At the beginning of the year, Jeff Bezos posted a picture of the Earth on Instagram and said "I’m thrilled to announce I am launching the Bezos Earth Fund."
The post, from the world’s richest man, went on to say: "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."
The fund portended a revolution: In pledging $10 billion, Bezos was eclipsing the total sum spent by American philanthropists on climate change in recent years. Then the pandemic arrived. Amazon became a kind of private utility, and Bezos’s attention was diverted, and news of the fund fell quiet.
However, in the background Bezos was still planning and consulting on how best to distribute his Earth Fund. Word is now filtering out that he is ready to start giving.
But Bezos’s plans indicate that he isn’t trying something new on climate so much as boosting an ancien régime. Bezos is prepared to give $100 million each to four of the most established environmental groups in America: the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund.
Bezos has also committed $100 million to the World Resources Institute, a sustainability-research organization that operates globally, the two sources said. And he has promised smaller amounts of $10 million to $50 million to four nonprofits that specialize in climate and energy research, reports The Atlantic.
Despite the enormous amounts already earmarked, it still only represents 7 percent of his pledge. However, some argue that thinking of climate change in purely environmental terms - as these pledges suggest - is no longer a viable strategy.
Carbon-based fuels are woven too deeply into the economy to simply be treated as a pollution problem. Climate change, the argument goes, is an economic problem - and its solution must be managed through economic policy. That is why the post-pandemic stimulus proposals of the UK, the European Union, and the USA (under President Joe Biden) all emphasize a green recovery. Managing that economic transition will take new institutions and a new kind of economic expertise.
But maybe Bezos calculates that economic transition is for governments, not for philanthropists, and is right to devote his resources to environmental solutions. On the other hand, he's still got $9.3 billion up his sleeve, so who knows where, and on what, that will be spent.