By George Buskell

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has been in a generous mood this week. Bezos, the face of 21st century capitalism and the richest man on earth, has pledged $10 Billion to fight climate change this Monday. Announced via instagram, the “Bezos Earth Fund” seeks to pump money into scientific research and NGOs in order to combat the wholesale destruction of our shared environment. 

Huzzah! Surely this will stop climate change, right? I mean, $10 Billion is certainly nothing to snark at. That’s likely more money than you or I will ever see in our lifetimes. However, things aren’t always as they seem, and when it comes to the filthy rich, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Naturally this move has resulted in a lot of praise being heaped upon Bezos for seemingly doing the right thing by the planet, but sadly this is just the latest example of high profile greenwashing.

Greenwashing is the process of conveying misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound. In other words: using Eco-friendly language to improve your public relations. Bezos is no ally in the fight for climate justice, and high profile publicity stunts like these only serve to further obfuscate the real issues surrounding climate change. The idea that Jeff, or indeed Amazon itself is some beacon of progress is just insulting. 

Just last month the group ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ reported being threatened by Amazon’s HR department for speaking out on climate change, not to mention the gigantic amount of carbon being pumped into the atmosphere by Amazon’s supply chains. Amazon, according to their own 2018 findings, pumps as much CO2 into the atmosphere annually as the whole of Norway. 

Amazon’s track record on workers’ rights is hardly stellar either. Amazon directly funds the “Competitive Enterprise Institute”, a right-wing Libertarian think tank notorious for climate change denial; which, according to their website, “takes on all the hard energy and climate issues” and “questions global warming alarmism.” In fact, the latest article on the CEI’s website (as of 18/02/2020) labels new milquetoast Republican Climate Legislation as “virtue signalling” and criticises tree planting programs, claiming that last year’s California wildfires were in fact caused by having too many trees – subsequently proposing that the United States increase timber production back to pre-1990 levels. Very eco-friendly, Jeff.

This issue is broader than just Jeff Bezos. Greenwashing in 2020 is incredibly common. Climate issues are “fashionable”, and capital will do all it can to co-opt our struggles and repackage them for sale. Even public institutions are not exempt from greenwashing. Take our own University for instance. Despite its forward facing advertising campaign on sustainability, the University of Surrey has very close ties with Arms Companies such as BAE Systems, a resident of the Surrey Research Park. The arms trade is not just a big polluter, but also complicit in war crimes across the Global South. Not to mention the absence of fossil fuel companies from the  University’s ethical investments policy. 

The real climate heroes we should be celebrating this week are the indigenous Wet’suwet’en peoples in Canada, who have been engaging in incredible direct action against the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, once again bringing climate colonialism to the forefront of the global conversation. Courageous Wet’suwet’en activists and allies acting in solidarity successfully blockaded several railway lines that were being used to transport parts and labour, as well as roads and ports across Canada – successfully halting almost all of the country’s rail services. Indigenous activists have reported intense repression, with videos showing the Royal Canadian Mounted Police aiming semi-automatic weaponry at land defenders. Whilst Bezos sits in his ivory tower showering himself in meaningless media praise, Indigenous Land Defenders trying to prevent a huge extractivist project that threatens their local environment are faced with police brutality and racist backlash.  

Meaningful climate action will never come from billionaire “philanthropists” throwing money at the climate crisis they directly profit from. They’ll be the last to face the consequences of their actions. Real action comes from the grassroots, fighting for radical social, economic and political change – getting to the real root of our current crisis. If we (as people concerned about climate change) continue to rely on billionaire handouts and the latest eco-commodities to save us without challenging the very heart of capitalism’s insatiable lust for resources, then we will be falling into a very well placed trap. Instead of heaping praise on climate criminals flashing their cash, we should be lifting up the voices of those engaged in indigenous struggles, divestment campaigning and real transformative agendas. 

George Buskell is a final year International Politics student at the University of Surrey.

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