On February 17th, 2020, Jeff Bezos announced the launch of the Bezos Earth Fund, and his commitment of $10 billion dollars to the cause. This initiative will fund research on climate change, support compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement, and help Amazon become carbon-neutral by 2040, ten years prior to the Paris Agreement deadline. This was a change of direction for Bezos, who does not have a history of philanthropy. With a net worth of between $120 and $130 billion, his investment (7-8% of his total net worth) is not insignificant. However, some are critical of whether Bezos’s proposition is really all it seems.
One way Amazon is planning to meet the goal of carbon-neutrality by 2040 is by purchasing 100,000 electric trucks for delivery. For reference, UPS has “About 125,000 package cars, vans, tractors, motorcycles” according to the UPS 2019 fact sheet. However, there is no statement on mitigation of the carbon footprint of shipping by plane. It is worth noting that the goal is carbon-neutrality, meaning that carbon emissions are permitted if they are offset by organizations that take carbon out of the atmosphere. Whether or not carbon offsetting truly cancels out the negative impacts of carbon emissions is still a contested issue.
Amazon’s employees claim that Bezos is complicit in the climate crisis and is not doing enough to ensure a sustainable future. They call for a more aggressive approach, including net-zero carbon emissions by 2030. Amazon Employees for Climate Justice criticized Amazon’s decision to keep offering cloud computing services to gas and oil companies. Bezos defended the decision, asserting that it would be unfair to expect companies to make transitions to sustainable practices without the adequate tools to do so.
Others claim that while Bezos’s commitment will help combat the climate crisis, citizens should not look to billionaires as saviors for global issues. In fact, Bezos’s investment will pay him back financially in the form of tax reduction and returns, moving money away from the government, which could use it to fund larger-scale projects like the Green New Deal. Critics question Bezos’s motives; Amazon’s appearance as a company committed to sustainability could potentially dissuade the federal government from imposing harsher regulations. They argue that by taking matters into his own hands, Bezos is attempting to keep control over the ways in which Amazon addresses the climate crisis. The overriding concern is that corporate action will replace a government response to the issue.
It is still unclear how bold these measures will be and what the implications are for the future of Amazon. Only time will tell whether the Earth Fund is effective, or if it is even enough to steer us away from scientists’ grim predictions for the future.
– Veronika Souzek