By Richard Read, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
SEATTLE — At Amazon’s Seattle headquarters Friday, more than 1,600 workers plan to walk out, saying their employer is failing to do enough about climate change.
In New York, where the United Nations Climate Action Summit convenes Monday, students in the country’s largest public school system intend to skip classes as part of youth strikes planned internationally.
Around the warming planet Friday, organizers expect millions to take part in marches, rallies and sit-ins for what could be the largest ever mass mobilization on climate issues. The Global Climate Strike is a cry for action inspired by youth protests and championed by Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish activist who met with members of Congress Wednesday, prodding them to act.
Thousands of events are planned in more than 130 nations in a movement escalating by the hour on social media. In Johannesburg, South Africa, demonstrators plan to march on the provincial legislature. In Sydney, Australia, protesters demanding no new coal, oil and gas projects will march from a heritage-listed park.
Participants express a growing sense of crisis amid heat waves, floods, hurricanes, droughts and wildfires. Advocates want governments and corporations to set deadlines for switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The grass-roots campaign is designed to disrupt everyday life and build political pressure ahead of the U.N. summit, in which heads of state convened by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plan new climate pledges. Countries planning to forgo pledges include the United States, which President Trump is withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.
Rallies are intended to be peaceful, but next week, U.S. activists plan more confrontational protests, aiming to snarl Washington, D.C., traffic Monday and disrupt San Francisco’s financial district Wednesday.
In Bow, N.H., organizer Rebecca Beaulieu of 350.org is recruiting volunteers for a protest Sept. 28 designed to shut down Merrimack Station, one of the largest coal-fired power plants still operating in New England. “There are a whole bunch of people who are willing to risk arrest,” she said.
School systems and corporations struggled this week to respond as students and employees made plans to ditch classrooms and offices. New York City will permit its 1.1 million public school students to skip classes for the day. But the Los Angeles Unified School District encouraged students to remain on campus and “express themselves at school,” according to a district spokeswoman. Schools will host “walk-ins” and rallies to discuss climate change and allow students to “become advocates for change.” Seattle school officials said they won’t excuse students from class, despite a City Council resolution urging them to let kids go.
Patagonia and a handful of other retailers, including Ben & Jerry’s will close their stores Friday in solidarity with protesters. Rose Marcario, chief executive of the Ventura-based outdoor clothing company, wrote in a blog post that the warming climate is speeding the world toward the biggest economic catastrophe in history. “Capitalism needs to evolve if humanity is going to survive,” she wrote.
But at Amazon, a growing number of employees are going public with criticism of the retailer’s contributions to climate change, largely through its massive air and land shipping operations, and calls for Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to move ahead of other companies. Their calls have inspired workers at other tech firms, including Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter, to prepare to join the Amazon walkout Friday in Seattle and other cities.
In apparent response Thursday, Bezos announced a Climate Pledge for Amazon and other companies to sign. Amazon committed to meeting the goals of the Paris agreement 10 years early and reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.
But an employee group in Seattle called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice had called for the company to hit zero emissions by 2030, and to stop helping oil and gas companies accelerate extraction and discover reserves. An Amazon subsidiary, Amazon Web Services, provides cloud computing services to those companies. Group members, who are organizing Friday’s walkout, said that as a tech leader, Amazon should achieve climate goals sooner.
“If we’re coming in just at 2040, that means that most other companies are coming in somewhere after that, and that’s not enough, said data engineer Justin Campbell, a member of the group.
But Campbell said group members were elated that Bezos made the announcement, adopting some of their wording, a few months after Amazon shareholders voted down a proposal they made for the company to adopt a climate-change plan.
Campbell, 31, sees the effects of climate change in Seattle as Mt. Rainier’s glaciers recede, Puget Sound orcas die and smoke from summer forest fires pervades the city. He decided to depart publicly from Amazon’s party line after seeing little impact from volunteering for internal company initiatives to improve recycling and organize talks on environmental issues.
“I don’t think anyone wants to be part of the generation that knew we had a chance to make a change but didn’t,” he said, “because we thought it was too daunting or another person would do it.”
Los Angeles Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.