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caption: Billionaire Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.
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Billionaire Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.
Credit: AP

Thousands of employees urge Amazon to kick its fossil fuel habit

More than 6,000 Amazon employees are calling on their employer to factor climate change into every business decision — and turn away from fossil fuels.

In an exceptionally large showing of public dissent from within a big tech firm, those employees signed an open letter to Amazon CEO and board chair Jeff Bezos.

“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 letter states.

It urges Amazon to transition completely off fossil fuels and to come up with a company-wide plan to do so with the urgency climate scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic warming.

The letter calls for Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company’s highly profitable and energy-intensive cloud computing division, for example, to stop helping the oil and gas industry get more of the climate-wrecking fuels out of the ground.

The “AWS for Oil & Gas” program aims to help the fossil fuel industry accelerate and expand oil and gas extraction, even as climate scientists say most fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground to avoid disastrous climate change.

A small group of employees calling themselves Amazon Employees for Climate Justice circulated the letter around the company Tuesday morning. By Wednesday afternoon, 3,500 of their coworkers had signed on.

Amazon technical editor Elizabeth Whitmire said she signed the letter for her children.

“Amazon is a global leader in multiple markets, and if we as a company can lead on this issue, I think that's going to have a huge influence on other companies and a huge impact,” she said.

Amazon spokesperson Sam Kennedy declined to be interviewed.

In an emailed statement, he said, “We have a long history of commitment to sustainability,” and pointed to the company's purchases of renewable energy and efforts to reduce packaging and installation of solar panels on warehouse roofs.

The employees' letter criticizes the company's limited goal of installing solar panels on 50 Amazon warehouses by next year. "This represents only 6 percent of buildings in our global fulfillment network and a fraction of our overall carbon footprint," they write.

Amazon has a long history of publicizing its environmental efforts — like the time it had Bezos smash a bottle of champagne atop a 300-foot wind turbine —while keeping its worsening environmental harms a secret, a KUOW investigation revealed last year.

The company promises to turn a corner on that practice later this year when it discloses its carbon footprint for the first time — something that many other global businesses have already been doing for a decade.

The company’s board of directors is urging its shareholders to reject the activist employees’ shareholder resolution, which calls for a public plan for reducing Amazon’s dependence on fossil fuels.

The employee group said they went public with their concerns after multiple meetings in which Amazon leadership rejected their requests for a company-wide climate action plan.