But Bezos’s gifts indicate that he isn’t trying something new on climate so much as boosting an ancien régime. Bezos is prepared to give $100 million each to four of the most established environmental groups in the country—the Nature Conservancy, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the World Wildlife Fund, according to my two sources, who were granted anonymity so that they could speak candidly about the small world of climate giving.
Bezos has also committed $100 million to the World Resources Institute, a sustainability-research organization that operates globally, the two sources said.
And he has promised smaller amounts of $10 million to $50 million to four nonprofits that specialize in climate and energy research, the sources said. Those groups are the Energy Foundation, the Union of Concerned Scientists, the ClimateWorks Foundation, and the Rocky Mountain Institute.
These are large gifts, and they are going to large organizations. Each of the five groups receiving $100 million already has annual expenses in the nine figures. The largest of them, the Nature Conservancy, had a budget exceeding $930 million in 2018. Each has significant assets, offices and operations around the world, and enough heft to send experts to United Nations conferences.
Yet these gifts, even if spread over five years, will constitute a major portion of the groups’ revenues. And they put into perspective the mammoth size of the Earth Fund: These nine grants represent, at most, $700 million—that is, 7 percent of Bezos’s initial commitment.
But this first round of funding isn’t complete, a spokesperson for the Earth Fund told me. “This list does not reflect the complete range of organizations that the Earth Fund has been speaking with and that will be receiving grants from the fund in this initial round—stay tuned,” said the spokesperson, who did not confirm the grantees and amounts.
None of the would-be grantees offered a comment for this story. They declined to speak with me or did not respond to a request for comment.
These first grantees represent an older and—some would say—outdated approach to the problem of climate change. The youngest of the nine, ClimateWorks, was established in 2008; the rest were founded nearly three decades ago or more. Their approaches vary, and include that of the famously corporate-friendly Environmental Defense Fund and that of the scrappier Natural Resources Defense Council. The list may also raise eyebrows among those who have been following the recent scandals at the World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy.
But the groups are nearly all united in their history of work on environmental issues, and their treatment of climate change as such. With a few exceptions, they evince a pollution-centric view of the climate problem, calling for technocratic solutions that will slowly ramp down emissions. The Sunrise Movement, which boisterously supports a Green New Deal and electioneers for Democrats, is not among the groups I’m told will receive funding. Nor is any racial or environmental-justice group, nor any other organization that prioritizes climatic reconciliation as of a piece with racial equity.