Photo depicting youth activists standing in front of the Amazon spheres. Two banners hang behind them. The left one reads "Amazon Commit to Zero Emissions Ships by 2030," and the right one reads "Amazon ships are prime polluters."

Youth Activists Demand Amazon Do More to Combat Climate Change

by Alex Garland

On Thursday, Nov. 11, more than 15 youth activists ranging in ages from 7 to 15 years old took their demands directly to Amazon as they held a “climate teach-in” and delivered a report card on Amazon’s pledge to reduce the pollution from shipping by 2040. The young activists from Climate Action Families Seattle (CAFS) gathered outside the Amazon Headquarters in the Day 1 building in front of the Amazon Spheres. As each activist came to the microphone, they took turns reporting on Amazon’s climate goals and current profits and how those conflict with the reality of climate change. 

These youth demanded that Amazon step up and show leadership around promises to end maritime shipping pollution. Their demands included that Amazon commit to the Ship It Zero plan, wherein Amazon would transition to 100% zero-emission ships by 2030. The cargo ships used by Amazon currently use bunker fuel, a high sulphur fuel that leads to increased CO2 emissions. The activists are asking Amazon to switch to marine fuel, which burns cleaner and costs more. 

Activists shared facts in subjects like science, math, and economics, one such being that “just one container ship can produce as much pollution as 50 million cars” and “if the shipping industry were a country, it would rank between Germany and Japan as the sixth largest contributor to CO2 emissions.”

In order to draw the connection to Seattle beyond Amazon’s headquarters, activists explained that communities around the Port of Seattle have a higher rate of premature death than other communities: “According to a 2019 report by the International Council on Clean Transportation, areas of Seattle experience more than double the global average of early deaths due to air pollution from maritime shipping and the port. According to a 2013 Health Impact Assessment, the health of low-income communities near the Port of Seattle’s cargo terminal, like South Park and Georgetown, have higher rates of childhood asthma hospitalization, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer … fossil fuels from cargo ships are partially to blame.”

Amazon has committed to shifting to these zero-emission ships but not until 2040. As one young activist said, “Climate scientists say we have less than 10 years to solve the climate crisis, not 19 years. Amazon, we need you to follow the science and do your part to be a part of the solution, not the problem.” 

Another young person stepped to the microphone with this comment: “Amazon’s lack of leadership today is an injustice to the leaders of tomorrow.”

Youth activists present their report card on Amazon’s climate pledge. (Photo: Alex Garland)

The young CAFS activists spoke specifically to Amazon’s leadership in the climate arena. “Leadership isn’t about doing the easy thing or the popular thing; leadership means doing the hard thing for the right reasons,” one speaker said. “Leadership means taking risks and even risking failure. The leadership commitment is not one you know you can achieve or think you can achieve — it’s one you know you might not achieve, but you do it anyways, because you aspire, because it’s the right thing to do. Leadership means being willing to fail — that’s brave. We need you to be brave. You can do it.”

The report card for Amazon was mixed. “For committing to switch to zero emission ships last month, we’re giving you an ‘A’ — outstanding job. You showed great effort and we commend you for it. For committing to switching to 100% zero-emission shipping by 2040, we give you a ‘D.’ 2040 is 19 years from now. 2040 is completely unacceptable. For failing to take immediate steps, we give you an ‘F.’ Your overall grade is an incomplete. There’s more work to be done and we’re counting on you to do it.”

Activists read out Amazon’s report card before taking it into the headquarters building with a demand that the report card be given to Andy Jassy, the current CEO of Amazon.

Alex Garland is a photojournalist and reporter. With a degree in emergency administration and disaster planning from the University of North Texas, Alex spent his early professional career as a GIS analyst for FEMA. Follow him on Twitter.

📸 Featured Image: Youth climate activists hold a rally outside of the Amazon Spheres on Nov. 11, 2021. (Photo: Alex Garland)

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