Bezos makes first donations from $10 billion Earth Fund for fighting climate change

Source: By Steven Mufson, Washington Post • Posted: Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Amazon chief executive and owner of The Washington Post says climate change is most urgent issue facing the planet

Jeff Bezos said Monday he is giving $791 million to 16 groups fighting climate change, the first grants from his Earth Fund, saying the money is “just the beginning of my $10 billion commitment to fund scientists, activists, NGOs, and others.”

More than half of the donations went to established environmental groups, with $100 million donations each going to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nature Conservancy, the World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund.

Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also bestowed money on groups concerned with environmental justice, including Dream Corps’ Green For All, the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, and the Solutions Project.

“I’ve spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who’ve made it their life’s work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world,” Bezos said in an Instagram post. “I’m inspired by what they’re doing, and excited to help them scale. … We can all protect Earth’s future by taking bold action now.”

Bezos, the world’s richest man, owns The Washington Post.

Leaders of the groups receiving funds said they met earlier this year with Bezos and his partner Lauren Sánchez to discuss what they would do with the grants. Bezos has a small team, including from his personal office, helping to figure out how to parcel out the funds, they said. He will likely hire more people to assist with the Earth Fund.

“He asked a lot of questions. It was very clear that he had already learned a lot about climate change and was very knowledgeable,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “He had studied the issue, and he was very focused on having the biggest impact he could with his contribution.”

The new Earth Fund catapults Bezos into the leading ranks of nonprofit climate gifts.

“Climate change is the biggest crisis facing humanity but, despite lots of great work, has been an underfunded area of philanthropy,” said Jules Kortenhorst, head of the Rocky Mountain Institute, which received $10 million. “Mr. Bezos’s grant highlights the urgency and importance of the work being done in civil society to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Kortenhorst said the money would be used to promote the decarbonization of buildings and stop the burning of natural gas in water heaters, stoves and boilers. In recent years, natural gas has displaced coal, but it remains a fossil fuel that “enormous impact” on health, Kortenhorst said. The Bezos money will be used within two years, he said, an important part of RMI’s $75 million budget this year.

Krupp said that the $100 million grant to the Environmental Defense Fund would be spread over three years, and much of it would go toward fully funding a satellite the organization plans to put into orbit to monitor methane emissions. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that can be 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The money would give a boost to the group, which ordinarily has a budget of about $230 million a year.

“Thanks to this and other funding, we will cut methane pollution from the oil and gas industry by 45 percent by 2025, which will be the same 20-year benefit of closing a third of the world’s power plants,” Krupp said.

In 2019, less than 2 percent of $730 billion in global philanthropic giving was spent fighting climate change. But as wildfires in the West and hurricanes in the East turn climate change from an abstraction into a clear and present danger in the United States, that share is starting to rise.

“Solving the climate crisis requires investment in a wide set of solutions,” Krupp said. “The obstacle isn’t finding solutions, it is securing the funding to scale solutions quickly. Our hope is that this gift encourages other philanthropists to support climate solutions on the scale needed.”

The World Wildlife Fund said it would use its $100 million grant to “harness the power of nature” including the protection and restoration of mangroves in Colombia, Fiji, Madagascar, and Mexico; the development of new markets for seaweed as an alternative to petroleum-based products; and the restoration and protection of forests.

The World Wildlife Fund’s U.S. budget is about $300 million a year. Its worldwide budget is about $900 million a year.

“This commitment recognizes that you can’t solve climate change without nature,” WWF’s chief executive Carter Roberts said. He said that the group could use the money from Bezos to leverage an additional $850 million from other partners, including investors, foundations and governments.

The World Resources Institute, which will receive $100 million over five years, said it will use the money for two major initiatives. This first is to develop a new satellite-powered land-use and carbon-emissions monitoring system to measure the impact of conservation and restoration of forests, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural lands on reducing emissions. The other project will try to spur the electrification of school buses, with a goal of converting more than 450,000 to zero-emissions vehicles by 2030, the organization said.

One of the smallest organizations to receive money from Bezos is Green for All, which promotes local, state and federal policies that put low-income people to work retrofitting homes or in other “clean energy” occupations. Michelle Romero, Green for All’s national director, said that it will receive $10 million over three years, doubling the size of the advocacy group, which currently has six full-time employees. The group falls under an Oakland, Calif.-based umbrella group, Dream Corps, which has been active in helping released prisoners find jobs.

Green for All was founded by Van Jones in 2007, before his television career.

Romero said that the group reached out to Bezos when it heard of the grant program. “We knew it would be important to get some of that investment into low-income communities and communities of color,” she said.

The other recipients are: the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, $43 million; ClimateWorks Foundation, $50 million; Eden Reforestation Projects, $5 million; Energy Foundation, $30 million; the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, $43 million; Natural Resources Defense Council, $100 million; the Nature Conservancy, $100 million; NDN Collective, $12 million; Salk Institute for Biological Studies, $30 million; The Solutions Project, $43 million and the Union of Concerned Scientists, $15 million.