(source: Adrian Lam/NBC News)
You might have heard that Amazon CEO and occasional richest-man-in-the-world, Jeff Bezos announced he was committing $10 billion — 7 to 8 percent of his massive fortune — to an initiative to combat climate change, dubbed the Bezos Earth Fund.
Bezos' change of heart aligns him with other powerful people. Former Republican New York mayor and current candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination Mike Bloomberg pledged $500 million to shut down coal plants across the United States. And earlier this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has around $47 billion in its ever-growing endowment, added climate change to its philanthropic priorities.
It might seem that having wealthy individuals and multinational corporations promising so much money for climate initiatives would be a good thing. But it's much more complicated than just rich people trying to make the planet a better place.
Anand Giridharadas, author of "Winner Takes All," has emerged as one of the chief critics of this recent spate of billionaire philanthropy. Giridharadas writes that for all their talk of changing the world through charitable giving, what elites offer is a "fake change."
“Part of the reason billionaires can swoop in and position themselves as the saviors is that government has failed to take bold action.” - Anand Giridharadas
I certainly am not one to reject sincere efforts to fight climate change – regardless of who provides the funding.
However, Billionaire philanthropy will not alter the regulatory structure that created the problem in the first place. For that, we need the government to redirect subsidies from fossil fuels to renewables, change the tax code to penalize unsustainable industries, alter regulations to encourage denser development and ultimately set a framework that's more favorable to workers and communities that have been left behind these past few decades.
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Hi, I'm Walter, founder and editor of Carbon Creed: a blog and newsletter for people serious about tech and the low carbon economy.