Forest for the Trees - GulfToday

Forest for the Trees

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Bezos

Although large, Bezos’ donation does not ensure his admission to the league of major philanthropists.

Amazon’s hyper-billionaire Jeff Bezos has pledged $10 billion (Dhs36.7b) of his personal fortune to fight climate change by funding scientists, activists and non-governmental organisations searching for ways and means to save our tortured planet. When announcing the creation of the Bezos Earth Fund, he said he was committing this sum — 10 times greater than global foundations give to counter climate change annually — to start with and will begin issuing grants during the summer.

His initial sum amounts to about eight per cent of his vast wealth, estimated at $130b (Dhs477b). He has good reason to make both personal and corporate investments in countering global warming. Amazon’s carbon footprint was 44.4 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2018. This pollution comes from data centres, packaging, shipping and delivering Amazon parcels. The figure emerged when Bruno Sarda — the head of a north American non-profit which calls on firms to disclose emissions — spoke to The New York Times. Amazon’s emissions are on a par with major fossil fuel companies as well as Switzerland, Denmark or Norway.

The Bezos Earth Fund was announced five months after Bezos made a Climate Pledge to make Amazon conform to the Paris climate agreement by 2040, a decade ahead of schedule. Amazon also said it would provide $100 million (Dhs367m) to restore and protect forests and wetlands. Additionally, Bezos revealed that Amazon had ordered 100,000 electric delivery lorries from a Michigan company in which he has invested. In connection with this effort, he made the point that the climate was changing more rapidly than predicted five years ago by scientists and the situation is now “dire.”

A reluctant philanthropist, Bezos was prodded and pushed by campaigning Amazon employees to take action. The September declaration was made after more than 1,700 Amazon employees threatened to go on strike to back worldwide climate change marches and to urge the company to take a more pro-active approach to its own destructive practices.

Bezos’ critics complain that his donation diverts public attention from Amazon’s bad behaviour, notably providing support to oil and gas companies, funding climate change-denying think tanks, and using diesel-powered vehicles.

He may have come to the conclusion that both the Fund and the Climate Pledge demonstrate he has been listening to his staff and bowing to the global consensus which demands policy changes. As president of one of the world’s most successful companies, he also realises taking action on this front is good business and positive public relations for Amazon.

Bezos has not declared what sort of projects or who among scientists and activists will benefit from his largesse. However, time is short. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has pointed out that the world must cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 and nearly eliminate them by 2050. To make progress toward achieving these goals, Bezos could focus on specific projects such as promoting wind, wave and solar energy, developing batteries needed to store power from natural sources and designing efficient electrical vehicles.

Dubbed the “richest man in history,” Bezos was born Jeffrey Jorgensen in 1964 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, to a 17-year old high school student and a bicycle shop owner. His mother divorced her first husband and married Miguel Bezos when her son was four. A Cuban immigrant determined to obtain an education and good jobs, Bezos adopted the boy. The family moved to Texas and Florida where Jeff Bezos demonstrated he had a scientific bent and became a National Merit Scholar. In 1986, he graduated from the elite Princeton University in electrical engineering and computer science before taking up employment in diverse firms, which gave him the experience to found his own company.

In 1994, with a loan of $300,000 (Dhs1m) from his parents he set up his online bookstore in a garage, naming it Amazon after the Amazon river. Three years after its establishment, he launched Amazon on the stock market. By 1998, he had diversified Amazon’s offerings to include music, videos and other consumer goods. From there on, Bezos expanded into a variety of ventures, nearly bankrupting the company, but eventually overcoming reverses and stabilising Amazon. In 2013 it was rated the largest online shopping firm in the world and in 2018, with a fortune of $112b (Dhs411b), he was called the “wealthiest man in the world.”

Bezos’ donation does not, however, ensure his admission to the league of major philanthropists. This is dominated by Microsoft’s Bill and Melinda Gates who have donated more than $45b (Dhs165b) to their foundation and have pledged to give away half their fortune. Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Bezos, who received $35b (Dhs129b) in her divorce settlement, followed their example. The world-famous guru for investors, Warren Buffett, whose net worth is $89.9b (Dhs330b), has vowed to give away 99 per cent to good causes, primarily through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Bezos’ donations are more than matched on a percentage of wealth basis by billionaires with smaller fortunes. Observer.com reports British investor Jeremy Grantham is set to give away 98 per cent of his far more modest $1b (3.7b) to reverse global warming. He and his wife Hanne donate more than $30m (110m) annually to this cause. California food magnates Stewart and Lynda Resnick whose wealth is estimated at $9b (Dhs33b) have pledged $750m (Dhs2.8b), or 8.3 per cent, to the California Institute of Technology for environmental research. Swiss entrepreneur Hansjorg Wyss in 2018 pledged $1b (3.7b), 16 per cent of his wealth, to help conserve 30 per cent of the earth in a natural state by turning lands and waters into protected parks. He had previously given $450m (Dhs1.7b) to conservation projects in Africa, Europe and America. US presidential candidate and activist Tom Steyer, who made his billions in hedge fund management, has promised to give away half his $1.6b (Dhs5.9b) to tackle climate change.

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