Climate strike spurs tech giants onto the bandwagon, website blackouts

Tech companies tout new devotion to sustainability as students and others join thousands of climate change walkouts and rallies worldwide.

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Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
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Joan E. Solsman
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Teen activist Greta Thunberg walks during the Global Climate Strike march in New York City. Thunberg organized the first school strikes, known as Fridays for Future, to protest inaction on climate change.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg walks during the Global Climate Strike march in New York City. Thunberg organized the first school strikes, known as Fridays for Future, to protest inaction on climate change.

Johannes Eisele/Getty Images

Global Climate Strike events worldwide Friday propelled students and adults to thousands of walkouts and rallies focused on climate change, and technology companies jumped on the bandwagon. Tech giants promised new devotion to sustainability and blacked out portions of their websites in so-called "green out" digital strikes

Faced with millions of animals vanishing, a million species threatened with extinctionglaciers melting away and the Arctic and the Amazon rainforest burning, the strike's organizers argue that climate change constitutes an emergency but isn't treated like one. The origins of the strikes Friday trace back to Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish student who became the face of a movement of young people protesting inaction on climate change. 

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A student-led march in New York City was part of a global day of protests focused on climate change.

Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Some of the tech industry's leaders leveraged the attention to make new pledges to sustainability Thursday. Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos vowed his e-commerce giant would completely reduce or offset its carbon dioxide emissions by 2040, what's known as being carbon neutral. Google CEO Sundar Pichai on Thursday said his company made "the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history," with 18 energy deals across the US, Chile and Europe that boost the megawatts in Google's worldwide wind and solar portfolio by more than 40%.

And thousands of websites participated in a "green out," emulating a 2012 digital blackout to protest internet censorship. According to organizers, more than 7,000 websites placed green overlays on their pages with links to details on the climate strikes -- or shut down parts of their sites entirely. Patagonia shut down its online store, in addition to closing its brick and mortar shops, and put a video of activists on its landing page. The Wikimedia Foundation, which operates Wikipedia, dedicated its foundation's landing page to the climate strike, too. WordPress, a free web publishing platform that powers thousands of blogs and sites, integrated tools for any publisher to add overlays, banners and links. 

Friday's global events are the first of two organized strikes a week apart, both meant to couch an emergency climate summit at the United Nations in New York beginning Monday. 

Tech's giants stand up (or sit out)

The tech industry's biggest consumer companies -- Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Google and Netflix, collectively referred to as FAANG -- addressed the attention to climate change in differing ways. 

Amazon and Google were the most outspoken. 

Bezos's pledge to make Amazon carbon neutral by 2040 included a $100 million reforestation program and the purchase of 100,000 electric delivery vans. Amazon previously faced criticism about donations to politicians and lobbying groups that deny the existence of climate change and courting business from oil and gas companies. About 1,500 Amazon workers, organized by the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, planned to walk out Friday to advocate the company do more. 

Pichai said Google's renewable energy investments would trigger the development of millions of solar panels, wind turbines and other construction, adding up to more than $2 billion in new infrastructure. Hundreds of Google employees said they'll join local strikes.

Apple, at an event last week unveiling its new lineup of iPhones, touted its commitment to reducing waste by recycling and announced that its newest devices would be made from recycled aluminum. Apple said representatives of the company would be in New York next week during the summit, and Lisa Jackson, the company's executive in charge of environmental policy, tweeted in support of the protests. Jackson led the Environmental Protection Agency from 2009-2013. 

Friday's climate strikes coincide with Apple's new iPhones going on sale, a perennial day for Apple fanatics lining up to buy the latest devices and Apple store workers cheering its customers as they walk out with the first phones in hand. Gadget makers like Apple and Google release new versions of their hardware every year, nudging consumers into an upgrade cycle based on a suggestion that year-old devices are already obsolete.

Alessandro Dal Bon, one of the student leaders of Friday's march and rally in New York, said he was encouraged by tech companies moving towards renewable energy and recycling materials from old devices, but pointed out possibilities for more aggressive action to tackle carbon dioxide emissions.

"Moving production to the US would be a huge contributor to reducing our CO2 emissions," Dal Bon, a 15-year-old student at Dwight School in New York, said in an interview Thursday.

Other tech giants were less assertive in the lead-up to Friday's global events. Facebook said its employees were free to attend climate strikes, and that the company generally is building sustainability into its operations. Last year, it set a goal of reducing Facebook's greenhouse gas emissions by 75% in 2020 from 2017 levels.

Netflix isn't participating directly in Friday's events. 

Rallies, marches and walkouts were already underway Friday in Asian Pacific, African and European cities. Thunberg is set to address a New York march and rally later Friday. 

The strikes are the latest in a series. In March, students took to the streets in over 2,000 cities asking adults to take responsibility for the climate crisis. Smaller strikes occurred in May, June and August.

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Leaders of the Climate Strike in New York City prepared to begin marching to a rally, where Greta Thunberg was set to speak.

Joan E. Solsman/CNET

Originally published Sept. 20 at 9:16 a.m. PT.
Update, 11:47 a.m.: Adds more Apple details and photos from New York march.