Bezos gives $791 million - becomes the biggest climate donor; world-class climate knowledge

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

(artist: Mike Tofanelli)

Issue No. 53

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. 


Jeff Bezos just made a lot of green friends.

This was hands down the biggest climate news of the week. Jeff Bezos - the wealthiest man on earth - donated $791 million from his $10 billion, privately held Earth Fund. It immediately made him the biggest climate activist donor in modern times - and he still has 90% more to give away!

The historic funding traunche has unleashed the critics in force. Objections are being raised to the list of recipients—both because of its potential to greenwash Amazon’s own climate accountability, and because it significantly favors well-funded Beltway institutions over grassroots groups that arguably need the money more.

Certainly, Jeff Bezos has the right to spend his money as he (legally) pleases. It’s in that spirit that I developed the feature post in this issue. I plan to give Bezos the benefit of the doubt on his motives until proven otherwise.

If you have an opinion on this or any other topic covered in this newsletter, please feel free to send me an email at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com.

Thank you for your viewpoint and the value of your time.

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NOW, LET’S GO DEEP!


CORPORATE CITIZEN

16 nonprofits win the climate lottery: Bezos to donate $791 million from Earth Fund

A group of 16 nonprofits dedicated to inspiring climate action has much to give thanks for this week. With little fanfare other than an Instagram post, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged $791 million in donations from the Bezos Earth Fund — his $10 billion commitment to funding scientists, nonprofits and "others" that have made it their life’s work to fight climate change.

Bezos created the fund in February, although not much is known about who is behind the scenes running things — there’s isn’t even a public-facing web site. This is the first batch of grants bestowed by the organization. 

Many of you will be familiar with the organizations that made the cut, so here they are: 

The Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund
ClimateWorks Foundation
Dream Corps
Green For All
Eden Reforestation Projects
Energy Foundation
Environmental Defense Fund
The Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice
Natural Resources Defense Council
The Nature Conservancy
NDN Collective
Rocky Mountain Institute
Salk Institute for Biological Studies
The Solutions Project
Union of Concerned Scientists
World Resources Institute 
World Wildlife Fund


The big green NGOs — Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), World Resources Institute (WRI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) — will all get hefty $100 million grants.

For perspective, NRDC brought in just over $170 million total in grants and contributions in 2018, according to its tax filing. EDF's total operating expenses in 2019 were $201 million, according to the group's website. TNC is the largest of the bunch, having raised more than $1 billion in 2019.

Other organizations are taking in smaller sums from the fund, including the Rocky Mountain Institute and the Union of Concerned Scientists, which are slated to receive $10 million and $15 million, respectively.

Poking more specifically into where the money is dedicated tells us a lot about where we can expect corporations to prioritize climate action during 2021. With that in mind, here are three takeaways from Bezos’s big bets.

Climate equity and environmental justice

Five organizations chosen for the grants this week are explicitly focused on addressing climate change through the lens of environmental justice. Three of them — the Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, The Solutions Project and The Hive Fund — are receiving $43 million each. NDN Collective, an Indigenous-led group, also received $12 million.

The climate justice “theme” also permeates the other grants. NRDC, for example, will be using part of its grant to help advance climate solutions at the state and community level that "strengthen equity and justice at the heart of climate advocacy." And TNC is using a big chunk of its fund to protect the Emerald Edge old-growth forest in the United States and Canada in collaboration with Indigenous and tribal communities there.  

The Bezos gift should not be confused as a corporate climate justice commitment. While there have been some really meaningful commitments — including Microsoft’s vow to include environmental justice as part of its renewable energy strategy or Apple’s Racial and Equity Justice Initiative — the vast majority of companies are struggling with blending justice into their environmental strategies. That needs to change, and perhaps Bezos personal investments will be the catalyst needed to ignite that change.

Carbon sequestration is the new black

Nature-based solutions for removing atmospheric carbon dioxide were the rage this year. The Salk Institute, for example, is getting $30 million for its Harnessing Plants Initiative, focused on the soil sequestration of the world’s six biggest food crops, including soybeans and corn. 

The money is also supporting a big WWF program to protect and restore mangroves, small trees that grow in the brackish waters along coasts, in Colombia, Fiji, Madagascar and Mexico. What’s more, it includes funds for another solution that is capturing more attention as we stare into 2021: seaweed farming.

According to advocates, kelp beds sequester five times more CO2 than terrestrial leafy greens such as kale or lettuce. There’s a movement brewing to use seaweed as a feedstock for liquid fuel alternatives; it’s also finding a place on menus, including at fast-casual restaurant chain Sweetgreen, and a role in packaging (such as Loliware, which is making seaweed straws).

Space - the satellite frontier

EDF’s grant is largely focused on launching the MethaneSAT, a network for locating and measuring methane pollution around the world and sharing it to ensure accountability. 

It should not be lost on any of us that aside from being the CEO of one of the world’s largest retailers and tech companies, Bezos is behind Blue Origin, one of the private space companies that hopes to put people back onto the moon. It’s only natural that he’d explore extraterrestrial climate solutions.

EDF isn’t the only organization benefiting here: WRI will be using its grant to develop a satellite-based network for monitoring carbon emissions as well as changes to forests, grasslands, wetlands and farms.  

Here’s hoping that all of these initiatives find it much easier to get off the ground under the Biden-Harris administration, which has made addressing climate change — and cultivating clean economy jobs — one of its four priorities.

And just think, "only" $9 billion more to allocate from the Bezos Earth Fund. That’s an inspiring sum of money.

[This post is adapted from the original written by Heather Clancy for GreenBiz.]

Creed Comments: Jeff Bezos is a very smart man. His company, Amazon, is blanketing the airwaves with advertisements promoting their commitment to net zero operations. Now, he is personally financing the most influential environmental organizations in the world. The environmental justice gifts were a pleasant surprise and a good start for a long neglected, resource starved segment of the climate community.

Still, one group was not buying it.

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group of Amazon workers that has pushed the company to do more on climate change, said the $791 million announcement raises questions about whether Bezos and the company will "continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis."

"We applaud Jeff Bezos' philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away," the group said in a statement.

It is important to pay attention to the labor pushback here, if for no other reason, it could forebode a split between labor and green groups on corporate climate funding motives. I hope not.


KNOWLEDGE


World class courses that will help you understand climate change better

With extreme weather eventsrising sea levels, and alarming biodiversity loss, there is no better time than the present to learn about climate change. This living emergency begs for urgent attention, but the issue of environmental degradation is so broad that it's not always easy to grasp.

Being educated about climate issues is essential in lobbying for solutions, and taking any of the following courses is a great way to start learning. Experts from HarvardYale, the University of Leeds, and the Smithsonian Institution teach you the science and substance behind climate change and how it intersects with other global issues. 

Many of the online courses listed here are either free or free to audit, and certification prices are very reasonable, given the institutions and instructors. We hope one of these courses will enrich your thinking about carbon and climate.

[This post is adapted from the original written by Carla Delgado for Business Insider.]

FutureLearn Concepts in Sustainable Development:
An Introduction to the Key Issues

Free; $59 for a certificate

This University of Leicester course discusses the concepts of sustainable development and its relation to socio-political issues like wealth inequality. It tackles the effects of human activity on the environment and the implications of agricultural and industrial revolutions. By analyzing different approaches to global issues, you'll learn to view sustainability from a natural science, political, and economic perspective. If you're interested in learning about sustainable development and collective action in the face of climate change, this course is for you. Check it out here LINK.


Coursera Global Warming I:
The Science and Modeling of Climate Change

Free; $49 for a certificate

In this introductory climate change course, the science of global warming is broken down to make it easily understandable. The class touches on the atmosphere's structure, the greenhouse effect, and how both impact the planet's weather and climate. Instructor David Archer, a geophysical sciences professor, believes that mitigating human impact on climate change is "a challenge that humankind could beat if we decided to." It's a great course to take for you to refresh your knowledge of the basic scientific concepts of global warming. Check it out here LINK.

Act on Climate: Steps to Individual, Community, and Political Action

Free; $49 for a certificate

If you think that climate issues are too overwhelming for one person to make a difference, you should take this course. With the help of featured climate change experts and professional leaders, you can convert your concern about the environment into tangible actions. The course explores how individual climate actions regarding food, energy, and transportation can influence community and political action. By engaging in environmental initiatives, it is possible to make a huge positive impact in your local community. Check it out here LINK


edX: The Health Effects of Climate Change

Free; $149 for a certificate


The Health Effects of Climate Change, offered by Harvard, is one of the most popular courses in environmental studies. It explains how global warming makes a tremendous impact on public health and directly affects the life of each individual. The class focuses on exploring solutions to reduce global warming's effect on food security and air quality. It also talks about how climate change increases the prevalence of infectious diseases — an especially relevant issue right now. Check it out here LINK.


Open Yale Courses:
The Atmosphere, the Ocean, and Environmental Change

Free; no certificate available

This class covers a wide range of topics that give you a thorough background on the essentials of meteorology. It discusses the weather, air pollution, the ozone layer, ocean currents, and even the history of the Earth's climate. It also includes 35 free video lectures with laboratory exercises and exams that challenge your knowledge about the planet's scientific processes. This is a good course to take if you're interested in how climate change affects meteorological patterns and causes extreme weather events. Check it out here LINK


RESOURCES

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