SEATTLE – Jeff Bezos, chief executive of Amazon and the richest man in the world, said on Monday that he was committing $ 10 billion to tackle the climate crisis in a new initiative he called the Bezos Earth Fund.
The effort will finance scientists, activists and non-governmental organizations, he said in an Instagram post. Bezos, who has been pressured by Amazon officials on climate issues, said he hopes to start issuing donations this summer.
"Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet," he wrote. "I want to work alongside others to expand known ways and explore new ways to combat the devastating impact of climate change on this planet that we all share."
Bezos has done little philanthropy in the past. With a net worth of $ 130 billion, he preferred to focus on Amazon and other private ventures, such as Blue Origin, which makes rockets. Mr. Bezos also owns the Washington Post.
More recently, Bezos increased his donation. His biggest donation to date was $ 2 billion, presented in September 2018, to help homeless families and build a network of Montessori preschools, an effort he announced with his then wife, MacKenzie.
After the couple divorced last year, Bezos said he signed the donation pledge, which asks the richest people in the world to pledge to donate at least half of their wealth during their lifetime or will. Mr. Bezos did not sign the pledge.
In September, Bezos released the Climate Commitment, in which he stated that Amazon would meet the Paris climate agreement goals ten years ahead of schedule and be carbon neutral by 2040. As part of the commitment, he said Amazon was ordering 100,000 trucks delivery systems from Rivian, a Michigan-based company that Amazon invested in.
At the time, Bezos said the Earth's climate was changing faster than predicted by the scientific community five years ago. "These predictions were bad, but what is really happening is terrible," he said.
Bezos made that promise after Amazon employees stirred up climate change. For a year, workers pressured Amazon to be more aggressive in its climate goals, organizing a strike and speaking publicly about how the company could do better.
With vast data centers using cloud computing and a global network for shipping and delivering packages, Amazon's own impact on the environment is substantial. In September, the company revealed its own carbon footprint for the first time, revealing that it emitted about 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018 – the equivalent of burning almost 600,000 gas tankers.
"That would place them among the top 150 or 200 emitters in the world," alongside oil and gas producers and industrial manufacturers, said Bruno Sarda, president of CDP North America, a non-profit organization that encourages carbon disclosure. .
Amazon employees applauded the company's Climate Pledge, but continued to pressure executives to stop providing cloud computing services to the oil and gas industry. They argued that making the exploitation and extraction of fossil fuels less expensive would make the transition from the global economy to more renewable energy more difficult.
Amazon resisted the pressure, saying in a policy statement that "the energy sector must have access to the same technologies as other sectors".
Some officials also said that Amazon retaliated against them for their activism. Amazon said employees must channel their ideas through internal forums, such as company meetings and lunch sessions with the sustainability team.
The workers, through their Amazon Employees for Climate Justice group, said on Monday that while they applauded Bezos's philanthropy, "one hand cannot give what the other is taking".
They added: “The people of Earth need to know: when will Amazon stop helping oil and gas companies devastate the Earth with even more oil and gas wells? When will Amazon stop funding climate-denying think tanks, such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and climate delay policy? "
Margaret O & # 39; Mara, a professor at the University of Washington who studies the history of technology companies, called Bezos' new fund "a very powerful statement" and said that the actions of the Amazon president have followed in the footsteps that other magnates of technology, like Microsoft founder Bill Gates, had taken the address of the planet on warming.
Philanthropy, she added, usually occurs in the wake of great fortunes. "This is yet another reminder that we are in a second golden age," she said.
Mr. Bezos provided only rudimentary details of what the Bezos Land Fund would do and did not directly address the priorities he would support, in addition to "any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world".
Since at least high school, Bezos has seen space exploration as a way to preserve the Earth. He postulated the idea that heavy industry could be in space, leaving the planet cleaner for human use.
"If you want to protect the Earth, save the Earth, we have to go to space", he said in a speech a year ago.
The new fund will provide donations, rather than making investments from which Bezos would expect to make a profit, according to a person with knowledge of the plan who was not authorized to speak publicly. The new fund is not connected to Amazon. The donation is one of the biggest known commitments made by an individual, according to a data base directed by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.
Even if Mr. Bezos spends all of the $ 10 billion immediately, he would still remain the richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. This month, Bezos sold more than $ 4 billion in Amazon stock as part of a previously agreed trading plan, according to regulatory documents. Amazon declined to comment on stock sales.
Bezos is also spending his fortune in other ways. He recently agreed to pay $ 165 million for a Beverly Hills property owned by David Geffen, the media magnate and co-founder of DreamWorks. Separately, Bezos Expeditions, which oversees the charity foundation The Post and Bezos, is buying 120 undeveloped acres in Beverly Hills for $ 90 million, although the deal is not complete.