Jeff Bezos announces first beneficiaries of his $10 billion climate fund

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Jeff Bezos named 16 environmental organizations that will get the first chunk of his $10 billion fund for climate action on Instagram today. Collectively, they’ll get $791 million from the richest man on Earth, although Bezos did not specify how much would go to each group.

“I’ve spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who’ve made it their life’s work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world,” Bezos said on Instagram. “I’m inspired by what they’re doing, and excited to help them scale.” The Amazon CEO announced the creation of his personal $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund in February.

His fund is equivalent to more than 7 percent of his net worth. It’s also 10 times as much as philanthropic foundations gave globally in 2018 to efforts to slow climate change. For his first round of funding, Bezos chose to back a handful of legacy organizations with an established history of advocacy on behalf of the planet. His choice in recipients so far signals support for mainstream environmental groups rallying for new policies and research on climate change.

It’s also somewhat of a departure from contributions that Amazon and other giants have made recently to climate tech startups. Amazon, Microsoft, and Stripe, in contrast to Bezos, have all pledged to funnel money toward developing brand-new technologies to reduce and capture their industries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the first round of funding from Amazon’s $2 billion climate fund will go toward getting more electric vehicles on the road and capturing carbon dioxide emissions, the company announced in September. Microsoft said in January that it would spend $1 billion over four years on technologies that remove planet-heating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

But the carbon-capture tech favored by tech companies is still in its infancy. In contrast, some of the advocacy groups Bezos pledged to fund today have been fighting for environmental protections since close to the birth of the modern environmental movement in in the US in the 1960s. That includes the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is led by Gina McCarthy, an Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency administrator and vocal critic of Trump’s environmental rollbacks. “This generous gift from the Bezos Earth Fund enables NRDC to move even faster on achieving the climate solutions we need at the federal, state and local levels to protect people’s health, strengthen nature’s ability to help fight climate change and grow the clean energy sector and all the jobs that come with it,” McCarthy said in a statement.

Bezos also named the Environmental Defense Fund, which tends to take a more corporate-friendly approach to its advocacy. It’s worked with companies like Walmart and McDonald’s on their sustainability goals. “The needs are enormous,” Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp told The Verge after the Bezos fund was announced in February. “No matter what organization receives this funding, what’s important is that the money be put to work.” Krupp and McCarthy’s organizations will each receive $100 million, according to statements from each group.

Some of the big green groups Bezos chose, however, have been beset by scandal lately. Human rights abuses came to light in a 2019 BuzzFeed News investigation into the nearly 60-year-old conservation charity World Wildlife Fund. The organization’s anti-poaching efforts supported paramilitary groups that captured, tortured, and killed villagers and indigenous peoples in Asia and Africa, BuzzFeed reported.

Two more groups Bezos will fund have had recent shifts in leadership as part of a broader reckoning with systemic racism and sexism within science fields and environmentalism. The CEO of conservation group Nature Conservancy decided to leave his post in June 2019 following allegations of gender discrimination within the organization. The president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell, said that he would step down at the end of the year. Kimmell’s decision follows the high-profile resignation of the organization’s former coalitions coordinator, Ruth Tyson, who penned a public letter saying, “It was really stressful and traumatic for me working [at the Union of Concerned Scientists] and I hope no other Black people ever have to share this pain.” World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy said they would each get $100 million from Bezos’ fund, while the Union of Concerned Scientists said it’s been given $15 million.

Among the established organizations, Bezos also decided to fund a recently formed group that centers racial equity in its work, the NDN Collective. It was founded by a diverse group of Native American activists in 2018 to fund and support indigenous-led movements and sustainability initiatives. Bezos will also fund the new Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, which was launched in 2019 with a focus on supporting women in the Southeast US. Bezos is funding research groups, too, like the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute and World Resources Institute.

Bezos has so far avoided key activist groups that have been critical of him and Amazon, like the Sunrise Movement, which has spearheaded campaigns for a Green New Deal. “A reminder that Jeff Bezos has made over $48 Billion during the pandemic while over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Imagine if he actually had to pay taxes and what that money could help fund,” Sunrise Movement tweeted in September.

Still, Sunrise Movement hasn’t necessarily ruled out accepting funding from Bezos to promote its campaigns. “It’s better his extreme wealth sits with organizations like the Climate Justice Alliance and Sunrise than in some offshore tax haven,” Stephen O’Hanlon, Sunrise Movement communications director, said to The Verge in an email after the Bezos fund was announced in February.

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