Amazon’s Jeff Bezos gives Salk Institute $30 million to help fight climate change


By Gary Robbins, La Jolla Light (CA)

Nov. 18, 2020


An ambitious effort by La Jolla’s Salk Institute for Biological Studies to find ways to get plants to capture and store atmospheric carbon has received a $30 million boost from Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos as part his new $10 billion campaign to fight climate change.


The world’s richest man awarded the campaign’s first donations Nov. 16, giving $791 million to 16 institutions worldwide from a pool of money known as the Bezos Earth Fund.


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


Most of the new money went to widely known environmental groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and World Wildlife Fund, each of which received $100 million grants.


But the gift to the Salk Institute came as something of a surprise.


The nonprofit institute above Black’s Beach is best known for its pioneering discoveries about the human body — research that has helped lead to important anti-cancer drugs such as Gleevec.


Salk quietly expanded its work in plant sciences three years ago amid a growing belief by its faculty that studying climate change also should be an essential part of the institute’s mission. Researchers placed a special emphasis on learning how to coax important crop plants to sequester more carbon.


The shift caught Bezos’ attention, bringing the fresh round of money.


“This gift will allow us to study how to store more carbon in six important crop plants — corn, soybeans, canola, rice, wheat and sorghum,” said Wolfgang Busch, co-director of Salk’s Harnessing Plants Initiative.


“We need to make plant roots bigger so they can store more carbon, get the roots to grow deeper in the soil and get those roots to hold on to the carbon longer. We believe these changes can be made through breeding and genetic engineering.”


Researchers are trying to improve on one of the most fundamental acts of nature.


Plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air. The C02 enters through pores in the plant’s leaves. It gets combined with water and sunlight during photosynthesis, providing plants with the food. The carbon gets stored in the plant’s roots.


The process — and problem — is studied by much larger institutions like UC San Diego. But Salk has two world-class plant biologists — Joe Ecker and Joanne Chory — and the initiative has been gaining momentum.


Last year, Salk...





Jeff Bezos announces first beneficiaries of his $10 billion climate fund


Brandon Rooney, WH Observer

November 16, 2020


Jeff Bezos named 16 environmental organizations that will get the first chunk of his $10 billion fund for climate action on Instagram today. Collectively, they’ll get $791 million from the richest man on Earth, although Bezos did not specify how much would go to each group.


“I’ve spent the past several months learning from a group of incredibly smart people who’ve made it their life’s work to fight climate change and its impact on communities around the world,” Bezos said on Instagram. “I’m inspired by what they’re doing, and excited to help them scale.” The Amazon CEO announced the creation of his personal $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund in February.


"Support for mainstream environmental groups"


His fund is equivalent to more than 7 percent of his net worth. It’s also 10 times as much as philanthropic foundations gave globally in 2018 to efforts to slow climate change. For his first round of funding, Bezos chose to back a handful of legacy organizations with an established history of advocacy on behalf of the planet. His choice in recipients so far signals support for mainstream environmental groups rallying for new policies and research on climate change.


It’s also somewhat of a departure from contributions that Amazon and other giants have made recently to climate tech startups. Amazon, Microsoft, and Stripe, in contrast to Bezos, have all pledged to funnel money toward developing brand-new technologies to reduce and capture their industries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Much of the first round of funding from Amazon’s $2 billion climate fund will go toward getting more electric vehicles on the road and capturing carbon dioxide emissions, the company announced in September. Microsoft said in January that it would spend $1 billion over four years on technologies that remove planet-heating carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.


"Carbon-capture tech favored by tech companies is still in its infancy"


But the carbon-capture tech favored by tech companies is still in its infancy. In contrast, some of the advocacy groups Bezos pledged to fund today have been fighting for environmental protections since close to the birth of the modern environmental movement in in the US in the 1960s. That includes the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which is led by Gina McCarthy, an Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency administrator and vocal critic of Trump’s environmental rollbacks. “This generous gift from the Bezos Earth Fund enables NRDC to move even faster on achieving the climate solutions we need at the federal, state and local levels to protect people’s health, strengthen nature’s ability to help fight climate change and grow the clean energy sector and all the jobs that come with it,” McCarthy said in a statement.


Bezos also named the Environmental Defense Fund, which tends to take a more corporate-friendly approach to its advocacy. It’s worked with companies like Walmart and McDonald’s on their sustainability goals. “The needs are enormous,” Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp told The WH Observer after the Bezos fund was announced in February. “No matter what organization receives this funding, what’s important is that the money be put to work.” Krupp and McCarthy’s organizations will each receive $100 million, according to statements from each group.


Some of the big green groups Bezos chose, however, have been beset by scandal lately. Human rights abuses came to light in a 2019 BuzzFeed News investigation into the nearly 60-year-old conservation charity World Wildlife Fund. The organization’s anti-poaching efforts supported paramilitary groups that captured, tortured, and killed villagers and indigenous peoples in Asia and Africa, BuzzFeed reported.


Two more groups Bezos will fund have had recent shifts in leadership as part of a broader reckoning with systemic racism and sexism within science fields and environmentalism. The CEO of conservation group Nature Conservancy decided to leave his post in June 2019 following allegations of gender discrimination within the organization. The president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Ken Kimmell, said that he would step down at the end of the year. Kimmell’s decision follows the high-profile resignation of the organization’s former coalitions coordinator, Ruth Tyson, who penned a public letter saying, “It was really stressful and traumatic for me working [at the Union of Concerned Scientists] and I hope no other Black people ever have to share this pain.” World Wildlife Fund and Nature Conservancy said they would each get $100 million from Bezos’ fund, while the Union of Concerned Scientists said it’s been given $15 million...


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