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caption: In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington.
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In this Sept. 13, 2018, file photo Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder and CEO, speaks at The Economic Club of Washington's Milestone Celebration in Washington.
Credit: AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File

Jeff Bezos pledges $10 billion to fight climate change. How should he spend it?

Kim Malcolm talks with David Hyde about Jeff Bezos' $10 billion pledge to combat climate change

On Monday, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced via Instagram that he'll give $10 billion to fight climate change. KUOW's David Hyde reports on how climate scientists and activists are reacting to the news -- and how they believe the money should be spent.

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.

Kim Malcolm: Let's start with the big announcement yesterday. What can you tell us about it?

David Hyde: The $10 billion fund is being set up to combat climate change. It’s one of the biggest philanthropic contributions of this century.

Kim Malcolm: How will money being spent?

David Hyde: The money will go to "scientists, activists, NGOs," and “any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”

Kim Malcolm: Many Amazon employees have been critical of Jeff Bezos for a long time. Did tension within Amazon lead to this investment?

David Hyde: The climate activists inside Amazon are not allowed to speak publicly about this latest announcement but they did issue a press release taking credit, stating “What this shows is that employees speaking out works.”

If you look at the recent history there’s evidence for this interpretation. They had a climate walkout last fall, for instance, and around 1,700 workers joined in. The day before that walkout Amazon made a pledge to commit to use 100% renewable energy by 2030 and to reach carbon neutrality by 2040.

I didn't get a chance to ask Jeff Bezos if the activism played any role, unfortunately.

Kim Malcolm: Beyond taking credit, what are climate-activist employees within Amazon saying about the $10 billion?

David Hyde: They give Bezos some credit for the large donation, and go on to criticize Amazon the company.

The criticisms include letting “oil and gas companies use their cloud computing services,” and “supporting some climate-denying think tanks.”

Kim Malcolm: You've talked with other local activists and climate scientists. What are they saying about Bezos' $10 billion investment?

David Hyde: Most everyone I spoke with thought $10 billion was impressive from Bezos, but would like see Amazon use its massive market power to do more as a company to help solve climate change.

Aseem Prakash is an expert on environmental politics at the University of Washington, and he argues climate change is now mostly a political problem, as opposed to a technological problem.

So he advises Bezos to spend the entire $10 billion helping communities that depend on fossil fuels transition to a green economy. Prakash sees this as a key step towards reducing the political resistance to efforts to address climate change here in the United States, which is holding back the entire world.

Prakash also thinks Bezos should first focus more on Amazon's climate problem. For example, the tech giant could require suppliers all around the globe to lower emissions.

Sightline, which is a think tank in Seattle that focuses on climate change and many other issues, seconded the idea that climate change is mostly about politics. They sent in a long list of ideas including:

  • Tsunamis of political money to defeat climate-science denying elected officials and replace them with leaders who will follow the science.
  • Major investment in democracy reform efforts that will change the zero-sum dynamics that have driven the Republican party into climate denial, and open a path for conservatives to wholeheartedly engage on climate solutions.
  • Big support for climate science-affirming conservative messages; a pro-science Breitbart-like conservative media outfit. We need conservatives to affirm science and engage productively in public debate.
  • Big support of climate activism of all types, including among frontline communities of color.

Kim Malcolm: Finally, what's the timeline for Bezos to begin spending this money?

David Hyde: They expect to begin issuing grants this summer.