The World of Sports: For billionaires, good is never good enough

There have been an overwhelming amount of lasts that have occurred this week, and I’m not really going to get into all of them because seniors talking about being seniors are annoying and not unique. But this is the last of me you’ll be hearing as far as the Daily Trojan goes. It has been an honor.

In my last week of classes, I was asked to attend a meeting between Annenberg students and Lauren Sánchez and Andrew Steer of the Bezos Earth Fund, an organization created from “a commitment of $10 billion from [Amazon founder] Jeff Bezos in 2020,” according to the group’s website.

Sánchez, the Fund’s vice chair, and Steer, the president and CEO, spoke with me, as well as a few other students working in the climate change arena (many of whom were much more hands-on in their admirable efforts than this simple sports columnist is), about the Fund’s work.

To their credit, the team seemed interested in what we had to say. My peers asked some really interesting questions about who is really affected by climate change, and one even brought up Amazon’s massive carbon footprint. The Earth Fund team asserted that they “are not Amazon,” although Sánchez said that she understood the concern about Amazon’s role in climate change and brought up the company’s Climate Pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. 

Time flew by in the office of the Dean, and it was well past the scheduled cutoff by the time when I raised my hand to ask a question. It was a buzzer-beating moment of sorts (or even after the buzzer, like LeBron’s astounding full court basket that did not count in the Lakers’ win over the Grizzlies Monday night).

My question was about Inglewood, which serves as a microcosm of the ways low-income Black areas are disproportionately affected by air pollution and other climate change ramifications. 

Steer told me about a $300 million sum that the Fund has devoted to climate justice initiatives. There is no question that the Bezos Earth Fund is making a positive impact on the fight to halt the climate crisis, but with anything attached to one of the richest men in the world comes a due process of critiquing its every move. Here we go. 

Bezos owns around $400 million in real estate, including multiple apartments in New York City, multiple homes in Washington, D.C., and multiple homes in Los Angeles — such as a $165 million compound across eight acres that was dubbed the most expensive property in the city. The maintenance of these large properties is obviously consuming a lot of resources, such as gas, electric power and water, en route to far surpassing the average American citizen’s carbon footprint. Yachts and helicopters and private jets only further the extremities. 

It’s not really my business to tell a man worth nearly $130 billion how to spend his money, and to be fair, having luxurious houses across the country and planes, boats and automobiles to boot does not sound like the worst way to spend a life. But if “small-scale change won’t deliver” and if “it is time for bold actions from … citizens,” according to the Bezos Earth Fund’s “Our View of the World” statement, perhaps giving up some of these properties and possessions would be a good practice for Bezos and other billionaires who live life in excess.

While the $10 billion Bezos is allocating to the Earth Fund is a significant chunk of money and approximately 8% of his net worth, the battle against climate change is a constant game of sacrifice. I can’t say that I myself do a great job of that. I still use plastic grocery bags at Target and fly to and from L.A. a few times a year and, while my career earnings from the Daily Trojan are approximately 0.000002% of what Bezos has earned, I don’t donate anything close to 8% of my income to nonprofits or charities. 

Bezos has publicly stated that he intends to give away “a majority” of his wealth during his lifetime but cited the difficulty of “figuring out how to do it in a levered way” in an interview with CNN. Many other billionaires have already committed to doing the same thing in the Giving Pledge, a collection of more than 230 wealthy individuals started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. 

While handling the finances of over $100 billion surely is overwhelming, Bezos’ $10 billion pledge by 2030 combined with his $2.4 billion of existing donations (according to an October 2022 count from Forbes) is less than the charitable contributions of his ex-wife. Philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, who has donated $14 billion, stated in her Giving Pledge announcement: “I have a disproportionate amount of money to share. My approach to philanthropy will continue to be thoughtful. It will take time and effort and care. But I won’t wait. And I will keep at it until the safe is empty.”

Time is the key word here. In every climate public service announcement, we hear that we are running out of just that. Companies must wake up and realize that their pledges to reach net-zero carbon emissions are remarkably behind schedule. We should all refuse to wait on fixing this exponentially-growing problem. Imagine how much of an impact $60 billion of liquidated cash could have on organizations across the country that are on the ground every day helping communities adapt to climate change or working to solve the root causes — and that is only half of one man’s net worth. 

Bezos isn’t the only one, there are more than 2,600 billionaires in the world — including several owners of sports teams — who can afford to expedite their charitable plans to capitalize on the world’s most precious resource: time.

So, shout out to the Bezos Earth Fund. It is certainly a good force to have in this struggle. However, at this point, can we please expect any and every billionaire to make a strong push for social, climate and economic justice? Hell, if they cared as much about the environment as Steve Ballmer ($91 billion net worth) does about tinkering with an L.A. Clippers team that will never sniff the NBA Finals, we might be in a much better spot in this shitfight.

That’s it from me. Pick up trash when you see it, keep pressuring the University to make efforts to shrink its own carbon footprint and, because I won’t avoid every cliche that plagues senior send-off columns, Fight On.

Patrick Warren is an associate managing editor and a senior writing about the relationship between sports and climate change. His column, “The World of Sports,” runs every other Friday.