On February 17, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced that he was starting the Bezos Earth Fund, a nebulous initiative meant to help combat climate change. While Bezos’s initial announcement was somewhat sparing on the details, he did give one figure that raised eyebrows across the globe: To start off the fund, Bezos would be donating $10 billion of his own money for grants to fund climate science and innovation.
In almost any context, $10 billion is a staggering amount of money, especially in terms of donations to climate research. It’s more than 10 times more money than every charitable organization on earth spent on climate change in 2018, and 20 times more than the amount of climate science grants given out in the U.S. every year. Scientists, activists, and everyday citizens across the globe are understandably pretty excited — if spent well, $10 billion could totally change the game in facing the climate crisis.
Plenty of people, though, aren’t so sure about the Bezos Earth Fund. After all, $10 billion is a drop in the bucket for the richest man in the world — he could give billions more and still hold the title. Furthermore, the lack of details on exactly how the Earth Fund will work has been widely troubling. When asked for comment, Amazon spokespeople have been oddly silent on some basic details. Over what time period will Bezos be donating this $10 billion? Will the $10 billion involve political advocacy and campaign donations? Bezos hasn’t even done as much as let on to the legal structure of the company, information that could be key to determining the purpose of the Fund. And seeing as Bezos has a day job overseeing ownership of Amazon, Blue Origin, and The Washington Post, who exactly is going to be in charge of the fund? These questions are fairly basic ones to be asking about a philanthropic act of this magnitude, so it’s a little troubling that Bezos and Amazon have given so few answers.
It’s also hard not to see the $10 billion as a flashy effort to whitewash Amazon’s spotty environmental record. By Amazon’s own reporting, the company emits 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, which is more than nearly 75% of countries on Earth, let alone companies. Amazon has also recently been in the news for threatening to fire employees who called for Amazon to do more to reduce its environmental impact. In Amazon’s defense, the company has made some significant commitments to sustainability for the future, including the goals of using 100% renewable energy by 2030 and being carbon-neutral by 2040, but there’s little to suggest that Amazon couldn’t be making these changes on a much faster timeline — and without threatening workers for asking their employer to do the right thing.Long-time readers of AMP might note that Ed Desk usually covers things related to UTD or our fellow students and ask how this correlates. This issue matters to everyone, though — both in our generation and beyond. While we aren’t the ones who initiated the practices that lead to climate change, we are the ones who will suffer its effects. And again: $10 billion is a lot of money and could do a lot of good. Given Amazon’s track record, though, and Bezos’s unwillingness to answer basic questions about the Bezos Earth Fund, we at AMP can’t help but be a little skeptical. Do we want to be hopeful? Absolutely. But climate change is an issue that affects all of us, and it feels like we deserve a little more accountability than a cryptic Instagram post with a stock photo of the planet Bezos is claiming to save.