Jeff Bezos just gave a new jolt to the art of leadership. On the eve of Earth Day, the world’s richest man revealed that he’ll donate $10 billion of his Amazon stock, giving up the chance to run the company like a government-run welfare agency, toward his latest cause: fighting climate change.
Bezos joins other very rich citizens who are ready to dump a lot of their wealth into eco-friendly causes. Billionaire hedge fund manager George Soros just proposed giving away $25 billion to improve American education — and you can bet that the same people who donated to his cause will donate the same money to fight climate change.
Bezos’ pledge is newsworthy because he can easily afford to make it. The 34-year-old Amazon founder already owns a third of the stock, and now plans to sell another 19 percent as he gives up his seat on the board and becomes an employee.
“I’ve long believed that climate change is the greatest potential challenge facing our world and that innovative thinking and entrepreneurship are two of the best antidotes to it,” Bezos said in an email to employees. “It’s a priority for me to take action in this area.”
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, is partly responsible for the world-record price of a C02 ton of carbon emissions. That’s because huge amounts of the raw materials to manufacture paper products used to be made at Bezos’ former company, Washington Post publisher and founder Jeff Bezos. This followed his 2010 purchase of the property that houses the paper and a vast majority of its real estate.
The purchase of newspapers prompted a frenzy of speculation about the future of Bezos’ own vast personal wealth — his net worth rose around $18 billion in 2017 alone. Bezos has long denied that he had any plans to donate any of his wealth to philanthropic causes, but, in late 2017, a group led by Bezos floated the idea of creating an umbrella group of philanthropic organizations.
But by the end of 2018, that group reportedly became a thing of the past. Bezos still donated $6 billion to his own nonprofit organization, The Bezos Day One Fund, last year, and in January he spent an additional $1 billion on an artificial intelligence nonprofit that’s backed by early investor Tim Draper.
Despite the funding from the Bezos Foundation, neither of those nonprofits reports on their tax forms any progress on climate change. As of the end of December 2018, a year after announcing its focus on artificial intelligence, none of the organizations had signed on to any international climate change pledges, as is standard practice among other voluntary groups and corporations.
So it’s no surprise that in his email, Bezos refers to those organizations by their exclamations of “the world of opportunity,” saying it provides an “amazing support structure, experts and community support groups” to help him tackle climate change.
That sounds like something a human-resource manager might say. If Bezos had moved to Cyprus, say, and became a billionaire there by taking artificial intelligence risk hedge funds — much as Donald Trump — he might have a hard time finding a job.