Written by: Lindsey Boycott
Announced in a fashion that only the truly wealthy can communicate such information, Jeff Bezos shared in an Instagram post that he plans to launch a $10 billion fund to fight climate change. The initiative will start sending out grants to researchers, activists, and nonprofits this summer, he said in his post, with the intent of supporting "any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world." Each contribution will be a donation with no expectation of a return on investment.
Even though it represents about 8 percent of Bezos’ estimated $130 billion fortune, it represents one of the most substantial donations ever made to charity – according to a ranking provided by the Chronicle of Philanthropy. There is no doubting the generosity of the CEO's fund, but as it turns out, the billionaire is a latecomer to contributing to the betterment of society. In 2018, Bezos made his first significant bequest of $2 billion to open preschools in lower-income neighborhoods. The money also went towards helping organizations that serve homeless families.
But Bezos is doubling down with his climate change commitment after receiving some pushback from Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) employees regarding climate change. His online e-commerce giant Amazon emits almost as much carbon as a small nation, says Professor Gregg Marland, Research Institute for Environment, Energy and Economics with the Appalachian State University. Its greenhouse gas emissions output is about 85 percent of those of Denmark or Switzerland. Bezos pledged to be carbon neutral by 2040 and plans to employ 100,000 electric-powered delivery vans by 2024.
Regardless, Amazon's carbon footprint is too big, and Bezos' commitment is too little. His workforce staged a walkout to protest climate change inaction in September 2019. Organized by a private group who identified themselves as Amazon Employees for Climate Justice claimed that more than 1,800 employees in over 25 cities and 14 countries pledged to participate in the action. They estimate that more than 3,000 tech workers walked out in Seattle. Bezos agrees the situation is dire.
“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” Bezos said. “I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change.”
Bezo’s long-held belief that saving the planet is linked with space exploration inspired him to launch aerospace start-up Blue Origin in 2000. After getting himself into hot water for saying Blue Origin is the most important work he's doing, Bezos points out that allocating money to earthbound challenges versus spacefaring endeavors doesn't have to be an either/or choice.
“If you take the big picture, you should spend money here on Earth,” Bezos explained. “There are a lot of important objectives here on Earth we need to do here and now. [But] … you also have to spend some money on things that are 10 years out, 20 years out, 50 years out, 100 years out.”
Alternatively, the CEO wants “a whole diversified portfolio of trying to do the right thing.”
Amazon has a long way to go before becoming all that Bezos promises, including 80 percent renewable energy by 2024 and 100 percent by 2030. But if anyone can start shifting thinking amongst the top 10 percent, it will be this billionaire.
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