Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s historic lack of charitable donations has added fuel to the fire towards the debate over whether or not it is the responsibility of a billionaire to donate. Some say billionaires have no responsibility, for it is their money to do as they please with. However, many others believe that billionaires are morally obligated to donate to charity, and are not currently donating enough. After all, recent statistics show that the top 1% own around 50% of the world’s wealth. To many, being that wealthy while donating little is highly immoral. In 2018, Bezos began to appease such critics through the creation of the Day One Fund, which committed two billion dollars towards early education and helping those who are homeless. Last month, Bezos announced the creation of the `Bezos Earth Fund’, his largest commitment yet. Included in this fund is a donation of $10 billion dollars, which, according to Bezos’s Instagram, will go towards “Scientists, Activists, and NGO’s”. In the same post, Bezos affirmed his opinions of climate change being the “biggest threat to our planet”, and that together, “we can save the earth”. Bezos’s proposal sounds noble. After all, the only larger pledge in the last 20 years had been Warren Buffet’s $43 billion dollar commitment towards the Gates Foundation in 2006. However, discourse still ensues as many wonder how much that donation will actually assist climate change efforts, and if the money is being spent to the right place at all.
There is no debate over whether or not $10 billion dollars is a lot of money; it is equivalent to around 7-8% of Bezos’s net worth. However, in the global effort to fight climate change, it barely makes a dent in the price tag. Global decarbonization, or drastically reducing (and possibly ridding of) the world’s carbon emissions, has been estimated to cost around $73 trillion dollars. This places Bezos’s donation towards “Scientists, Activists, and NGOs” at a tiny fraction of a percent of what it takes to fulfill this goal. Back in the United States the Green New Deal, proposed by the Democratic party, is the most widely advocated plan to fight climate change. Back in August Senator Bernie Sanders released a blueprint for the Green New Deal, which placed costs at around $16.3 trillion dollars. Again, Bezos’s donation represents less than 1% of these costs.
The question then remains of how Jeff Bezos’s donation can actually make a large scale impact. When it comes to climate change, not much. To make matters worse, recent statistics estimate that big oil companies are expected to spend around $4.9 trillion dollars extracting oil and gas over the next decade. Companies like Exxon and Shell are projected to spend hundreds of billions of dollars in the next decade on expenditures like new oil and gas fields alone, not taking into account those already existing. Although noble, Bezos’s donation is not nearly enough to fulfill global or national climate change goals. The donation is also not nearly as much as big oil companies will spend on investments that will result in billions of tons of carbon dioxide dumped into the atmosphere.
So, if a $10 billion dollar donation will barely pay for a fraction of a percent of global or national decarbonization, where should the money have been spent? The answer lies within Bezos’s own company: Amazon. In 2018, Amazon released more than 44 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Recently, Amazon employees formed the organization “Amazon Employees for Climate Justice”, a group that has been working for over a year to try to get Amazon to limit their carbon emissions. On January 2nd, the Washington Post reported that at least 2 members of the group, both of which had publicly criticized Amazon’s carbon footprint, had been told by the company that they violated the company’s communication policy, and that they could be fired for speaking to the press. Needless to say, members of the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice were not pleased with Bezos’s donation.
Instead of a donation of $10 billion, many believe that Bezos should have focused on the impact his own company has on the environment. There are many actions Bezos could have taken to change Amazon in a way that embraces sustainability. Bezos could have invested towards environmentally friendly non-plastic packaging. He could have stopped Amazon from funding the Competitive Enterprise institute, a “Think Tank” who supports climate change denial. Or, he could have had Amazon stop providing technology such as artificial intelligence to large oil companies that help them locate oil more efficiently. Despite all of this, the company has pledged to use 100% renewable energy by the year 2030 and to be carbon neutral by 2040. Amazon has also ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles. However, many still complain about the lack of current steps being taken to cut carbon emissions and Amazon’s current ties with big oil companies. For now, only time will reveal the true effects of Jeff Bezos’s donation, and whether or not the decision that yields the greatest benefit towards the welfare of the planet was made.