In what has to be one of the more ironic, if not oxymoronic, moves of the times, Jeff Bezos announced today he would devote some $10 billions of his estimated $130 billion to fight climate change. Full details of the program are not yet available, but here are a few tidbits I was able to glean from the Washington Post announcement.
Amazon has committed to ordering 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, which it expects to start using by 2021, and has also donated $100 million to reforestation efforts. It has promised to being plastic-free in India by June.
During an Amazon conference in India in January, Bezos called on small and large companies to commit to changes that would reduce their impact on the environment.
“Anyone today who is not acknowledging that climate change is real — that we humans are affecting this plant in a very significant and dangerous way — those people are not being reasonable,” he said.
The same article noted that Amazon now delivers over 1 billion packages just in the US. Of course, any reductions in emissions is acting in the right direction, but, as I have written, reducing unsustainability will not create sustainability, in this case a stable global climate system. Unstated in the article is Amazon’s intentions to completely dominate the consumption economy of the US and perhaps much of the rest of the world as well.
What Bezos is promising is a technological fix to a problem that has its roots deep in the modernist, consumer-based economies of every developed and developing country on the globe. But Amazon is the epitome of the real problem, that is of consumerism, itself. Footprint analyses of the human impacts of the earth system that supports our species’ life and that of all other species, although a rough measure, shows that, right now, we are behaving as if there were some 1 1/2 Earths to support us. The consequences, as the work of Rostrom et al. has shown is that we are already exceeding safe levels for several key global processes. And that is without the impact of future growth, the kind that Amazon really wants deep in its corporate soul.
Bezos knows that Amazon has to do something to remain a legitimate player, but, unfortunately probably, he doesn’t understand the way the earth system works. It’s not as simple as adding more vans to the fleet as demand grows or switching out fossil-fueled trucks for electric ones. The electricity still has to come from somewhere, and, unless it is from solar sources, even the new vehicles will have a significant impact of climate stability.
The only real solution that can be offered by Bezos and Amazon is to wean people away from getting their kicks by buying and using things and services (Amazon’s streaming and internet services are big users of electricity.) and seek a flourishing life through taking care of themselves and the rest of the Planet. The answer to whatever one finds unsatisfying in life is not to “Go shopping.” but to connect to the World that has always been out there but not recognized, and nourish and care for the relationships that connecting always will create.
I believed that 20 years ago when I started writing about sustainability-as-flourishing, and I believe it even more now, given the new and convincing evidence I present in my recent book. Bezos does deserve some credit for taking a stand, although I wonder how much is to underpin the legitimacy of more growth. In any case, at best, two cheers.