February 19, 2020 at 12:00AM by CWC
On Monday, Jeff Bezos, the richest person in the world, announced he’s committing $10 billion to fund solutions for battling climate change with the creation of the Bezos Earth Fund. “Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet. I want 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,” said the founder and CEO of Amazon with an estimated net worth of $131 billion. “Earth is the one thing we all have in common—let’s protect it, together.”
We should all totally be grateful that the unfathomably wealthy Bezos is benevolent. After all, he didn’t have to donate anything, and just think about how many more $165 million mansions he could have purchased instead (the answer is 60 mansions). But Amazon as a business is not good for the environment, so he kind of owes us one, no? I had, after all, felt guilty enough using its fast and free shipping to go Amazon-free in 2020.
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Today, I’m thrilled to announce I am launching the Bezos Earth Fund. Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet. I want 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. This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world. We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals. I’m committing $10 billion to start and will begin issuing grants this summer. Earth is the one thing we all have in common — let’s protect it, together. – Jeff
In all seriousness, I don’t altogether hate Bezos’ $10 billion pledge. Though it does distract from the fact that we can’t rely on billionaires to do what the government is not, as long as an entire political party continues to deny climate change, we’re sunk (literally, in some cases) if we wait for our elected officials to help us. In other words, it is kinda better than nothing; however, Amazon’s carbon footprint is unparalleled. I’d almost rather Bezos invest $10 billion into figuring out more sustainable solutions for Amazon’s packaging and delivery systems, or maybe cover the hit he’d take in doing away with the free shipping that incentivizes us to buy all the things we don’t need.
On the other hand, I hope the best strategy humanity has for saving itself from extinction isn’t to rely on the system which broke the planet to fix it. I mean, if we’re going to depend on the 1 percent to save us, then they’re going to have to continue to make ungodly amounts of money selling us things we don’t need or that are bad for the planet, which sort of defeats the purpose. I mean, I guess the question is, if we all stopped using Amazon, would that be better for the planet than a $10 billion donation, particularly given we’re spending a whopping $232.9 billion a year with Amazon that we could, individually, donate to climate-oriented solutions instead (while simultaneously reducing our consumption)?
After all, as earth system scientist Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine, argues: “The only real solution to climate change is to stop dumping CO2 into the atmosphere altogether.” We have to reach net zero by 2075, and I don’t know if we can innovate our way there—$10 billion notwithstanding—if we don’t also change our habits drastically. And that means, I’d imagine, not continuing to use Amazon Prime to purchase, say, a cat brush (guilty) when we’re too lazy to go to the store.
But the Bezos Earth Fund is giving us all a bit of a hall pass. The billionaire’s splashy announcement breeds complacency among those of us who should be actively working to shrink our individual carbon footprints (read: everyone). He’s allowing those of us protesting the environmental impact of these massive corporations to relax a little. And there’s no time for complacency.
To my knowledge, there’s no perfect solution to the climate crisis, but I think most agree that one of our best bets would be for governments worldwide to step in to regulate corporations, to force them to make decisions they will not because such decisions are not profitable. Until we pressure enough politicians to get on board with this strategy (Republican friends, where you at?), our second best bet is to pressure corporations ourselves to change their ways. By accepting Bezos’ donation with an (Amazonian) smile, we’re doing exactly the opposite.