After what has felt like years and years of both the public and Amazon employees begging Jeff Bezos to use his astronomical wealth to aid the fight against global warming, a step has finally been taken by the man himself. On 17th February this year, Bezos announced on his Instagram that he was to establish the Bezos Earth Fund, a $10 billion commitment to preserving the planet. Promised under this pledge is the funding of scientists, activists, and NGOs, or in his words, “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world”.
It is believed that this significant sum of money will be focused towards lobbying decision makers to put an end to the use of fossil fuels, as well as developing renewable technology initiatives to speed up the battle against climate change. Yet, the specifics of the Bezos Earth Fund are still hazy, and will most likely remain so until the summer. What cannot be denied, however, is that this is a monumental step in the right direction, now that Bezos has become the largest single US donor taking on climate change.
This pledge tails closely behind the forceful demands that surfaced amongst Bezos’ very own employees at Amazon. But that does not mean to imply that the journey from their initial outcries to him taking action was an easy one. A letter signed by 8,700 workers, under ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’, was released in April last year, pressuring their CEO to finally adopt a significant plan to tackle global warming, as well as multiple walk-outs being organised in protest against the company’s policies. And let’s just say, Bezos’ initial reaction was far from welcoming.
The reaction that came from the demands made by Amazon workers, in my opinion, epitomises the hostility that Bezos - and Amazon as a whole - has shown towards saving our planet. Outspoken employees were threatened by managers with unemployment, as well as being met with a prolonged silence on any changes to company policy. Reevaluating examples such as these brings me back to reality, and allows me to consider that Bezos’ motivations behind the Earth Fund are far from genuine.
If his actions were wholly genuine, perhaps Bezos would reconsider his company’s relationship with environmentally ruinous companies. Surely, he would try to douse the fire on his own ship before he attempts to take control of ours? In spite of the fact that Amazon announced a new Climate Pledge in late 2019, which committed to 100% renewable energy by 2030, the company is still yet to cut ties with oil and gas companies. Bezos has argued that this is the best way to accelerate their transition to clean energy, but surely the best solution to forcing companies to re-evaluate their environmental damage, is to remove funding from them - because this simply feels like Amazon is giving these industries a second chance that we cannot trust to be enacted.
Amazon revealed in 2018 that it emitted 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. With a carbon footprint that is greater than that of Switzerland’s, the double standard behind this rather sudden change of heart is definitely one to be wary of. The company’s valuing of rapid output over sustainability only adds weight to their hostile reaction towards employees that were fighting for the climate. Bezos has hoarded a mass amount of wealth by abusing the planet’s resources, and is only just now returning the profit he has made off of it. I think, from this, it can be argued that reserving our confidence is justifiable.
It is far from reasonable to say that someone’s actions are wholly irredeemable. But that does not inherently mean that someone who has ripped gaping holes in our ecosystems for the sake of self-service can be trusted, when all they offer you is a plaster. I don’t think one man’s image is as rectifiable as that. The commitment Bezos has made, whilst significant, still seems to have come from hollow motivations that were put in place by everyone but himself - and whilst I want to trust his potentially pure intentions, when I look at what Amazon has done to our planet, it is simply too hard to find hope to cling on to.
So, can it be said that the celebration of Bezos’ actions does not belong to him, but rather to the workers that risked their employment for the protection of our planet, which is often so harshly overlooked by individuals like him? It is absolutely possible to appreciate Jeff Bezos’ actions whilst still not giving him a pat on the back, because this kind of action should be expected of him by this point, and now feel like a way to pander to a public that no longer cares to listen to him. With the amount of damage he has already caused, the efforts of those that have publicly criticised him are the ones that we should aim our admirations towards.
Whilst a pledge as large as this is definitely a step in the right direction, no matter how far he tries to run from it, Amazon’s shoddy track record will linger on Bezos like a bad stench, as long as he continues to refuse cutting the ties he should. This donation, whilst large, only meets 13% of Amazon’s annual revenues, and does not overwrite a career-spanning demolition of our climate. I cannot criticise Bezos for taking this monumental step, but something I could also never do is applaud him for something he has owed every single one of us for a long time.