As two billionaires leverage their obscene personal wealth to purchase a shot at the Democratic nomination, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on Monday that he would allocate $10 billion, or about 7.7 percent of his net worth, to the Bezos Earth Fund to address the effects of climate change.
In an Instagram post, the second richest man in the world announced that his new initiative would fund individuals and groups researching and fighting climate change, with grants beginning as early as this summer. According to a person familiar with the Bezos Earth Fund that spoke with the Daily Beast, the $10 billion would be handed out as “charitable giving to existing institutions and researchers.”
Bezos has a short record of philanthropic giving: In 2018 he debuted the Day One Fund for establishing “a network of new, non-profit, tier-one preschools in low-income communities” and boosting funding for nonprofits serving the homeless. However, Amazon was also a major force in killing a 2018 bill in its home city of Seattle that would have created a $275-per-employee tax on businesses to fund affordable housing. In September 2019, Bezos introduced the Climate Pledge, which requires Amazon to commit to the 2015 Paris climate agreement and to become carbon neutral by 2040. Amazon, which paid nothing in federal taxes on over $11 billion in profits in 2018, is itself a massive carbon emitter. In September 2019, the company released its carbon footprint for the first time in its history, revealing that it released 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in the previous year. “That would put them in the top 150 or 200 emitters in the world,” Bruno Sarda, the president of CDP North America, a nonprofit that encourages the disclosure of corporate emissions, said in an interview at the time.
If executed, the scale of Bezos’s giving would be tremendous. As New York Times climate reporter Brad Plumer notes, “The UN Green Climate Fund — funded by wealthy governments and meant to be a key vehicle to help developing countries adapt to climate change — is currently at about $9.8 billion.” According to NYU climate economist Gernot Wagner, the Bezos Earth Fund’s annual gifts would also be five times greater than the next-largest private climate group, the Hewlett Foundation.
Despite the good intentions and hefty sum announced on Monday, critics have been skeptical of Bezos’s multiple plans to personally shape the near future of the human experience. As The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer noted last year in his expansive Bezos write-around, allocating such power in the wallet of one American in exchange for two-day shipping may not be a sound tradeoff:
The erosion of democracy comes in different forms. Untrammeled private power might not seem the biggest threat when public power takes such abusive form. But the country needs to think like Bezos and consider the longer sweep of history before permitting so much responsibility to pool in one man, who, without ever receiving a vote, assumes roles once reserved for the state. His company has become the shared national infrastructure; it shapes the future of the workplace with its robots; it will populate the skies with its drones; its website determines which industries thrive and which fall to the side. His investments in space travel may remake the heavens. The incapacity of the political system to ponder the problem of his power, let alone check it, guarantees his Long Now. He is fixated on the distance because he knows it belongs to him.
Critics closer to Bezos and his company also sounded off on Monday. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group formed last April to pressure the company to enact substantial environmental initiatives, stated that they applauded “Jeff Bezos’s philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” and cited multiple instances of climate hypocrisy, including reports that Amazon threatened to fire employees for speaking out publicly about the company’s carbon impact.