Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a new set of programs designed to reduce the company’s carbon footprint Thursday, including purchasing 100,000 electric trucks. The announcement comes just one day before at least 1,550 Amazon workers plan to walk out on over what they say is an inadequate response to the climate crisis. Bezos’ promises fall short of the demands laid out by his employees, but are still significant—especially for a corporation that has been criticized for failing behind other tech giants on environmental initiatives.
“We want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way,” Bezos said at an event at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Thursday, according to news reports. “One of the things we know about Amazon as a role model for this is that it’s a difficult challenge for us because we have deep, large physical infrastructure. So, if we can do this, anyone can do this.”
Amazon is a logistic giant that relies heavily on gas-guzzling planes and trucks to deliver packages to shoppers’ doors in as little as 24 hours. Its other major revenue source is Amazon Web Services, its cloud-computing division whose server farms run on significant amounts of electricity. Together, the businesses bring in tens of billions of dollars of revenue a year.
Amazon committed Thursday to meeting the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early and becoming carbon neutral by 2040. To do so, the company says it plans to run 80 percent of its “global infrastructure” on renewable energy by 2024, and 100 percent by 2030. Amazon’s efforts are part of a new program called the “Climate Pledge,” of which Amazon is the first company to join. The pledge includes measuring and publicly reporting greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis, something thousands of other corporations have done for years but that Amazon has declined to do in the past.
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In addition to the Climate Pledge, Amazon announced in a blog post that it would order 100,000 electric vehicles from Rivian, a startup the company invested over $400 million in earlier this year. Amazon says it plans for Rivian vans to begin delivering Amazon packages by 2021, and to have the full fleet of trucks on roads by 2030.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, the group organizing Friday’s walkout, say Amazon’s new goals don’t go far enough. In a statement, the group called the Climate Pledge a “huge win,” but said it’s ultimately not enough. “The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world,” the employees wrote. “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets to continue the fight for a livable future.” The planned demonstration is part of a general global strike led by 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg. Workers from Google, Facebook, and Microsoft are also joining.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice have outlined three appeals for their employer: stop donating to politicians and lobbying groups that deny the reality of climate change, stop working with oil and gas companies to optimize fossil fuel extraction, and achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says the world needs to cut global emissions in half by 2030 to limit warming to below 1.5 degrees.
Amazon’s commitment to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2040 is significantly far off from what the employees are asking for. The workers aren’t merely calling on Amazon to offset the impact of the greenhouse gases it emits into the environment; they want it to stop using fossil fuels entirely within the next decade.
Bezos said he wouldn’t meet the employees’ two additional demands, either. “We’re going to work hard for energy companies, and in our view, we’re going to work very hard to make sure that as they transition that they have the best tools possible,” the CEO said, according to news reports. In April, Gizmodo reported that Amazon Web Services had aggressively courted oil and gas companies. Earlier this year, Andrew Jassy, the CEO of AWS, spoke at a fossil fuels conference where he stressed Amazon’s relationship with the industry.
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Bezos said that Amazon was examining whether its political donations were going to “active climate deniers,” but didn’t commit to ending future contributions. In July, Amazon paid $15,000 to sponsor an event organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think tank that has sought to sow doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change for decades. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice say Amazon also donated to 68 members of Congress in 2018 who consistently voted against climate change legislation.
Amazon made one more promise Thursday: to donate $100 million to reforestation efforts as part of a new “Right Now Climate Fund.” It’s unclear over what time period those donations will occur, but it’s still a small percentage of the $2.6 billion in net income the company earned last quarter.
Taken together, Amazon’s environmental promises are a start, but only a drop in the bucket of what experts say may be needed to address the climate crisis. Bezos, the richest man in the world, has the means to make a personal difference, but his overall philanthropic contributions have been relatively small, especially compared to tech’s other billionaires. One place he has poured billions is Blue Origin, his private space exploration company. Climate change will likely continue ravaging Earth, as long as its leaders don’t take the steps necessary to halt its effects. But at least Bezos might find another planet where humanity can live.
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