Triple Bottom Line: Alexa, stop Jeff Bezos
As you may have heard from Bo Burnham’s recent musical number, Jeff Bezos is a former CEO and entrepreneur born in 1964. But what are the motivations behind the man, the meme, the infamous legend? Aside from being the founder and current executive chairman of Amazon, having a net worth of nearly $200 billion dollars and soaring into the sky in his suggestively-shaped rocket, the bald-headed billionaire believes that the solution to the climate crisis is outer space.
In preparation for this week’s installment, I did a simple Google search on the man. This past week’s activities included boarding his $65 million dollar private jet and installing an unlimited soft-serve machine at his residence in Beverly Hills. And not to mention the fact that his ten-minute joyride into space cost $5.5 billion. There’s no doubt about it — Bezos gives capitalism a bad rap.
Arguably, many of the world’s richest and most influential choose to stay away from sinking their savings into the world’s wicked problems — that is, social, cultural and environmental problems that have plagued our world for centuries. This 21st-century space race of tech billionaires is a perfect counter-solution for Bezos and his company. No bureaucratic red tape or enduring the slow game of large-scale philanthropy. Instead, we’re witnessing the new-age shenanigans of the centibillionaire tech bros in the name of space exploration.
At the end of the day, everyone can use their money, wealth and power how they see fit. It’d be nice for Bezos to consider investing his incomprehensible wealth into addressing issues such as world hunger and global poverty. But he’s not obligated to spend his money there. With a net worth that is quite literally bigger than the GDP of some countries, Bezos essentially has unmatched funds and power. The world is his oyster, yet he’s chosen to focus his sights far away from Earth.
The concept of conscientious capitalism, touted by Whole Foods CEO and now Amazon affiliate John Mackey, argues that “all businesses have the potential for a higher purpose besides just maximizing profits.” Like any good oxymoron, capitalism favors throwing money at problems to quickly fix them rather than investing funds, energy and effort into the root of systemic issues. Bezos’s limited attempts at philanthropy show just how that rings true — he’s long been criticized for the inconsistent scale and lack of consequence upon which he donates, dropping $100 million checks with reckless abandon, little organization and ample PR opportunities.
With the creation of the monolithic Amazon’s countless options and same-day shipping, Bezos has arguably ensured that purchase power is in the hands of the consumer. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
For those of us on a budget, Amazon is often the cheapest and most convenient way to go. In doing so, we’re literally funding Bezos’s Blue Origin venture, broadening the wealth gap and unnecessarily padding the pockets of the world’s richest man with our latest Prime purchases.
Even if we made every effort to buy locally, ethically and sustainably to reduce our own carbon footprint, a literal trip to space produces a wealth of emissions and particulate pollutants beyond what a single customer could ever offset on their own. On the smallest scale, perhaps Amazon has guaranteed us more purchasing freedom. In the grand scheme of things, however, the benefit of convenience is far outweighed by the cost of Bezos’s ever-expanding business ventures and their profit-prioritizing methods.
Maybe Bezos’s trip to space was merely the billionaire equivalent of a midlife crisis sports car purchase. But while a potential chain of intergalactic Amazon warehouses is intriguing, Bezos’s actions are ultimately irresponsible and prove he only cares about building his own wealth and power.
Amazon is the second-largest private employer in the United States; however, a $15 minimum wage and grueling warehouse working conditions — determined through inhumane data driven quotas — exacerbate wealth disparities. Although Bezos has the resources to mitigate global poverty, food shortages and even improve educational equity, he instead chose to spend it on one tangible, fleeting flight.
The company’s production processes are still unquestionably detrimental to the environment. Bezos recently made a $10 billion pledge to the climate change cause, but his gestures shouldn’t distract from the actions of his company. Amazon has a steadily increasing carbon footprint despite releasing a list of vague climate pledges, including achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. However, if we don’t focus on rapid environmental improvement in the short-term, we may not be able to aspire at all in the long-term.
Bezos’s climate pledge is the ultimate hypocrisy — Amazon’s business model relies on overconsumption. We buy things online constantly, lured in by one-click purchases and same-day delivery. Amazon is a large part of exactly what is destroying the earth.
Instead of losing money by making Amazon a more eco-friendly conglomerate, Bezos himself continues to promote consumer culture. He is responsible for a disproportionate amount of environmental damage; however, he effectively pushes the responsibility of environmental damage onto the consumers. Likewise, capitalism shifts the blame for environmental problems onto those who don’t have the power to fix them, which further exacerbates existing issues. It creates a positive feedback loop of future environmental damage as we continue to buy poorly made, cheap and convenient products.
It’s nearly impossible to avoid Amazon entirely these days —trust me, I’m trying — and the problem goes a whole lot deeper. Bezos conducts business as usual and looks to the stars to solve problems, but he should start with his own company, on his own planet.
While the tech bros may be celebrating Bezos’s successful ride to space, don’t be surprised when he books a one-way, one-man flight aboard his evocative spacecraft, leaving the rest of us to live with the consequences of Amazon’s actions.
Montana Denton is a senior writing about environmental issues, sustainability and society.