Barely 24 hours after Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced an ambitious plan to make his company “carbon neutral” by 2040, more than a thousand of his employees gathered outside the tech giant’s Seattle headquarters to insist that Amazon and its tech rivals need to do much more to deal with climate change.
Bezos’ climate initiative “is just a beginning,” Weston Fribley, an Amazon software engineer, told a crowd of tech workers, most of them from Amazon, who had walked off the job Friday morning as part of a worldwide “climate strike.”
This “is about decency,” added Sam Kern, an engineer at Google. “Taking responsibility for the problems we exacerbate, and taking ownership for the problems we have the resources to help solve.”
One of hundreds of “climate strikes” planned in cities around the world, Friday’s tech-worker rally at the Amazon Spheres initially looked as if it might be overshadowed by Bezos’ announcement on Thursday. The Amazon CEO laid out plans to cut the company’s carbon “footprint” through measures such as investing in a massive fleet of electric delivery vehicles.
Climate Strike’s Seattle organizers, though perhaps caught off guard by Bezos’ announcement, quickly adjusted their message for Friday’s march to a mix of praise and pressure.
There was praise for Amazon’s willingness to address an issue it has largely avoided for years, but also pressure for more concrete action — and even barbed criticism in areas where Amazon’s climate promises seemed to be undercut by its actions.
Protesters and organizers noted how, even as Bezos vowed to reduce the company’s fossil-fuel emissions by switching to electric delivery vehicles, his company remains intertwined with the carbon economy in other ways.
“Amazon is still profiting from technology specifically designed to speed the detection, development and extraction of fossil fuels,” said Fribley, referring to cloud computing services that Amazon Web Service sells to energy companies. Likewise, “Amazon is still funding lobbyists and politicians who deny the climate reality. We still have work to do.”
That mix of praise and pressure was echoed across Friday’s tech rally, which organizers said attracted between 2,500 and 3,000.
Bezos’ announcement “encouraged me to actually join the walkout because it really showed that when employees put on pressure, real change is made,” said one Amazon worker who, like most of his peers, declined to give his name.
Another Amazon worker was excited to see Amazon put its enormous problem-solving power to work on climate change. “We’re one of the fastest tech companies — we can do a lot more than a government” in dealing with emissions reduction, he said.
But other rally-goers expressed skepticism about Amazon’s latest move. Some said they felt that the timing of Bezos’ announcement was clearly meant to undercut the protesting workers’ message.
“I’m glad to hear that he is making these changes, but why now?” said a Amazon worker who attended the rally with his partner and his infant daughter in a backpack.
His partner, who was not an Amazon employee, went further, arguing that Bezos could have launched Thursday’s initiative long ago. Bezos “had the power, he had the money, he had the investment — he could have made this announcement last year,” she said.
Other Amazon workers said the company must demonstrate a commitment to climate policy if it wants to keep attracting and retaining top talent.
“Our generation knows what the future is going to be and where the jobs are going to be, so why would we join a company that is looking backward?” said one Amazon worker in her 20s.
Speakers at the rally, most of them employees at local tech firms, also emphasized the sector’s responsibility to address problems that, in many cases, its own technologies and business strategies have exacerbated.
“We have moved very fast and we have broken so many things,” said Kern, the Google worker. “Tech has been governed by the impulse to reshape and disrupt and so often in the name of our users. We pass signs in the hallways telling us to focus on the user, put the user first. Now, putting the user first means doing everything we can to fight for their homes, their families.”