Crashing Larry "Don't be evil" Page's wedding

Should we give the Google co-founder a break for his conspicuous consumption wedding, or lambaste him, Al Gore-style, for climate change hypocrisy?

By Andrew Leonard

Published December 7, 2007 5:48PM (EST)

Why should we give a damn that Larry Page, co-founder of Google, is getting married in an extravagant Caribbean-island wedding this Saturday?

Because, says financial blogger Jeff Matthews, Mr. "Don't Be Evil" isn't living up to his renewable energy hype. Six hundred guests are flying in to a couple of tiny islands on private jets for the wedding. (Thanks to Naked Capitalism for the link.) The New York Post says coordinating the logistics is a fiendish task. But the heck with the logistics. What about the greenhouse gas emissions?

In fact, those jets will discharge anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 pounds of CO2 per hour of flight -- depending on what size jets the 600 fab guests take -- while sucking down 200 to 500 gallons of fuel every sixty minutes...

...Seems to me that by putting hundreds of private jets in the air for the sole purpose of getting together on a private island several thousand miles from his home to say "I do," Mr. Page is, in his own way, doing precisely what the company he co-founded expects its own people not to do: a kind of evil.

Jeez -- talk about rain on your wedding day! That's one big fat whopping GOTCHA! Maybe not quite as evil as censoring search results at the direction of Chinese censors, but still, at least a little embarrassing, especially after all of last week's hoopla about Google's plans to save the world via investments in renewable energy.

Let's put aside the question of whether purchasing carbon offsets could balance out the toxic effects of this Caribbean wedding. Since Page and Sergey Brin already buy offsets for their regular jet travel, one suspects arrangements may already have been made to offset the wedding. But even if they haven't, Google's investments in renewable energy, the solar power panels in Mountain View, and the personal stake Page and Brin have in promising start-ups such as Nanosolar would likely qualify, informally, as one big offset.

But that's not the real issue. Matthews' point seems to be more along the lines of: If you're going to make a big deal about climate change, then you should live accordingly. And if you're going to state in your company's prospectus that the corporate motto is "Don't Be Evil" then you had damn well better live a life of unsullied perfection. Call it the Al Gore standard.

Taken to extremes, of course, such a stance requires that everyone who considers themselves an environmentalist or who is worried about global warming eschew all the trappings of industrial civilization and live like some kind of combination of reclusive monk and noble savage. That's a standard of straight-edge purity that few can live up to, and those who do are a pain in the ass to be around at parties. In my own life, I am presented daily with a tapestry of hypocrisies, large and small. My 10-year-old minivan gets sucky gas mileage, I use too much water when I wash the dishes, I occasionally eat farm-raised shrimp from Thailand, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The list of my imperfections is endless.

But we all muddle through. We are inconsistent, yes. We make some bad choices, yes. But we console ourselves with the belief that we are headed in the right direction, however we define it. We aspire to do better, and that gets us through the day; otherwise we would simply collapse in a pool of existential despair, paralyzed by the realization that just by being alive, we are doing incalculable damage to the earth.

It is true that, by in effect tattooing the words "don't be evil" on their collective foreheads, Page and Brin set themselves up for inevitable failure, not to mention endless carping from critics. Maybe they should have just said, "We aspire not to be evil, even though we know occasionally we will be found wanting." Hmm, not quite as catchy, is it? Ah well, maybe it's a reflection of my own lack of desire to be pure as the driven snow, but as companies and Silicon Valley billionaires go, Google and Page seem headed more or less in the right direction. I'll cut the man some slack for wanting to throw a kick-ass party on his wedding day.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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