Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has promised to spend $10 billion of his own money to fight “the devastating impact of climate change” — but it’s not clear how the funds will be used or whether Bezos’ generosity will mollify a climate community deeply skeptical of his company.
The Bezos Earth Fund, which Bezos announced Monday on Instagram, will support “scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.” The Instagram statement also said the fund “will begin issuing grants this summer.”
The announcement, which comes just five months after Bezos vowed to make Amazon carbon neutral by 2040, earned a guarded reaction from some of Bezos’ own employees. Soon after Bezos’ announcement, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice posted a tweet stating that the new fund’s stated climate objectives were contradicted by Amazon’s continued sale of cloud services to oil and gas companies.
“We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” the group said Monday. “The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil and gas companies ravage the Earth with still more more oil and gas wells?”
Microsoft has also been criticized for working with the oil and gas industry.
Skeptics may also question the timing of Bezos’ announcement. It comes just a day before the airing of a Frontline documentary, “Amazon Empire: the Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos,” and follows increasing scrutiny of the company by lawmakers.
But Monday’s announcement also left many unanswered, more fundamental questions about how the fund would operate.
What is known is that fund, reportedly the largest philanthropic move by Bezos, will come entirely from his personal funds and will be used solely for charitable contributions, not investments in companies or startups, according to a source who is familiar with the fund but spoke only on condition of anonymity. The source also said there would be no connection between the Bezos Earth Fund and Amazon.
However, there was no information on such matters as how the fund would choose grant recipients, what kind of climate-related projects would be prioritized, or even where the headquarters would be.
One possible hint might come from an earlier Bezos charitable initiative, the Seattle-based Bezos Day One Fund, which Bezos and his now-ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, launched in 2018 with a commitment of $2 billion. One part of that operation, the Day 1 Families Fund, aims to help young families with shelter and support, but does so by contributing funds to existing community organizations.
In 2019, for example, the Day 1 Families Fund awarded $98.5 million to 32 organizations in 23 states, including $2.5 million to Interim Community Development Association in Seattle; $5 million to Spokane-based Catholic Charities Eastern Washington; and $5 million to Seattle-based Mary’s Place, which has also been a recipient of Amazon funding.
The larger uncertainty may be how Bezos’ climate philanthropy is received by Amazon critics who have demanded more aggressive climate action from a global retailer that leans heavily on the transport sector, one of the biggest contributors of climate-altering carbon dioxide.
In 2018, Amazon emitted just over 44 million tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses, according to a first-ever disclosure by the company last September. That would rank Amazon among the world’s top emitters, roughly on par with oil and gas companies, emissions expert Bruno Sarda told The New York Times last year.
Bezos, who has been interested in climate issues for years, has pushed Amazon to commit to such measures as adding 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030, and investing $100 million in reforestation, which can help absorb carbon dioxide. And his 2040 goal for making Amazon carbon neutral is a full decade sooner than the 2050 date that scientists say is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
But Amazon has also been criticized for cracking down on employee dissent — and, allegedly, even threatening to fire at least two outspoken employees who have criticized the company.
Indeed, some commentators wondered whether Monday’s announcement might also be at least partly a move by Bezos to respond indirectly to internal dissent over climate at Amazon.
“Amazon employees risked their jobs and spoke out about Bezos not doing enough to fight climate change,” tweeted tech and environment writer Thor Benson. “I’m giving them credit for this.'”