Amazon employee on climate strike: Tech firms have 'been complicit for too long'

Krystal Hu

Thousands of people in cities around the world hit the streets to demand more action on climate change Friday. In Seattle, employees at tech giants including Amazon, Google and Microsoft walked out to pressure their employers.

Rebecca Sheppard, a senior product manager at Amazon, was one of the organizers of the walkout at the e-commerce giant. She explained why tech employees have the responsibility to stand up for climate change.

“I think that a lot of people who are just consumers or customers of tech, whether they're relying on AWS platforms, or Google, or machine learning modules, it's really easy to think of tech as clean, and it's the internet, it's green,” Sheppard told YFi PM on Friday. “But what they don't realize is that there are actually all of these servers in buildings across the country that are consuming massive amounts of electricity, some of which are tied to things like coal and oil and gas.”

An attendee holds a sign asking Amazon to reach zero emissions by 2030 outside the Amazon Spheres during a Climate Strike walkout and march in Seattle, Washington, U.S. September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

Sheppard said people are becoming more aware of how technology can also become a burden to the environment. “We're realizing that all of what we're doing, in terms of building technology, is also contributing to the climate crisis, and creating emissions.”

Beyond Amazon’s Climate Pledge

On Thursday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the Climate Pledge in Washington DC, promising to achieve zero net carbon by 2040 and start using electric vans from Rivian for delivery in 2021.

Sheppard and her cohorts who signed the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice Pledge believes this is a major step forward and a sign that their voices are being heard. “When you look at the pledge that Jeff Bezos committed to yesterday, I think he realizes that this is a priority,” said Sheppard. “And it's being ramped up because of employees.”

But she believes Amazon could take more bold moves in fighting climate change, including cutting ties with oil and fossil companies, and hitting the target of net-zero carbon by 2030, 10 years earlier than the goal Bezos set.

“We need to be targeting, creating the technology to get there by 2030, so poor countries can follow our lead by 2050,” Sheppard said. “I think that a walkout like this, what we're seeing, the response is that it's motivating Amazon to move faster.”

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