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Amazon employee activists dismiss Jeff Bezos’ $10bn pledge to combat climate change

Outspoken environmental activists working at Amazon dismiss CEO’s $10bn climate change pledge by pointing out firm’s ties to oil and gas market

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ pledge to invest $10bn of his personal wealth into initiatives to combat climate change has been found wanting by the retail giant’s own employees.

In a post on social media site Instagram, the billionaire tech boss announced the creation of the $10bn “Bezos Earth Fund”, which will explore new ways to fight the “devastating impact of climate change” by funding the work of scientists, activists and non-government organisations in this field.

“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” he wrote. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.

“We can save the Earth. It’s going to take a collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organisations and individuals.”

No further details were given about what prospective participants and collaborators will need to do to apply for funding, although the post concluded by confirming that the first round of grants from the initiative will be awarded this summer.   

News of the initiative comes at a time when Amazon finds itself under increased pressure from lobbyists and its own employees to do more to mitigate the impact its activities have on the environment.

Back in February 2019, Amazon became embroiled in a war of words with Greenpeace after it claimed that its cloud arm, Amazon Web Services (AWS), had “turned its back” on an earlier pledge to eventually power all of its datacentres with renewable energy.

This followed claims that the firm’s growing datacentre footprint in the US was fuelling demand for fossil fuels in some of the regions where it operates.

Since then, however, Amazon has gone public with its pledge that, by 2024, AWS will run on 80% renewable energy, rising to 100% by 2030. It also said it is working to achieve a net zero carbon footprint by 2040.

However, as previously reported by Computer Weekly, in May 2019 the company turned down a request from shareholders and several thousand of its staff to become more transparent about what it is doing to prevent climate change and prepare its operations for the onset of it.

Banding together as the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ), thousands of the company’s employees have since gone on to speak out or stage protests to get the organisation to take steps to ensure its business practices do not risk contributing to climate change.

Amazon has also previously spoken out about the work AWS does with the oil and gas industry, where its machine learning tools are known to be used to help accelerate the pace of fossil fuel extraction.

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It is claimed that Amazon has since taken steps to clamp down on such action by tweaking its external communications policy that prohibits staff from speaking out about the company’s business without prior approval from management.   

Even so, the AECJ has published a statement in response to the launch of the Bezos Earth Fund, doubling down on its past criticism that committing to tacking climate change while supporting the work of oil and gas companies is contradictory.

“As history has taught us, true visionaries stand up against entrenched systems, often at great cost to themselves,” said the statement. “We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away.

“The people of Earth need to know: when is Amazon going to stop helping oil and gas companies ravage the Earth with still more oil and gas wells?”

The statement also referenced Amazon’s alleged attempts to prevent its staff from speaking out on climate change issues, before making the point that when they do, it usually results in the company making some form of positive change.

“Why did Amazon threaten to fire employees who were sounding the alarm about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis and our oil and gas business?” the statement continued. “What this shows is that employees speaking out works – and we need more of that right now.

“Will Jeff Bezos show us true leadership or will he continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis, while supposedly trying to help?”

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