

And add your voice to campaigns like our 1in5 campaign - - the more people who join the chorus calling on Big Tech to step up, the more they'll do it.

If you have a skill that's valuable to the tech giants, and get a job there, then speak up from within. They listen to their employees (and to the students they want to hire).

If you want to learn more, join the conversation on Clubhouse on May 26 at 1pm PT - - I'll be talking with Prof. Michael Mann from Penn State about tech's inactivism on climate policy.

treehugger4172 karma

Hi. Environmental policy student here. You are an inspiration and I dream of achieving what you have achieved in life!

How do you get a corporation to shift priorities towards greener standards? From the outside (consumer/market) or inside (employees, CSR)?

You’re awesome. I wanna be like you when I grow up. Keep shit-stirring!

BillWeihl1 karma

The biggest thing you can do is talk about it. Raise your voice - inside a company, or outside. Talk to your friends, neighbors, colleagues, fellow students, etc.

If you have money to invest, invest in companies that are more sustainable (and support shareholder resolutions that call on them to step up even more).

And lend your voice to efforts like ours at ClimateVoice. Our 1in5 campaign - - is focused on the Big Tech companies. They're leaders on climate in their operations - and now we're calling on them to step up as advocates for climate policy, to help counter the strong negative influence of the fossil fuel industry. We need the kind of operational work they're doing - but to scale it across the economy, we need public policy - and to get that, we need their strong advocacy.

0xFFFF_FFFF2 karma

Hi Bill, I clicked on your petition link but it asks for a zip code, and I live in Canada. What can people outside of the USA do to help?

BillWeihl2 karma

The zip is optional - go ahead and sign without it! Thanks!

(And promote the petition with your friends!)

youshouldvebeenthere2 karma

In kgCO2e, is Google more sustainable than Ecosia?

I read different arguments about this. Sorry don't have time to find my sources again, but I read somewhere that on one hand, Ecosia is using Bing servers, which are supposedly less sustainable than Google's, while on the other hand Ecosia might offset more of their kgCO2e and thereby compensate for this. While Google also claims to offset all their carbon emissions. So I'd like to hear your view this, even though it might be biased.

BillWeihl1 karma

Google has been carbon-neutral since 2007. It focuses on efficiency first, then on using clean energy (and it now powers all its operations with clean energy), and then on offsets. And it invests a lot of time into due diligence for its offset projects to ensure they're high quality.

I don't know enough about Ecosia to say much about them.

10xKaMehaMeha2 karma

As someone who is trying to change career paths to sustainability work, what are your suggestions to help this change along? I've been working in a related field but most employers are looking for someone with direct experience.

BillWeihl2 karma

Can you begin to integrate sustainability into your current work, even a bit? Join (or start) a grassroots green team, and work with others on sustainability-related projects? Volunteer with a nonprofit to build some experience?

There are now a number of degree and certificate programs related to sustainability, and the field is more mature than it was 5 or 10 years ago - so it can be hard to get started. I would suggest looking for any and all opportunities to get some relevant experience, and even consider doing a part-time certificate program.

ollybolton2 karma

Hi Bill, thanks for doing this AMA. I would love your thoughts on nature-based solutions and the role you think they can play to tackle the interlinked climate & biodiversity crises?

BillWeihl1 karma

I'm not a deep expert by any means on nature-based solutions. But I do think they have an important role to play. We need to stop the destruction of ecosystems around the world, including forests, mangrove swamps, and many others - and some of those things are critical in the fight against climate change as well as biodiversity and other looming crises in our natural systems.

The Global Commons Alliance is doing great work to drive progress on all these interlinked issues.

Creepaface1 karma

I'm terrified global warming will eventually lead to the collapse of modern society. Is this a plausible future?

BillWeihl1 karma

There are lots of dire possibilities. We should all be concerned and alarmed, and feel a sense of urgency. But in my view, the right reaction to that is to figure out what we can do today to choose a better path. Our current "business as usual" path is heading in a pretty bad direction (see the IPCC 1.5 degree report) - but we can choose to go down a much more sustainable path. The key, though, is that this isn't just about individual lifestyle choices - it's about the entire system, and the rules (i.e., public policies) that govern it.

Creepaface1 karma

One more question if it wouldn't be too much trouble? What are your thoughts on adopting socialism as a capitalism replacement, and do you think it (or replacing capitalism in general) could be effective in combating global warming?

BillWeihl1 karma

This is way outside my expertise. Our current capitalist system clearly has major problems - the climate crisis being one of them. I'm not sure that focusing on labels like "socialism" help solve the problem though. We need to get specific on the changes we need - like policies that put in place standards and investments to cut GHG emissions, and that center equity and justice so we solve the problems for everyone.

Deezl-Vegas0 karma

How much emissions do you estimate come from compute?

BillWeihl1 karma

The best work on this question that I know of has been done by Jonathan Koomey and his collaborators. IIRC, computing contributes about 2-3% of global GHG emissions.

The energy consumed by computing is growing (though nowhere near as fast as some alarmists have predicted over the years). But computing is relatively easy to decarbonize - it uses electricity, and we know how to decarbonize that. All the big tech companies have committed to 100% clean energy for their operations, and several are already there. We need to decarbonize the entire electric grid (relatively easy to get about 80% of the way there, a bit harder for the rest), electrify most things that currently burn fossil fuels (most transportation and all buildings, to start), and invest in R&D to develop economic and scalable solutions for the remaining sources of emissions (cement, steel, aviation, marine transport, etc).

redditbolster0 karma

What are your thoughts on Tech giants exploring to dump their Data Centers into the ocean and thereby heating up the ocean?

BillWeihl2 karma

The amount of heat that all those data centers produce won't make a material difference in the heat content of the oceans - I don't think it's a problem.

And, IMO, underwater data centers will be at most a niche. Their main advantage is cheap and energy-efficient cooling - but most of the big data center operators have figured out how to do that well on land. So I will be surprised if very many data centers end up underwater.