Bezos’ $10 Billion Climate Pledge Makes No Mention of Amazon’s Climate Impact

Amazon employees lead a climate strike march from the company's headquarters and the campus "spheres" Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Amazon employees lead a climate strike march from the company's headquarters and the campus "spheres" Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

February 18, 2020

Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos this week announced on Instagram the launch of a new initiative to fight climate change, which he referred to as “the biggest threat to our planet.” Bezos said he would commit an initial $10 billion, his biggest single personal donation to date, to the Bezos Earth Fund.

“This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world,” he said. “We can save Earth. It’s going to take collective action from big companies, small companies, nation states, global organizations, and individuals.”

Bezos’ announcement of the Bezos Earth Fund came the day before the Feb. 18 premiere of FRONTLINE’s Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos, which traces how the chief executive transformed a tiny company run out of a garage into a staple of American consumerism, and examines the consequences of the multi-billion-dollar company’s growth.

The announcement made no mention of Amazon, even though the company has been criticized by its own employees for business ventures they say contribute to the problem, such as its vast network of delivery trucks; and Amazon Web Services (AWS), the company’s cloud computing division, which works with oil and gas companies to help them better extract fossil fuels.

Last month, Amazon workers protested on social media in defiance of company rules. And in September, more than 1,000 Amazon employees organized a walkout as part of a global climate strike. The day before the scheduled walkout, Amazon announced that it was co-founding and participating in a new climate pledge, promising to become carbon neutral by 2040. It was later reported that the company “threatened to fire” several of the employees involved in the walkouts, saying they violated company policy on speaking to the media.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, the group that organized the walkout and has continued to press for more action from Amazon on combating climate change, put out a statement following Bezos’ Feb. 17 announcement, saying in part, “We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away.”

“This announcement, while it’s a step in the right direction, is very disingenuous,” says Eliza Pan, a former Amazon employee and a founding member of the group. “On one hand, Jeff is saying that the climate crisis is the biggest threat facing us, and on the other hand, Amazon is accelerating the climate crisis through Amazon Web Services, to not only find new oil but extract it more quickly.”

In an interview with FRONTLINE the day after the September 2019 climate pledge was announced, producer James Jacoby asked a top Amazon executive, Andy Jassy, how the company reconciles its stated commitment to climate change with the work Amazon Web Services does with oil and gas companies.

Jassy, the CEO of AWS, said that Amazon was “working as hard as we can to try and get to the pledge that we made [in September], which is to get to the Paris Agreement 10 years earlier than that Paris Agreement and to be 100 percent renewable by 2030 and 80 percent by 2024.”

He said he sees Amazon’s work with oil and gas companies as part of that commitment, in part because it makes them more energy efficient. “I think that the energy companies, and we work with several of them, they’re actually spending an incredible amount of money and have a lot of passion themselves to get to as much renewable energy as quickly as possible, and you have to remember that to build what they’re trying to build, they need technology infrastructure,” said Jassy. He added that if AWS were to stop working with energy companies, others would fill the void.

“We want to be part of the solution, and we actually believe that energy companies are trying to be part of the solution, and we want to help them do so,” he said.

—Shantal Riley contributed reporting.

Amazon Empire: The Rise and Reign of Jeff Bezos premieres Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 9/8c on PBS stations (check local listings), online and on the PBS Video App. Watch an extended trailer for the documentary now:

The headline of this story has been corrected.

Patrice Taddonio

Patrice Taddonio, Digital Writer & Audience Development Strategist, FRONTLINE



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