In case you had a billion {dollars} and wished to do one thing about local weather change, what would you do? For a handful of individuals, that’s not a rhetorical query. An Instagram post earlier this month from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — saying he had scattered $791m throughout numerous 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 “just the start” of his $10bn Bezos Earth Fund.

However the attention-grabbing factor about this train is that, even for essentially the most privileged minds on the planet, it isn’t apparent learn 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 creating nations, which may minimize air pollution instantly? Or maybe political spending is the best strategy, to push coverage in a climate-friendly course? 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 know-how route, backing projects that vary from nuclear fusion to molten-salt batteries. He has additionally invested his time in writing and speaking in regards to the topic, and has a e book on local weather change popping out subsequent yr. Bloomberg has centered on the political aspect, together with spending greater than $170m on a marketing campaign to shut coal-fired energy crops; its success is a part of the explanation US carbon emissions have fallen lately.

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 a couple others, together with $30m for analysis into storing carbon in plant roots.

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

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

It is usually shopping for tens of 1000’s of electrical autos and guarantees that half of its delivery operations shall be carbon-free by the top of this decade. And the corporate has bought naming rights to a Seattle sports activities stadium and known 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 resembling Google and Microsoft. Its carbon emissions are nonetheless huge: in 2019, Amazon emitted 51 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (together with its places of work, warehouses and supply autos). 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 most important single supply of local weather giving on this planet — making a “big local weather change halo”. However that halo is just not all the time merited, he says: such giant presents may pose a battle of curiosity for environmental charities, which could in any other case be extra essential of Amazon’s environmental file. (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 is just not attempting to purchase off his critics or placate his staff, there’s one clear shortcoming in his strategy: he has thrown cash on the downside, however hasn’t apparently matched that with technique. Nor has he spoken or written a lot in regards to the problem — at the very least not compared with different local weather billionaires.

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

Certainly, trying again at Bezos’s speeches and interviews lately, there are hints that the Amazon boss’s actual ardour is for one thing else fully — getting off this planet altogether. A lifelong house obsessive, he invests about $1bn a yr in his house 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 house, dwelling in large orbiting colonies. “We must depart this planet,” he has stated, pointing to our rising inhabitants. His concept is that heavy trade can even transfer into house, leaving some gentle manufacturing behind on Earth — together with any people who need 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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