Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person with a net worth of more than $130 billion. The story goes that he founded Amazon with a $300,000 loan from his family: quite a return on investment under any criteria!
Just out of curiosity, I wonder what he would have done with the $400 million that his arch nemesis inherited from his father – using the same math, I’m not sure that anyone has ever actually written out a number that big.
If a secret poll of Wall Street bankers was taken on the amount of liquidity that Mr. Trump could muster in a reasonable period of time, it would most likely be far less than the $400 million that he started with. Unfortunately, the comparison between Trump and Bezos doesn’t stop with ROI calculations.
Yesterday afternoon, Bezos committed a $10 billion slice of his fortune to combat climate change through an initiative called the Bezos Earth Fund while his counterweight in the White House continues to roll back environmental regulations at an alarming rate. The last time we heard of any charitable activity from Trump, it was related to the settlement in lieu of judgment that essentially shut down the Trump Foundation due to fraud. The contradictions between two of the most powerful forces on earth continue to grow wider each day.
Not all is well, however, in Bezos world despite his extraordinary gift to the environment. Amazon has a tremendous carbon footprint. The price of getting everything from toilet paper to pre-owned electronics delivered to your home within hours is the massive amount of harmful emissions from the trucks, vans, planes, and trains that are released into the atmosphere every second of every minute of every day.
The issue is so acute that 4,000 Amazon employees recently threatened to walk out on their jobs unless Bezos made a commitment to become carbon neutral by 2040 which was among other environmental concessions including $100 million for reforestation programs and 100,000 electric vehicles. A continuing issue for some Amazon workers relates to oil & gas industry clients who utilize Amazon Web Services and other machine learning tools available from the company. In fact, a social media post yesterday by an activist group within Amazon was somewhat critical of Bezos’ climate change announcement.
“We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said in a statement. “The people of Earth need to know: When is Amazon going to stop helping oil & gas companies ravage Earth with still more oil and gas wells?”
Perhaps the Employees for Climate Justice should consider an alternative scenario – what if Mr. Trump and Mr. Bezos were in opposite roles? Trump as the leader of Amazon and Bezos as the leader of the free world. Odds are that Trump’s Amazon would make no such concession to employee activism and would certainly not commit $10 billion to a problem that inconvenienced his business. One can only imagine what type of taxpayer resources President Bezos would have to commit to offset Trump Amazon’s adverse effect on the environment.
With that in mind, let’s give Mr. Bezos credit – whether his good deeds are the result of employee activism or a sincere concern for the environment, he’s committed massive resources. At least we know that his check will clear and it was from his own bank account; not misappropriated funds from unsuspecting donors, enthusiastic prospective students, unpaid contractors, or even money funneled from the US Air Force or the Secret Service from overpriced hotel accommodations.
Thank you, Mr. Bezos. Your $10 billion initiative will keep the topic fresh and may provide an example for others to follow. Given the tremendous success of your company that began with a $300,000 loan, we can all have a reasonable amount of confidence that the Bezos Earth Fund will drive change and have a positive impact on the general populace – exactly what Tarbell advocates for every day.