Jeff Bezos launches $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund, kicking off his own effort to fight climate change

Jeff Bezos at Amazon Spheres
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos speaks at the Amazon Spheres in 2018. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says he’s launching a $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund that will issue grants aimed at addressing climate change — a move that comes less than a month after hundreds of Amazon employees criticized what they saw as the company’s weak commitment to tackling the issue.

Bezos, who’s the world’s richest individual with a net worth estimated at nearly $130 billion, unveiled his philanthropic initiative in an Instagram post.

“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet,” he wrote. “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.”

He said the first grants to scientists, activists and non-governmental organizations would be issued this summer.

Today, I’m thrilled to announce I am launching the Bezos Earth Fund.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ Climate change is 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. This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world. We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals. ⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ I’m committing $10 billion to start and will begin issuing grants this summer. Earth is the one thing we all have in common — let’s protect it, together.⁣⁣⁣ ⁣⁣⁣ – Jeff

A post shared by Jeff Bezos (@jeffbezos) on Feb 17, 2020 at 10:00am PST

As Bezos’ Amazon fortune has grown, there have been growing questions about his approach to philanthropy. In 2017, he solicited suggestions for philanthropic strategies — and followed up in 2018 with the unveiling of a $2 billion Day One Fund to promote innovations in preschool education and affordable housing.

In addition to his philanthropic giving, Jeff Bezos has put billions of dollars toward ventures ranging from the 10000 Year Clock in Texas to his Blue Origin space effort. He’s gotten some grief over the money he’s spending on space, but insists that his ultimate aim is to make life better on Earth.

“We’ve sent robotic probes to all the planets in our solar system. Guess what the best planet is in the solar system? Earth is the best planet,” he said last year when he showed off Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander. “It is not close. This one is really good.”

By some accounts, the $10 billion pledge announced today represents the second-largest single charitable commitment of the 21st century. The biggest one came in 2006, when billionaire financier Warren Buffett pledged to give away 85% of his Berkshire Hathaway stock in the form of an annual series of contributions to charities, including the Bill Melinda Gates Foundation. So far, that pledge has resulted in an estimated $28 billion for the Gates Foundation.

After Jeff and MacKenzie Bezos were divorced last year, MacKenzie announced her commitment to the Giving Pledge, which calls on benefactors to give away half of their fortunes during their lifetimes. Jeff hasn’t signed the pledge yet. A couple of weeks ago, however, he did sell off $4 billion worth of his Amazon stock — and some proceeds just might go into the Bezos Earth Fund.

Climate activists inside and outside Amazon have been urging the company to accelerate its sustainability goals, aim to become carbon-neutral by 2030, and end cloud computing contracts with fossil fuel companies.

The internal activism group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, issued this statement in response to Bezos’ announcement:

“As history has taught us, true visionaries stand up against entrenched systems, often at great cost to themselves. We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away. The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells? When is Amazon going to stop funding climate-denying think tanks like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and climate-delaying policy?

“Why did Amazon threaten to fire employees who were sounding the alarm about Amazon’s role in the climate crisis and our oil and gas business? What this shows is that employees speaking out works – we need more of that right now. 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?

Last September, Amazon announced a “Climate Pledge” that included a commitment to reduce carbon emissions and put 100,000 electric delivery vans on the roads. And a month ago, Microsoft announced a wide-ranging environmental initiative that includes a pledge to go carbon-negative by 2030.

Bezos’ announcement suggests that his latest climate action will be more of a personal crusade. Amazon saluted its CEO’s new climate commitment — and called attention to the company’s previous climate commitments — in a statement emailed to GeekWire:

“Amazon took a bold step when it announced the Climate Pledge, committing the company to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement ten years early, and we’re incredibly excited about the Bezos Earth Fund. Jeff’s passion and this extraordinary personal contribution to the fight against climate change are going to have a huge impact.”

This story has been updated with statements from Amazon and from Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.

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