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How Amazon Affects the Environment

Amazon's services generate a huge carbon footprint.

Key points

  • Amazon's Sustainability Report in 2020 disclosed a 15% increase in its carbon footprint.
  • Amazon Web Services' use of electricity will likely increase, along with the need to replace equipment.
  • The US government should evaluate the energy use of principal firms such as Amazon in ways that are transparent and objective.

We think of the link between the words "amazon" and "environment" as having to do with the effects of climate change on a great South American river. But what is the environmental impact of one of our biggest companies that bears the same name?

COVID-19 has been utterly catastrophic for jobs, beyond anything experienced since the Depression. And catastrophic for those in low-income jobs: the number of homeless workers in the U.S. is expected to increase annually through 2023.

The ability to work from home—if you have one—is largely restricted to middle- and high-income earners, who have fewer debts and more savings than the proletariat.

But not to worry. The pandemic saw the Federal Reserve quickly print a trillion dollars for the banks to play with—a gift of public money that could have gone to health care, education, and the environment.

And by the time markets closed on December 7, 2020, the nation’s 651 billionaires had seen their combined wealth leap by more than a trillion dollars since the pandemic shutdown on March 18. A trillion. That dwarfs both public debt and the COVID stimulus programs provided to ordinary people.

Goldman Sachs gleefully proclaims COVID-19 “a structural catalyst for a commodity supercycle.” Its profits rose by $4.5 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020—which looked shoddy next to JPMorgan Chase "earning" $12.1 billion over the same period, but solid enough.

Amazon and COVID

For its part, Amazon thoughtfully offered to assist with vaccine distribution as part of a desired expansion into digital health, pharmaceuticals—and obtaining personal and collective information about the population’s health.

It clearly needed to do so—in the first 10 months of COVID, the company’s stock price had risen by a mere 65 percent and profits by $14 billion, while its principal bureaucrat Jeff Bezos’ fortune had increased by $75.6 billion.

Amazon has had a major impact on the environment during COVID. For just like merchant bankers, IT barons are driven by their addiction to profit to do more damage to the planet. That means it’s a systemic problem, producing long-term environmental crime as well as today’s pandemic profiteering (all too often celebrated by the media).

One area of Amazon’s profit this past year is pretty obvious: all that packaging and all that driving for delivery as people have looked to avoid stores or have been unable to access them. A bonanza.

A second bonanza may be less apparent—digital media. Many people have spent a lot of time this past year watching films and TV series online. And Amazon has been a key internet distributor for Netflix as well as hosting its own Prime service.

Amazon Web Services and "dirty" energy sources

Amazon is aware that its carbon footprint through the web is significant. Hence its 2020 takeover and renaming of the site of the 1962 World’s Fair as the Amazon Climate Pledge Arena. The unveiling occurred a mere two days after the company’s Sustainability Report disclosed a 15% increase in its carbon footprint.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) is “the world’s most comprehensive and broadly adopted cloud platform, offering over 200 fully featured services from data centers globally.” AWS generates almost half of Amazon’s operating income. Your viewing of Prime or Netflix is of course only part of the AWS world, which works with advertising, vehicular, educational, financial, gaming, governmental, and a host of other sectors of the economy.

The firm boasts of its investments in wind and solar energy to power AWS, but there are some real problems that confront not only Amazon but its principal cloudy rivals, Microsoft and Google. The first is a shared one—as more and more companies rely on them to host information, their resultant use of electricity will increase, along with the need to replace equipment. The second is specific to Amazon—it uses lots and lots of dirty energy, and doesn’t like anyone publicizing the fact.

For us to have confidence that the cloud merits its symbolic title—connoting nature and water—we need to know that the government will evaluate the energy use of its principal firms in ways that are transparent, objective—and backed up by regulatory authority to ensure enforcement. Is that likely, when our political parties are so aligned with capital? Given their bipartisan annoyance with Facebook and Twitter, perhaps it could.

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