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Bezos' $10B climate fund won't make up for Amazon's damage, activists say

Based on Amazon's environmental track record, some activists say the CEO's philanthropy is "hypocritical."

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
4 min read

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' net worth is about $130 billion.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO and the world's richest person, said Monday that he's going to use his wealth to combat climate change. He pledged $10 billion, nearly 8% of his net worth, for an initiative called the Bezos Earth Fund to "explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share."

Some climate activists say, however, that much of this crisis starts with companies like Amazon.

Greenpeace and a group of Amazon employees who call themselves Amazon Employees for Climate Justice have issued statements saying Bezos' fund is commendable, but it doesn't take away from the fact that the company he runs is a big polluter.

"We applaud Jeff Bezos' philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away," Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said in a statement. "When will Amazon take responsibility for the lungs of children near its warehouses by moving from diesel to all-electric trucking?"

Amazon has been the focus of climate change protests over the past months. More than 1,000 company employees across the globe held a walkout in September demanding better climate leadership and a boycott of oil and gas companies. And Amazon Employees for Climate Justice's membership has swelled to nearly 2,000. The employee actions have caught the attention of higher ups, who reportedly threatened to fire some of these activists for speaking out.

An Amazon representative pointed CNET to the company's work on climate change, which includes several networks of wind and solar farms and a Climate Pledge in which Amazon said it would be carbon neutral by 2040.

Watch this: Jeff Bezos' $10 billion Earth Fund isn't impressing everyone

To reach the carbon-neutral goal, Bezos announced in September a new $100 million reforestation effort and a new order for 100,000 electric delivery vans to move away from diesel vehicles. Amazon also committed to power its global infrastructure with 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% by 2030. It currently uses 40% renewable energy.

The CEO said the Bezos Earth Fund will help fund scientists, activists and NGOs working to preserve and protect the natural world.

"Earth is the one thing we all have in common," Bezos said Monday. "Let's protect it, together."

Environmental track record

Amazon is far more than the online shopping portal that most people associate with the brand. It's a multi-billion-dollar company that owns everything from Whole Foods grocery stores to the Amazon Web Services' cloud computing network. Running massive business like these comes with an environment toll, activists say.

According to Amazon's own data, it emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon in 2018. That's more than the emissions of almost 150 individual countries, including Norway, Panama and Kenya.

Amazon's carbon emissions come from a number of sources, such as its massive shipping network that relies mostly on diesel vehicles to get people their same-day delivery packages. It also comes from the electricity needed to power the growing number of data centers that run Amazon Web Services.

"Tech giants like Amazon have made promises to power their data centers with renewable energy," Greenpeace said in a 2019 report on data centers. "But a closer look into the heart of the internet reveals their rapid growth is driving more investment in fossil fuels."

Another issue environmental activists have with Amazon is that it works with oil and gas companies -- such as BP, Shell and GE Oil & Gas -- to help them extract fossil fuels.

"It's hypocritical to announce that climate change is the biggest threat to our planet while at the same time boosting the fossil fuel industry by providing advanced computing technologies to the oil and gas industry so that it can discover and drill more oil, more efficiently," Elizabeth Jardim, Greenpeace USA senior campaigner, said in a statement Tuesday.

Amazon has said it's better for the environment that it partners with these oil and gas companies because it can help the industry find new ways to lower emissions, according to Vice.

Still, both Greenpeace and Amazon Employees for Climate Justice say the way to tackle fossil fuel emissions is to cut back production, not look for new methods of extraction. And as long as Amazon has contracts with those companies, a $10 billion Earth Fund doesn't amount to much, they say.

"The international scientific community is very clear: burning the oil in wells that oil companies already have developed means we can't save our planet from climate catastrophe," Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said. "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?"