Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and owner of the Washington Post, the richest man on the planet with a wealth of $130 billion, has announced he will donate $10 billion to save the environment. The Bezos Earth Fund will start distributing the money this summer, according to Bezos’ recent announcement to his 1.4 million followers on Instagram. His project will be funding scholarships for scientists, NGOs and activists engaged in the fight against climate change.
This announcement seems to be in sharp contrast with Amazon’s actions towards its employees who asked it to make a serious commitment to change its transport policies. According to Climate Watch, the company produces 44.4 million tons of CO2 each year, the equivalent of more than 10% of France’s total annual emissions.
In January, The Guardian revealed that several workers had been warned to keep quiet or else they would lose their jobs. The warning came after the company had already announced a “climate commitment” in September 2019. That plan saw Amazon commit to using 100% renewable energy by 2030, before becoming “neutral” by 2040. Working towards this goal, Amazon has ordered 100,000 fully electric vehicles for its shipping fleet.
Bezos’ commitment has now further bolstered his image as the nemesis of President Trump—a climate sceptic, carbon-fascist and overall denier. However, some have pointed out that Bezos’ unveiling of his plan took place one day before 1,500 Amazon employees decided that they would go on strike and join the Greta Thunberg-inspired anti-climate-emergency demonstrations in the US at the end of the month.
Some say Bezos should rather use his money to pay more taxes, offer higher wages to his workers and pursue a different policy toward union relations, as well as respect those who, through political action, pushed him to make this series of announcements in the first place. Others argue that this money should finance a fund for political struggle at the global level, starting with the fight against oil and gas industry lobbyists. There are rumors that this sector of the lobbying business has a turnover of up to $200 million a year, in campaigns of various kinds, in the United States alone.
It’s always good news that $10 billion will be invested—one way or another—to protect the planet. But then, the focus inevitably turns to how this money will be invested, by what criteria and to what ends. On the one hand, there is the specter of “greenwashing,” a practice that has become so established that the world’s major investment funds, such as BlackRock, and all the world’s major equity and bond investors are focusing on capitalism’s “green transition”—and with them, millions of owners of savings accounts and workers from around the world are inevitably following suit.
These are not only marketing operations, but are the signs of enormous quantities of capital moving from the fossil industry to the alternative energy industry. The process currently underway is a capitalist restructuring. On the other hand, there are also the ethical issues raised by the philanthropy of Silicon Valley billionaires.
All the top wealthiest people, from Bill Gates to Mark Zuckerberg, are regularly engaged in such philanthropic initiatives, also due to tax incentives. One paradox is that this is happening in a country that does not provide access to universal welfare for its citizens and does not have a system of taxation of these enormous fortunes that would be able to finance it.
Yet another paradox is that of the “ethical” use of funds that have been obtained from a capitalist mode of organization of exploited labor. It might be praiseworthy that a billionaire feels obliged to “give back” to society. But if he feels the need to give something back, perhaps this means that he has taken too much in the first place.
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