Matthew Yan is a senior multidisciplinary major concentrating in journalism.
Two months ago, founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, announced he would be donating $10 billion in the “Bezos Earth Fund” in an effort to combat climate change. Yet, he has done nothing to curb the 44.4 million tons of carbon dioxide his shipping services released into the atmosphere in 2018 alone. Nor has he addressed the nonrecyclable and wasteful packaging Prime deliveries come in. I recently got a package that was four times the size of the textbook I purchased for my eco-feminism class. Aside from buying 100,000 electric delivery vans in the fall, the richest man in the world has done little to follow up on his announcement to cut Amazon’s emissions by 80% in 2024 and emission-free by 2030.
Amazon is an environmentally destructive company through and through. It has acquired nearly 70 Boeing 747s airplanes and 20,000 trucks over the past few years to appease its customers’ need for speedy deliveries. Amazon has invested almost $2 billion into fossil fuel development to cut costs for itself in the long-run, more than double its $700 million investment into electric trucks.
Despite espousing the idea of operating sustainably on the surface, Amazon also funds the climate-change-denying Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which lobbies against climate change science on every level. CEI has done everything from deliberately skewing studies to portray climate change as a good thing, to suing NASA for saying humans are responsible for climate change.
It’s also important to note the size of the Bezos Earth Fund. Ten billion is a staggering amount of money for sure, but it’s a mere 8% of Bezos’ estimated net worth of $116 billion to $130 billion. Then, it’s going to get divided up among an untold number of scientific advocacy groups, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activists in uncertain ways, leaving the actual impact of the fund uncertain.
The idea that Bezos’ fund is a calculated move to improve Amazon’s image isn’t some conspiratorial fantasy either. In 2010, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett, and co-founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, along with his wife, Melinda Gates founded the Giving Pledge. The organization calls upon the wealthiest people in the world to donate the majority of their fortunes to charity over their lifetime or in their will, be it in large sums or continual funding for philanthropic causes. Despite being so wealthy that the only thing he could imagine spending his money on is space travel, Bezos chose not to sign it even though his ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos, who is currently worth more than $37 billion, did.
Then, there’s the fact that this move only came after nearly two thousand Amazon workers walked off their jobs in protest of Amazon’s climate impact last fall. Those same workers organized into an activism group, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, and were threatened with firings if they didn’t stop their protests. Amazon’s actions run counter to the message they want everyone to hear: that Bezos is a green guy who looks out for the people and the planet we live on.
And we’re the ones that enable him to do this. Even on this campus, plastic and cardboard packaging at the Amazon drop-off in the basement of Melville Library is thrown into the same bags into a “recycling cart”, where it will inevitably end up in a landfill so plants won’t have to sort through trash.
For the most part, we’re ambivalent about it. Trash cans all over campus have fully recyclable Amazon boxes stuffed in them when paper recycling bins are a short walk away. Stony Brook stopped recycling glass and plastic #3 through #7 in the midst of Recyclemania. The university continues to offer single-use plastic cups and utensils as well as items in nonrecyclable packaging like Kombucha after the fact.
Not all of this is the university’s fault. For us, school supplies can be prohibitively expensive and the school’s own bookstore cannot hope to match the environmentally devastating speed and efficiency of Amazon. But the point stands that in the name of convenience, we’ve lost our fervor to protect the planet, allowing the myth of a savior billionaire to rise under an administration that systematically dismantles every environmental protection it can.
The Bezos Earth Fund is nothing more than a publicity stunt meant to hide Amazon’s environmentally destructive practices. The Earth won’t be saved by charitable billionaires. It’s up to us to look past the smoke and mirrors and pressure the government into regulating the carbon footprint of companies like Amazon. Only then can we make real strides towards beating climate change.