October 18, 2019
Taylor Fang | MediaWise Teen Fact-Checker

MediaWise rating: NEEDS CONTEXT

On Sept. 20, singer-songwriter Bette Midler tweeted that Amazon’s annual carbon footprint is 44.4 million metric tons, and the company hurts the environment by offering services to oil and gas companies. She also claims the firm donates to climate-change denying politicians.

Midler is verified and has more than 1.5 million Twitter followers, but she didn’t cite any sources and isn’t an environmental expert. We decided to check this claim out for ourselves.

Do a keyword search

There are a couple of claims here, so we’re going to tackle them one at a time. First, let’s figure out if Amazon’s carbon footprint is 44.4 million metric tons a year. (A carbon footprint is a fancy way of saying the total amount of carbon dioxide produced.)

We first tried Googling keywords like: “Amazon,” “carbon footprint” and “emissions.” We found a company Amazon blog post from 2018 that stated its carbon footprint, was indeed 44.4 million metric tons a year. However, we kept reading to check out what other sources were saying.

Keep reading

We found this CNBC article revealing that Amazon doesn’t report carbon emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project — also known as the CDP. Some experts, like Aseem Prakash, director of the Center for Environmental Politics at the University of Washington, say the CDP makes sure companies are reporting numbers in a standardized way so firms can be compared to each other.

Does that mean the 44.4 million number is sus?

To investigate further, we looked up the CDP, and found that it’s a non-profit that has been operating for 15 years in over 90 countries. However, some board members are also involved in billion-dollar corporations with large carbon footprints — like Ramakrishnan Mukundan, director and CEO of the Indian-based Tata Chemicals.

And the Wikipedia entry for the CDP has four warnings about neutrality and sourcing at the top.

If you dig deeper into Amazon’s blog post, the company does explain in detail how it is reporting its carbon footprint. (If you’re feeling real nerdy, check it out in the sources at the bottom of that article.)

Despite questions about how Amazon is reporting its carbon footprint, it looks like this first claim is legit. There’s no hard evidence that Amazon has misreported its carbon footprint. And the CDP may not be the most reliable source for this type of data. As you can see, you should always make sure you put both sides of a fact-check into context.

But what about all those tanker trucks?

Do another keyword search

We searched “metric ton of emissions equal tanker truck” and the top result is a legit source: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. According to a calculation it provides, 44.4 million metric tons in carbon emissions equals 587,000 tanker trucks.

It’s close, but we don’t know how Midler calculated actually her number, so this part of the tweet needs context.

Do yet another keyword search

Let’s move on to see if Amazon has been offering “cloud computing data storage and analysis to oil and gas companies, and donating to climate change-denying politicians.”

We started out searching keywords “Amazon” and “oil and gas,” and found an Amazon page that details their cloud computing offers to oil and gas companies. So this claim is legit.

Now, let’s get to the final claim: That Amazon donates to politicians who deny that climate change is happening.

We then tried searching keywords: “Amazon,” “donation,” and “climate change.” From the articles this brought up, we chose reputable sources like CNBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The CNBC article mentioned both carbon emissions and donations to climate-change denying politicians. In particular, CNBC linked to an open letter signed by Amazon employees protesting Amazon’s environmental impact.

Go to the original source

So we went to the original source by reading through the open letter by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. In it, they link to sources verifying that Amazon donates to climate-change denying politicians.

The first source is OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan research group. OpenSecrets shows which politicians Amazon has donated to. The next source is the nonprofit League of Conservation Voters’ National Environmental Scorecard, which has been around since 1970. The scorecard shows which politicians have voted against environmental policy. Thus, Amazon’s donations can be matched up to 68 legislators who have denied climate change — including those who have voted against environmental legislation 100% of the time.

We sent an email to Amazon about this tweet, but haven’t heard anything back. We’ll update this when and if they respond.

Looks like Bette Midler’s other two claims can also be verified.

Overall Rating

Overall, this tweet NEEDS CONTEXT, even though a lot of the claims are LEGIT. The original post doesn’t reference any sources, but by researching beyond the post, we can find out where most of this information came from.

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Alex Mahadevan is director of MediaWise at the Poynter Institute. He has taught digital media literacy to thousands of middle and high schoolers, and has…
Alex Mahadevan

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