Jeff Bezos donates ‘generously’ to save the world

Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, has made the second largest charitable gift in recent history.

The Amazon founder is giving $10 billion to a new initiative that will fund programs to combat the effects of climate change, he said in an Instagram post on Monday. The Bezos Earth Fund comes after years of criticism that the billionaire was not doing enough charitable work with his extraordinary wealth, pressure that he has begun to cede to in recent years.

Details are scarce about how exactly this fund will be structured and the exact type of work that it will fund. But the size of the gift is worth taking note. The only larger pledge of the 21st century was Warren Buffett’s promise to give the bulk of his net worth — that amounts to $43 billion — to the Gates Foundation in 2006, according to records from The Chronicle of Philanthropy. Bezos’ gift amounts — again, Bezos is committing $10 billion — to about 7.5 percent of his current net worth.

“Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet. I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share,” Bezos said in his post.

“This global initiative will fund scientists, activists, NGOs — any effort that offers a real possibility to help preserve and protect the natural world.”

Bezos has drawn significant fire for his lack of charitable giving, criticism that has gotten harsher as Amazon grew and Bezos eventually became the world’s single richest person. In 2018, Bezos unveiled the Day One fund, which amounts to a $2 billion commitment to early childhood education and to anti-homelessness initiatives.

The schools that Bezos is setting up with that pool of money have not yet begun operating. But he has awarded about $200 million so far for homelessness work, through an unusual process that Recode reported on in detail last summer. If past is prologue, the grants that Bezos makes to climate-change organizations could follow a similar model.

Bezos still has not signed The Giving Pledge, the promise by some of the world’s billionaires to donate most of their money in their lifetimes or in their wills. His wife, Mackenzie Bezos, after finalizing the largest divorce settlement ever recorded at $35 billion, almost immediately decided on her own to sign it.

“I have a lot of ideas about philanthropy — that I’m not ready to share or talk about,” Bezos told Charlie Rose nine years ago when asked to add his name. “There are a lot of interesting unknowns. And sometimes I think we try to solve problems before we understand the problem.”

But the Amazon founder has described his work in private space travel — through a company he funds called Blue Origin — as a pseudo-philanthropic mission, although it remains a for-profit company. The $10 billion from Bezos will exclusively fund charitable work, with no private investments, according to a person familiar with the gift.

That Bezos has decided to try and make his mark on climate change is revealing. Amazon, of course, has been heavily criticized for its own contributions to the climate crisis. Bezos’ employees have tried to pressure the company into more serious action, including at a recent strike. Bezos’ personal contribution could be intended to send a message to those employees.

“We applaud Jeff Bezos’ philanthropy, but one hand cannot give what the other is taking away,” a group of activist employees, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, said in a statement. They indicated they were unsatisfied, listing off various remaining ties betwen Amazon and fossil fuels. “Will Jeff Bezos show us true leadership or will he continue to be complicit in the acceleration of the climate crisis, while supposedly trying to help?”

All of this belated giving, ironically, comes at a time when billionaire philanthropy is a more of a minefield than ever. Society is beginning to reckon with the fact that charitable gifts are a form of influence — and that maybe these billionaires shouldn’t have so much power in the first place. After all, it will be Jeff Bezos deciding who to fund with this $10 billion, not taxpayers through the democratically elected United States government.

Saudi Prince accused of hacking Amazon and Washington Post owner, Jeff Bezos

U.N. experts have demanded an immediate investigation by U.S. and other authorities into allegations that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince was involved in a plot to hack the phone of Amazon boss and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos.

The U.N. special rapporteurs, Agnes Callamard and David Kaye, said on Wednesday they had information pointing to the “possible involvement” of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the alleged 2018 cyberattack, which preceded alleged threats by the National Enquirer to publish intimate photographs of the billionaire tech tycoon.

Saudi crown prince

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

Callamard, the special rapporteur for extra-judicial killings, and Kaye, special rapporteur for free expression, said in a statement that they believed the hack was carried out “in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia” and called for an “immediate investigation by U.S. and other relevant authorities.”

Their recommendation is not binding, and how quickly – if at all – U.S. officials might act on it was not immediately clear.

The Wall Street Journal said an FBI investigation into the hack was ongoing.

Saudi officials dismissed the allegations as absurd.

The rapporteurs based their call for an investigation on a 17-page forensic report drawn up by Washington-based FTI Consulting, which a source familiar with the matter said had been commissioned by Bezos. The report alleges with “medium to high confidence” that the billionaire’s iPhone X was hijacked by a malicious video file sent from a WhatsApp account used by the crown prince on May 1, 2018.

The report, a copy of which was first published by Motherboard, said that within hours of receiving the video file there was “an anomalous and extreme change” in the device’s behavior, with the level of outgoing data from the phone jumping nearly 300-fold.

Bill Gates reclaims ‘world’s richest person’ title from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Jeff Bezos is taking a fall from his perch as the world’s richest person, mostly because Amazon’s stock price has fallen. That cut into Bezos’ wealth, Bloomberg reports, though not so you’d notice.

Bezos is at $107.1 billion at the moment, about $300 million less than Gates, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. It’s the first time Microsoft’s co-founder has topped the list since October 2017.

Microsoft’s stock has shot up this year, and Gates still has 1% of its shares.

Forbes also documented the new order, putting Gates back on top; he headed the Forbes 400 for 24 years, until 2018.

The stock slide isn’t the whole story on Bezos’ slippage. One-fourth of Amazon’s ownership went to MacKenzie Bezos in their divorce settlement this year. She’s now worth $32.7 billion. And then there’s philanthropy.

Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.jpg

Gates would easily reign atop the wealth lists if he hadn’t given so much away, including much of his Microsoft stock. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation now is the largest private charitable foundation in the world.

Bezos has long been criticized for not doing more, and that started to change last year, when his contributions were estimated at $2 billion, per CNBC, much more than Gates in 2018.