After Jeff Bezos announced Monday he was pledging $10 billion to help solve the climate crisis, critics celebrated the apparent success of a long pressure campaign while questioning how the richest man in the world would dole out the funds and what the philanthropic move means for the Amazon founder's global political power going forward.
"We applaud Jeff Bezos' philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away," Amazon Employees For Climate Justice said in a statement in response to news of the donation.
As employees, here is our statement to Jeff Bezos' Earth Fund announcement (as an image): pic.twitter.com/opgcCpa67D
— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@AMZNforClimate) February 17, 2020
"The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil &andgas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?" the group asked.
Bezos took to Instagram Monday to tell the world he was donating 7.7% of his total wealth to the effort, calling the climate crisis "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 Bezos.
Amazon didn't pay taxes in 2018 and provides invaluable logistical support to the fossil fuel industry https://t.co/SOCMX91MS4
— Kate Aronoff (@KateAronoff) February 17, 2020
The announcement comes after months of employee unrest over Amazon's fueling of the climate crisis. In September, around 1,700 Amazon employees joined a global climate walkout "to take responsibility for the impact that our business has on the planet and on people." Reporting in January showed the company threatening employees not to speak out on climate lest they be fired.
As the New York Times reported, Amazon's carbon footprint is not insubstantial:
With vast data centers that power 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, disclosing it emitted about 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018—the equivalent of burning almost 600,000 tanker trucks' worth of gasoline.
Thus, climate journalist Emily Atkin explained in her newsletter Heated Tuesday, while $10 billion is a lot of money it's good to be wary of promises from Bezos, whose company provides logistical and technical support to the fossil fuel industry and has indicated no intention of ending those contracts or stopping that work.
"When I'm assessing Jeff Bezos' climate philanthropy, I'm not assessing it the same way I would assess the philanthropic efforts of an average person. I'm not going to applaud it for simply existing," Atkin wrote. "Jeff Bezos is currently fueling the climate crisis, far more than you or I—and he's making a lot of money doing it. He should be doing far more than you or I to help fix this problem."
Jeff Bezos is worth $130 billion.
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A normal young person (under 35) is worth $11,100.
Jeff Bezos is donating $10 billion to fight climate change.
That's like if a normal young person donated $847.
More in today's subscribers-only post: https://t.co/1rEg9DHmnI
— Emily Atkin (@emorwee) February 18, 2020
Amazon Employees For Climate Justice expressed reservations over the billionaire's commitment to addressing the crisis.
"Will Jeff Bezos show us true leadership or will he continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis, while supposedly trying to help?" the group wondered.
Institute for Local Self-Reliance co-director Stacy Mitchell noted another issue with such a large donation—the philanthropy allows Bezos another opportunity for power.
"It's the power to decide who matters, how problems are defined, what 'solutions' count, and so on," said Mitchell. "This is another way for Bezos to wield still more power over our society."
TIME editor-at-large Anand Giridharadas asked what the future holds for Bezos and his largesse.
"Will Jeff Bezos further entrench the power divide through the administration of this donation?" wondered Giridharadas. "Or will he give the people who have a legitimate claim to a lot of that money—workers not paid enough in wages, and communities not paid enough in taxes—a say in the project?"