Skepticism is Natural when the World’s Richest Person announces Fund without Details as to how it will be Administered
Jeff Bezos—the founder and CEO of Amazon— recently announced via Instagram that he will be donating $10 billion to the fight against climate change. The informal monetary pledge, which Bezos made on February 17th, will be titled the Bezos Earth Fund. It will economically support scientists, activists, and NGOs to help protect the planet in these environmentally trying times.
When the $10 billion is eventually donated, it will be the largest philanthropic contribution ever made towards combatting climate change. Worth over $130 billion, Bezos is the richest man in the world, and this donation will be about 8% of his entire net worth. Even for a man of Bezos’ stature, this certainly appears to be a generous act.
Nevertheless, the hefty donation has not gone without criticism and speculation. Bezos and Amazon have become controversial names in recent years for a number of reasons – conventionally being on the wrong side of climate change is but one of them.
Amazon has a troubling track record of supporting the fossil fuel industry. The company has troves of money and investments tied up with big gas and oil companies, some of the biggest profiteers off of the Earth’s ecological destruction. Recently, Amazon even sponsored an event for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a think-tank promoting climate denial.
On an even darker note, Amazon has traditionally tried to silence employees who attend climate action rallies. Lately, these environmentally passionate employees have formed the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice to stand in solidarity and raise awareness about Amazon’s misdemeanors against the planet. Now, these employees risk termination for outing some of Amazon’s statistical secrets.
Only recently has Amazon revealed its numbers relating to carbon emissions and energy consumption. As the world’s largest retailer, the company naturally uses immense resources to transport products all around the planet. In 2018, Amazon reportedly released 44.4 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere—the equivalent of a small nation.
These revelations about Amazon’s detrimental affects on the Earth have led to the company pledging some late changes. The corporation now aims to use 100% renewable energy by 2030 and carry out at least half of its shipments with zero net emissions. It also plans to invest more in wind and solar and wants carbon neutrality by 2040.
The Timing does Make this Pledge Look like A PR Stunt. How About Results, Soon?
Bezos’ $10 billion announcement just might be the bottleneck of all these reformations to put Amazon back on the right side of environmental history. Then again, if one reads closely, the Fund does not mention Amazon at all, and thus the company’s practices may continue business-as-usual despite whatever Bezos is doing to clear his personal name.
Furthermore, some are still scratching their heads about the conditions surrounding Bezos’ donation. After all, the only thing the CEO has done so far is announce the Earth Fund. He is bound to nothing and hasn’t outlined any concrete details.
Distribution of the fund will be a crucial element of the Fund’s impact. As aforementioned, the money will go to scientists, activists, and NGOs, but Bezos did not specify whether or not political donations are in the cards. Although funding non-profits and research can go a long way, many would argue that governmental reformation is the premiere way to create positive, tangible change.
The pacing of the distribution is also just as important. It is not clear how Bezos will go about giving away the $10 billion over the next few years, whether he will spend it down over time or hold in in an endowment. Many hope for the former as the world cannot wait much longer for the support it needs in combatting the climate crisis.
Then, there are a slew of lingering questions regarding the ownership, organization, and legality of this philanthropic contribution. Will it be connected to Bezos’ corporate enterprise? If so, what might be the underlying tax incentives of this “charitable” act? Who will be responsible for overseeing all of this and making sure that the money is distributed ethically?
It would be unfair to call a Bezos’ donation a hallow gesture. $10 billion is enough money to truly make a difference. However, it is imperative that the finer details be executed and analyzed with the upmost care. Given Amazon’s ongoing place in the world and its oftentimes nefarious position in the fight against climate change, people are right to look at the $10 billion with a quizzical eye, and not take it as a free pass to offset or pardon Bezos of his previous and current actions.
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