Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, has vowed to donate US$10 billion to combat climate change. His donation would be the largest ever given towards addressing the global phenomenon that threatens imminent, catastrophic environmental change.
Bezos has frequently faced criticism for how Amazon operates, both in relation to its employees and its reliance on the oil industry. Earlier this year, hundreds of Amazon employees risked their jobs to protest the company’s climate-related policies.
Jeff Bezos sets a philanthropic record
On Monday, February 17, Bezos announced on his Instagram account that he intended to commit US$10 billion to start the “Bezos Earth Fund.” The fund will support “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.” In the post, Bezos stated, “Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet.”
As CNN noted, Bezos’ US$10 billion pledge is one of the largest charitable donations in history. A US$36 billion donation by billionaire investor Warren Buffett to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation remains the largest. The US$16.5 billion left by Helen Walton (widow of Wal-Mart founder, Sam Walton) to the Walton Family Foundation is the only other donation that surpasses Bezos’.
Bezos’ US$10 billion commitment is the largest amount ever pledged by a single person to fight climate change.
Criticism of Bezos’ lack of philanthropy
Though many responded to the news with approval, including many wishes of gratitude left on Bezos’ Instagram post, Bezos has been called out for his lack of philanthropy in the past. As the richest man on the planet, with a current net worth of US$130 billion, critics have previously taken issue with the size of some of Bezos’ donations.
By some estimates, Bezos accumulates more than US$10 billion every two months.
Bezos has been criticized for declining to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to donate at least half his wealth to philanthropic causes throughout his life.
Among the more than 200 people to sign the pledge are Bill and Melinda Gates, Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg (founder of Facebook), and Jeff Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos.
However, Bezos has previously given large sums of money to charitable causes. In September 2018, Bezos and his then-wife MacKenzie announced the creation of the US$2 billion initiative, Day One Fund, aimed at helping the homeless and low-income families.
At the time, however, the initiative faced criticism for funding historically ineffective programs for addressing those issues.
Amazon employees speak out and risk their jobs
The timing of the Bezos Earth Fund pledge is also interesting, as it comes less than a month after hundreds of Amazon employees protested Amazon’s failure to address climate change.
Though Amazon has pledged to reduce its carbon emissions over the next 20 years, it was reported that the company threatened to fire employees who spoke to the press about Amazon’s climate policies.
Despite the threat, nearly 350 tech employees used the #AMZNSpeakOut hashtag to express their critical views online.
The digital protest took place on January 27, with the Twitter account “Amazon Employees For Climate Justice” organizing the action. The account’s description states that it is “a group of Amazon employees who believe it’s our responsibility to ensure our business models don’t contribute to the climate crisis.”
The group also published a collection of quotes on Medium that were signed or co-signed by 397 Amazon employees. The employees stated that they hoped Amazon would do more to fight climate change, but they also expressed dismay at Amazon’s efforts to stifle discourse around the issue.
Amazon employees walk out to force change
Those January actions followed a September 20, 2019 walkout in which hundreds of Amazon employees committed to demonstrate against Amazon’s climate change policies. The Amazon Employees For Climate Justice group issued a press release prior to the walkout to explain their actions.
The press release explained that the group hoped to get “Amazon to commit to zero emissions by 2030 and to pilot electric vehicles first in communities most-impacted by pollution.”
In April 2019, the group also criticized Amazon for donating to politicians who deny climate change is real, and for doing business with fossil fuel companies that would help them expand their efforts to extract oil and gas.Fossil fuels are the leading cause of CO2 emissions, one of the main greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.