In case you had a billion {dollars} and needed to do one thing about local weather change, what would you do? For a handful of individuals, that isn’t a rhetorical query. An Instagram post earlier this month from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — saying he had scattered $791m throughout varied local weather charities — is the most recent in a pattern that features Invoice Gates and Michael Bloomberg. And there’s extra on the best way — Bezos’s donations are “only the start” of his $10bn Bezos Earth Fund.

However the fascinating factor about this train is that, even for probably the most privileged minds on the planet, it’s not apparent find out how to strategy the duty. Is it higher to put money into applied sciences which will take years to mature — or to spend cash on clear power in growing international locations, which might minimize air pollution instantly? Or maybe political spending is the simplest strategy, to push coverage in a climate-friendly route? Or would you simply begin constructing sea partitions to organize for the inevitable?

Every billionaire takes their very own tack. Gates has gone down the expertise route, backing projects that vary from nuclear fusion to molten-salt batteries. He has additionally invested his time in writing and speaking concerning the topic, and has a ebook on local weather change popping out subsequent 12 months. Bloomberg has centered on the political facet, together with spending greater than $170m on a marketing campaign to shut coal-fired energy vegetation; its success is a part of the explanation US carbon emissions have fallen in recent times.

Bezos is the latest arrival to this membership and his strategy has additionally been the blandest. He minimize 5 cheques of $100m to 5 of the largest, most established inexperienced teams within the US and distributed smaller quantities to some others, together with $30m for analysis into storing carbon in plant roots.

It’s a pleasant gesture, nevertheless it appears like precisely that — the form of cheque-writing train that middle-class People normally save for the top of the 12 months to maximise tax deductions. For Bezos, chief government of Amazon, routinely celebrated as one of the disruptive innovators on earth, his local weather donations are distinctly missing in both disruption or innovation.

Latest occasions at Amazon make Bezos’s giving look a bit defensive. In September 2019, workers started staging walkouts to protest the corporate’s local weather insurance policies, creating a serious picture drawback. Among the workers’ calls for have been met — Amazon adopted a target of net-zero carbon emissions by 2040.

It’s also shopping for tens of 1000’s of electrical automobiles and guarantees that half of its delivery operations will probably be carbon-free by the top of this decade. And the corporate has bought naming rights to a Seattle sports activities stadium and referred to as it — in case you missed the purpose — the Climate Pledge Arena.

However none of this fairly masks the truth that Amazon has been a lot slower to behave on local weather than different tech rivals comparable to Google and Microsoft. Its carbon emissions are nonetheless huge: in 2019, Amazon emitted 51 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (together with its workplaces, warehouses and supply automobiles). That’s more than the country of Sweden.

Matthew Nisbet, a professor at Northeastern College in Boston who research this space, says Bezos is now the biggest single supply of local weather giving on the planet — making a “large local weather change halo”. However that halo just isn’t at all times merited, he says: such massive items may pose a battle of curiosity for environmental charities, which could in any other case be extra vital of Amazon’s environmental document. (The recipients of Bezos’s grants all deny this, saying they’ve strict insurance policies to keep away from any battle of curiosity.)


Even when Bezos just isn’t attempting to purchase off his critics or placate his workers, there’s one clear shortcoming in his strategy: he has thrown cash on the drawback, however hasn’t apparently matched that with technique. Nor has he spoken or written a lot concerning the problem — not less than not when put next with different local weather billionaires.

Distinction his current 160-word Instagram put up with the 1000’s of phrases written by Gates. Likewise, Bloomberg is extremely invested in his local weather work — and will be seen trudging across the UN local weather conferences yearly, giving barely jet-lagged speeches.

Certainly, trying again at Bezos’s speeches and interviews in recent times, there are hints that the Amazon boss’s actual ardour is for one thing else fully — getting off this planet altogether. A lifelong area obsessive, he invests about $1bn a 12 months in his area firm, Blue Origin, and has described it because the “most important work I’m doing”.

His imaginative and prescient is that people will someday inhabit area, residing in huge orbiting colonies. “We must go away this planet,” he has stated, pointing to our rising inhabitants. His concept is that heavy business will even transfer into area, leaving some gentle manufacturing behind on Earth — together with any people who wish to keep. However Bezos himself hopes to be on that rocket ship. Regardless of the grand ambitions of the Bezos Earth Fund, would you actually belief the planet to somebody who’s already pondering of leaving it behind?

Leslie Hook is the FT’s atmosphere and clear power correspondent. [email protected]; @lesliehook. Gillian Tett returns subsequent week

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