Everything on the news lately has been circulating around Australia. As the wildfires rage on, the entire globe has united to help tame the fires and assist the country in rebuilding. The global outcry has resulted in over $200 million Australian dollars in donations.
It’s a story of human empathy, of compassion, of people uniting to make a difference— at least on the surface. There’s another narrative lurking beneath, describing how the überrich’s philanthropy habits mask their true actions.
Jeff Bezos is a prime example. As the CEO of Amazon (the second company ever to be worth over $1 trillion), his net worth accumulates to $130 billion, more than the GDP of Iceland, Serbia and Nepal combined.
On January 12, Bezos announced that Amazon would be donating to the wildfire relief efforts. “Our hearts go out to all Australians, the country’s communities, bushland, and wildlife affected by the devastating bushfires. Using Amazon’s unique logistics and innovative technologies, along with cash donations to support organizations on the front line of relief efforts, Amazon is contributing AU$1million to national efforts to provide relief to communities impacted by this natural disaster,” Amazon wrote in their corporate blog.
AU$1 million is worth $690,000 U.S. dollars. Business Insider reports that Bezos’s average monthly salary is $6.5 billion— or $150,000 every minute. In five minutes, Bezos has already earned more than he donated to the wildfires. GQ highlights that this donation is about 0.000009% of Bezos’s total income. For an American who is earning the 2018 median American income of $63,179, this would be equivalent to donating 55 cents.
This news by itself may not be shocking, but in conjunction with Bezos’s other acts, it exposes a pattern of deception from the überrich.
Just this month, two Amazon employees pushed for stronger action on climate change— and promptly received notices that if they continued to talk to the press, they would be at risk for being fired. These two employees are part of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, a group which last April published a letter asking Amazon to adopt a climate change plan.
Beyond its workers, Amazon’s carbon footprint spans the entire world. With the advent of Amazon Prime and single day shipping, people in the United States purchase more in addition to buying individual items rather than in bulk. Miguel Jaller, an assistant civil and environmental engineering professor at the University of California, Davis, sums it up well: “People are consuming more. There’s more demand created by the availability of these cheap products and cheap delivery options.”
Amazon may claim that it has a plan — but its escalating Prime Days have contradicted their point.
Investigative reporter Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money describes how the rich have weaponized philanthropy, creating “a new generation of hyper-political private foundations” that “invest in ideology like venture capitalists, leveraging their fortunes for maximum strategic impact.”
Many private foundations constantly work against what they donate to. Even while giving money to climate change charities, they spread misinformation and harm the environment.
For instance, Exxon Mobil allegedly knew about climate change’s danger all the way back in 1977. Instead of taking action, they began a propaganda campaign. According to the Scientific American, Exxon worked to create the Global Climate Coalition, which in turn disputed the science of climate change throughout the late 1980s to 2002. Additionally, it successfully helped to keep the United States from signing the Kyoto Protocol, which provided motivation for India and China to also avoid signing.
Furthermore, the Olin Foundation has led anti-environmentalism campaigns while Olin Industries chemicals simultaneously polluted a town so horribly that it became one of the country’s first Superfund sites.
The rich may donate millions and millions of dollars to help save Australia— but even as they donate money to hose out the flames, in the end, it was their actions that were the first spark.
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