Jeff Bezos Commits a Cool 10 Billion to Fight Climate Change

Image: Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Amazon

Yesterday, Amazon’s Chief Executive Officer/world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, announced a $10 billion pledge to fund scientists, activists, nonprofits and other groups fighting to protect the environment and counter the effects of climate change. The initiative is called the Bezos Earth Fund and will begin giving out grants this summer.

Bezos said in an Instagram post that “Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” and that he wants 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.”

It’s Complicated: Amazon has been facing mounting pressure to step up on climate leadership after recent strikes from a group of its employees drew attention to the fact that many of the corporate giant’s actions are quite problematic. While it’s employees are happy about the pledge, they’re not willing to give full praise just yet. The Amazon Employees for Climate Justice issued the following statement in response to Bezos’ pledge:

“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. Will Jeff Bezos show us true leadership or will he continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis, while supposedly trying to help?”

Billionaire Philanthropy: As Vox wrote of Bezos’ gift,

“All of this belated giving, ironically, comes at a time when billionaire philanthropy is a more of a minefield than ever. Society is beginning to reckon with the fact that charitable gifts are a form of influence — and that maybe these billionaires shouldn’t have so much power in the first place. After all, it will be Jeff Bezos deciding who to fund with this $10 billion, not taxpayers through the democratically elected United States government.”

Fair, but since our democratically elected officials haven’t been able to take meaningful action on climate change for over 30 years, perhaps a gift like this might make the difference.

Why This Matters: As the New York Times’ Brad Plumer explained, “Just for scale, the UN Green Climate Fund—funded by wealthy nation governments and meant to be a key vehicle to help developing countries adapt to climate change—is currently at about $9.8 billion.” While it’s still unclear how it will be administered this gift could help make a lot of positive change when it comes to climate action. However, what we’ll have to watch is how Amazon–one of the world’s corporate giants–will change its behavior accordingly to walk the walk. Otherwise, if Amazon’s profits are funding (even indirectly) this pledge and the company is not doing its part to support a carbon-free future and influence others to do the same then the effect of the philanthropy will be negated.

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