Amazon Threatens to Fire Employees Who Speak out on Climate Crisis
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) said Thursday that the company's legal and HR teams had questioned some of their members about public statements they had made urging Amazon to take climate action. Some also received emails saying they would be fired if they continued to speak up.
We must be able to speak up. Here is our press response to Amazon’s intimidation tactics. 3/ https://t.co/7DqhCw09Yf— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@Amazon Employees For Climate Justice)1577983568.0
"It was scary to be called into a meeting like that, and then to be given a follow-up email saying that if I continued to speak up, I could be fired," user experience principal designer Maren Costa, one of the targeted employees, told The Guardian. "But I spoke up because I'm terrified by the harm the climate crisis is already causing, and I fear for my children's future. Any policy that says I can't talk about something that is a threat to my children – all children – is a problem for me."
Costa said she was one of four employees who had been questioned and one of two threatened with firing.
Costa had spoken to The Washington Post in October about how Amazon's cloud computing helps with oil and gas exploration, the paper reported. She was called into a meeting to discuss her comments that month, and then received an email saying she had violated the company's external communications policy and that any future violation could "result in formal corrective action, up to and including termination of your employment with Amazon," according to The Washington Post.
Jamie Kowalski, who also spoke to The Washington Post with Costa in October, received a similar message. Employee Emily Cunningham was separately told she had violated Amazon policies by speaking to reporters and on social media.
AECJ said that Amazon had updated its communications policy one day after the group announced it would participate in the Global Climate Strike Sept. 20, 2019. The updated policy requires employees to get prior approval before speaking publicly about the company while identified as an employee.
"Amazon's newly updated communications policy is having a chilling effect on workers who have the backbone to speak out and challenge Amazon to do better," software engineer Victoria Liang said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "This policy is aimed at silencing discussion around publicly available information. It has nothing to do with protecting confidential data, which is covered by a completely different set of policies."
Amazon countered that the new policy had been in development since spring and was not intended to target any group of employees.
"Our policy regarding external communications is not new and, we believe, is similar to other large companies," a company spokesperson told The Guardian. "We recently updated the policy and related approval process to make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company's logo. As with any company policy, employees may receive a notification from our HR team if we learn of an instance where a policy is not being followed."
The earlier policy had required employees to get email permission from senior vice presidents before talking to the press, but was not often enforced with activists, The Washington Post reported. The new policy introduced an intranet page employees could use to get permission from lower-level executives before speaking publicly. Approval can take up to two weeks and requires a "business justification."
AECJ burst onto the scene in April of last year with an open letter urging the company to adopt climate policies such as halving emissions by 2030, phasing out fossil fuel use and compensating employees impacted by extreme weather events. The letter was eventually signed by 8,703 employees.
The employees also tried and failed to push through a shareholder resolution calling for climate action.
AECJ said it would continue to push the company to take action, despite Bezos' promises and HR's threats. The employee activists are calling for the company to stop facilitating oil and gas exploration with its cloud computing and to stop donating to climate denying politicians. They also want it to pursue carbon neutrality by 2030, not 2040.
"Amazon's policy is not going to stop the momentum tech workers have built over the past year at Amazon," data engineer Justin Campbell said in a statement reported by The Guardian. "The climate crisis is the greatest challenge we face, and the only way we can find solutions is by protecting people's right to speak freely and disrupting the status quo."
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Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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