Thousands of tech workers fighting for climate action descend on Amazon HQ

Protestors march from Amazon’s campus to Seattle City Hall as part of the Global Climate Strike. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Thousands of tech workers crowded around Amazon’s iconic Spheres on Friday to answer a call from youth activists to stand up for climate action. The Seattle event was part of an international day of activism initiated by young people worried about their future on a rapidly warming planet.

The demonstration was the latest — and perhaps the loudest — example of a growing employee activist movement in the technology industry. Tech workers are organizing and pressuring their employers to take bold stances on a range of issues from immigration and facial recognition to sexual harassment and climate change.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and Google Workers for Action on Climate organized the event in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood. They handed out pizza to a massive crowd of supporters and led protest songs like this one:

People gonna rise like the water

We’re going to calm this crisis down

I hear the voice of my great-granddaughter

Saying climate justice now

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice lead the crowd in songs and chants. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Amazon unveiled its carbon footprint for the first time Thursday as part of a broader announcement of new sustainability goals. Amazon was responsible for 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2018, higher than many of its tech industry peers but lower than rival Walmart, according to Bloomberg News. Amazon pledged to reach 80 percent renewable energy for its global infrastructure within five years, and use entirely renewable power by 2030.

Amazon Go engineer Weston Fribley celebrated the announcement in a speech at the demonstration. But he wants to see Amazon take more dramatic steps toward reducing carbon emissions.

Amazon engineer Weston Fribley addresses the crowd. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

“Amazon is still profiting from technology specifically designed to speed the detection, development, and extraction of fossil fuel,” he said, speaking in the shadow of a massive Amazon tower. “Amazon is still funding lobbyists and politicians who deny the climate reality. We still have work to do.”

Amazon developer Jacob Adamson. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

Jacob Adamson, a 24-year-old software developer for Amazon, said tech employees have a responsibility to press their employers on climate action because they have more leverage than other workers.

“We have considerably more job security than people whose employment situations are much more precarious,” he said. “With that comes additional responsibility to speak out and act for — even on behalf of — people who don’t have that opportunity, who feel less secure speaking up.”

Competition for tech talent is fierce. There are far more openings in the technology industry than workers with the skills to fill them. Google engineer Venkatesh Srinivas said he was marching to flex that muscle.

Seattle student Dylan Clauson (left) marches with her sister and mother. (GeekWire Photo / Monica Nickelsburg)

“Both Google and Amazon and the broader tech industry, we have unique levers we can pull to forestall really dark outcomes,” he said. “I’d like to see our employers being aware of that.”

In addition to tech workers, everyday Seattleites, children, and more than a few dogs came out to show their support. Following speeches on Amazon’s campus, they marched to Seattle City Hall to join a broader protest.

Around the world, hundreds of thousands of protestors walked out of their schools and workplaces to call for climate action. The Global Climate Strike is a rare event that united young people and old, tech and blue-collar workers, and the full spectrum of cultures, from wealthy developed nations to small agriculture-based countries.

In Seattle, the demonstration motivated student Dylan Clauson to walk out despite concerns that it could cause problems at her rigorous high school.

“It feels powerful,” she said. “Going to school is a big deal, especially at my school.” Clauson just hopes the march gets people to “actually listen and start doing things.”

“We need to work fast,” she said.

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