Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who with a net worth of $US130 ($193) billion is currently the world’s richest man, announced that he was creating the Bezos Earth Fund on Monday. The fund is a $US10 ($15) billion global initiative that aims to fund “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”
Bezos unveiled his new initiative in an Instagram post Monday, in which he said that climate change is the biggest threat to the planet. The Amazon CEO stated that he wanted to work with others to “amplify known ways and explore new ways” to combat the devastating impact of climate change. According to the announcement, the Bezos Earth Fund will fund scientists, activists, NGOs and other efforts. It will start issuing grants this summer.
“We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organisations, and individuals,” Bezos said.
Concrete details about the initiative have not been published yet. The Verge reports that a person close to the fund said it would not engage in private sector investment, but focus entirely on charitable giving. Let’s be frank: It’s a good announcement, and if it works as described, it could fund great work.
However, Bezos’ fund is also notable for many other reasons. First of all, the fund aims to protect and preserve Earth. This is a shift for Bezos, who in recent years has been focusing on getting to space with Blue Origin, his spaceflight company. In the past, Bezos has stated that Blue Origin is his “most important work” and that he wants his great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren to live in a world with a “thousand Einsteins” and unlimited resources, something that he believes is only possible if humanity moves beyond Earth and into the Solar System.
Nonetheless, the Amazon CEO’s concern for the planet isn’t entirely out of the blue. Bezos has also said that he believes that in the very, very distant future humans will move will “heavy industry” off Earth, in turn converting the planet into a residential area with light industry.
“It will basically be a very beautiful planet,” Bezos told Business Insider in an interview in 2018. “We have sent robotic probes to every planet in this Solar System now and believe me this is the best one.”
The new Bezos Earth Fund is also important because it’s one of the Amazon executive’s largest philanthropic efforts to date. Before this, his largest donation was $US2 ($3) billion to projects focused on early childhood education and assistance to homeless families.
Bezos has faced criticism for not dedicating more of his fortune to charitable giving. When they divorced, Bezos’ ex-wife, MacKenzie Bezos, signed the Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to give the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. (Bezos has not signed the pledge.) MacKenzie Bezos reached a divorce settlement with Jeff Bezos for $US35 ($52) billion, the largest in history.
Additionally, Bezos’ $US10 ($15) billion pledge contrasts Amazon’s own stance on the climate crisis. The company’s Climate Pledge, its commitment to meet the emission reductions laid out in the Paris Climate Agreement and become carbon neutral by 2040, has been criticised as weak. By comparison, Microsoft announced that it would be carbon negative by 2030 and remove all the carbon that it has emitted since its founding in 1975 from the atmosphere.
Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of the company’s employees that believes that its business models shouldn’t contribute to the climate crisis, applauded Bezos’s new philanthropic initiative. But the group also called him out on other actions that it considers counterproductive to the climate crisis.
The group highlighted the fact that Amazon continues to work with oil and gas companies, which play a big role in climate change. It also asked why the company threatened to fire employees who spoke to the press about their efforts.
“As history has taught us, true visionaries stand up against entrenched systems, often at great cost to themselves,” the group said in a statement. “We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away.”