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4,500+ Amazon Employees Call on the Company to Take Climate Action

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4,500+ Amazon Employees Call on the Company to Take Climate Action
An Amazon package set out for recycling collection. Mike Kemp / In PIctures / Getty Images

More than 4,500 Amazon employees have signed a letter calling on the company to take concrete action on climate change, with demands including a complete transition away from fossil fuels.


The letter was posted on Medium Wednesday by a group calling itself Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and was addressed to CEO Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board of Directors. The group called on the company to release an action plan on climate change based on the principles outlined in their letter.

"Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world's imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis," the group wrote. "We believe this is a historic opportunity for Amazon to stand with employees and signal to the world that we're ready to be a climate leader."

As of 6 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, more than 4,500 employees had signed on.

Amazon software engineer and letter co-signer Rajit Iftikhar confirmed to CNN that the letter followed two meetings between concerned employees and Amazon leadership about the company's climate plans that did not yield clear results.The letter also grew out of the work 28 former and current employees who filed a shareholder resolution in December of 2018, the group's press release said. The company had told them it would soon print a statement of opposition to that resolution.

"This campaign started with a dozen workers coming together to take action on our climate crisis. Now we have thousands of employees from all over the world who are publicly asking for a company-wide plan that matches the scale and urgency of the problem," Iftikhar wrote in the press release. "We've been blown away by the amount of support and passion there is for making Amazon a leader on climate justice."

The movement of Amazon workers is remarkable in two respects, The New York Times noted. For one, it is rare for tech workers to give their names when agitating for change. Secondly, it represents the growth of an emerging tactic for employees to use a shareholder resolution to influence their employers. Historically, this tactic has been used by outside groups, but it is increasingly being used by tech employees who are given stock options as part of their benefits packages. Amazon has more than 65,000 corporate and tech employees in the U.S., but more people have signed the letter so far than are employed at any one Amazon location other than Seattle or the Bay Area.

The principles that the letter writers hope Amazon will adopt are:

1. Climate goals consistent with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that says we must halve emissions by 2030 compared to 2010 levels

2. A full phase-out of fossil-fuel use

3. Prioritizing climate when making business decisions

4. Prioritizing reducing harm to vulnerable communities

5. Advocating for government policies that reduce emissions

6. Fairly compensating employees impacted by extreme weather events

The letter also called out specific Amazon policies and actions, such as donations made to climate-denying lawmakers and an AWS for Oil and Gas initiative that helps oil and gas companies expand and speed extraction.

The letter also wrote that the company's current sustainability pledge, Shipment Zero, did not go far enough. That commitment would make packages emit net zero carbon emissions and shipping emit 50 percent net zero carbon by 2030, but the letter writers said that relying on carbon offsets could displace indigenous communities in poorly thought out forest-preservation schemes and would do nothing to reduce air pollution.

"Amazon's Shipment Zero announcement is a first step, and it showed the positive impact that employee pressure can have," Principal User Experience Designer and letter signer Maren Costa said in the press release. "We all—individuals, corporations, governments—simply need to do more. Amazon needs a company-wide plan that matches the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, and Shipment Zero is not nearly enough."

In a response to the letter, Amazon told CNN it had 200 scientists, engineers and product designers working on sustainability.

"We have launched several major and impactful programs and are working hard to integrate this approach fully across Amazon," the company said in a statement. "Our dedication to ensuring that our customers understand how we are addressing environmental issues has been unwavering -- we look forward to launching more work and sharing more this year."

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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