Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made a donation of $10 billion to his new climate justice project, the Bezos Earth Fund
In an Instagram post on Monday, he wrote that he would be donating this money to the newly-created Bezos Earth Fund and looking to hand out grants as early as summer 2020.
The history: Amazon and the climate
On 20 September 2019, around 1,700 workers walked out of their Amazon jobs to make a statement about the environment. This was part of the Global Climate Strike, inspired by the Greta Thunberg youth movement.
In anticipation of the 15,000 workers who said they would strike, Amazon unveiled ‘The Climate Pledge’ on 19 September 2020. This is a policy targeting businesses, which blithely states that Amazon’s ambitions are ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement’s deadlines on actual countries. On the same day, Jeff Bezos also invested in 100,000 electric cars from start-up company Rivian and announced a $100 million reforestation fund.
During this pre-strike announcement, he said:
“The climate science community is surprised by how quickly things are changing.
“We’ve been in the middle of the herd on this issue and we want to move to the forefront.”
This move to create business momentum was received as a good idea by the in-house environmentalists, the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ). However, they also highlighted that Bezos would quietly continue cloud-computing contracts with fossil fuel companies. Jeff Bezos has publicly stated that he does not want to “vilify” these companies, but “aid” them in transitioning to a green energy mechanism.
What did Amazon promise to do by 2040?
• Measure and report greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis;
• Implement decarbonisation strategies in line with the Paris Agreement through real business changes and innovations, including efficiency improvements, renewable energy, materials reductions, and other carbon emission elimination strategies;
• Neutralise any remaining emissions with additional, quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially-beneficial offsets to achieve net zero annual carbon emissions by 2040.
As recently as January 2020, Amazon told employees not to talk publicly about the Pledge, or the climate in relation to the company. The possibility of losing their jobs did not silence 397 Amazon employees, who commented online about their understanding of these efforts.
Responding to the silencing, Michael Sokolov, Principal Engineer, said:
“Amazon participates in the global economy, where it has a substantial impact on many issues. Expecting its employees to maintain silence on these issues, and Amazon’s impact on them, is really a reprehensible overreach, and I am proud to take this opportunity to demonstrate my unwillingness to comply.
“I was heartened to hear about Amazon’s commitment to invest in an electric delivery fleet and can’t see the harm in saying so. I can’t support a policy that would silence commentary, both pro and anti.”
The now: $10 billion in the climate pot
In the post, Jeff Bezos proposes that the Earth can be saved. He also said:
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet. I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.
“This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world. We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals.”
It is ongoing problems like illegal cattle ranching that are destroying one of the world’s most powerful carbon sinkholes. Individuals, as Jeff Bezos emphasised, are at the frontlines of this battle in the Amazon forest. And if the Bezos Earth Fund is looking for ideas, research grants could be thrown into ideas like microfragmentation, to save the coral reef.
The $10 billion donation is one of the largest amounts in recorded philanthropic history yet is just under 8% of his estimated $130 billion net worth. The Chronicle of Philanthropy puts this donation in second place after a $36 billion injection by CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffet, to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2006.
In response to the news, the AECJ spoke out about the financial affiliation of Amazon with climate-denial and the silencing of employees. The group encouraged “true leadership” from their CEO, and re-iterated the ongoing role of the oil and gas industries.
They further commented:
“As history has taught us, true visionaries stand up against entrenched systems, often at great cost to themselves. We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away. The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?
“When is Amazon going to stop funding climate-denying think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and climate-delaying policy? When will Amazon take responsibility for the lungs of children near its warehouses by moving from diesel to all-electric trucking?
“Why did Amazon threaten to fire employees who were sounding the alarm about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis and our oil and gas business? What this shows is that employees speaking out works–we need more of that right now.”
To really understand what Jeff Bezos has in mind for the Earth, we can only wait and see where the first grants will be allocated.