The Amazon rain forest is still burning. In August alone, at least 26,000 fires ravaged one of the world’s most complex and varied biomes. That already-too-high figure becomes even more devastating when you consider that about halfway through 2019, Brazil had already clocked an 84 percent increase in infernos from 2018. To say the situation is dire would be an astounding understatement.
Still, Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, isn’t doing much about it. Pursuing an agenda of rampant deforestation, dismantling protections both for the environment and for indigenous peoples, he has prioritized his economic interests instead. He recently declined over $20 million in international aid to help fight the fires, so I can see why a person might want to entrust the situation to more responsible hands. But surely we can all agree: Those hands do not belong to Jeff Bezos.
This week, a viral pitch began making the rounds online. Ostensibly the work of some anonymous climate activists in conjunction with NowThisNews, it asks a small favor of Amazon’s CEO: Buy the rain forest that gave your company a name, and just … hold onto it for us.
Here’s the full request, as spelled out in a sharable video:
Amazon is still on fire.
The other one.
Yours is doing okay.
We have an investment opportunity for you.
Buy the Amazon rainforest.
Buy it, then don’t touch it.
Instead hold it in trust for the world.
Protect all the plant and wildlife that help us to breathe.
Protect the indigenous peoples whose knowledge is priceless.
You have a strong brand, Jeff.
But what do you want your legacy to be?
Now is your chance to give something back to the rainforest that gave you a name and so much more.
So do it, Jeff. Invest in your legacy.
Before everyone figures out where all the cardboard comes from.
Mercifully, this proposition does not appear to be a serious one: The creative director reportedly told AdWeek that the team doesn’t “really imagine him [Bezos] responding” to the video, which is intended “more just for everyone else to have a new way to talk about power and control.” But that message may not have reached all the people reposting it, nor is this the first time people online have rallied behind the Bezos-as-benefactor plan.
Setting aside the full-body cringe inherent in placing a sprawling ecosystem — one that spans nine countries, and that is still inhabited by indigenous peoples — on the auction block, the request vests a staggering amount of trust in a single man, and a shady one at that. Bezos is said to treat his workers, particularly the vastly underpaid workers who run his warehouses, like disposable robots. His staggering $110 billion net worth stands in unsettling contrast to a murky, but apparently pretty limited, charitable history. These character facets do not suggest an overwhelming concern for other people’s well-being so much as they do a driving money lust. True, Bezos has crowdsourced ideas for “philanthropic activity” from social media, so maybe Instagram is how you reach him. But I don’t think you really want to do that!
Within his own company, Bezos seems to prize profits far above the climate implications of his business practices — the dizzying volume of packaging required to ship billions of Prime orders each year, the carbon emissions required to fulfill all those next-day deliveries, and the division of Amazon that works with oil companies to promote fossil fuel extraction. The recent push for sustainability at Amazon largely came from the workforce, has been voted down by the shareholders, and was seemingly dismissed by Bezos himself.
All of which is to say, it doesn’t seem exactly probable that Bezos buying a large tract of uniquely resource-rich land would come from a will to serve the greater good, nor from some nascent preservationist instinct. I don’t think he’s the man for the job, even if there were a job to do here: Like Greenland, the Amazon en masse is not for sale. Ownership falls to the eight countries and one territory (Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela) it occupies.
Some organizations, like the Rainforest Trust, do buy land as a means of protecting it. On its website, the Rainforest Conservation Fund (which operates primarily in Peru) explains why it doesn’t. “Most of the rainforest in Peru is owned by the Peruvian government, and it isn’t interested in selling,” reads the RCF’s answer. If, hypothetically, the government did sell, the price would be steep, a cost compounded by the obligation to put in place a kind of “private army” to guard it. As the RCF points out, “mere ownership does not protect land.”
Maybe Bezos could afford to send his own sentinel down to Brazil, but doing so would mean he’d struck a deal with Bolsanaro, who would at that point be parceling off Amazonian land and selling it to corporate interests. Let yourself marinate in the implications of that nightmare scenario for a quick minute. Does this sound like the best way to save the rain forest to you? Or does it sound like the prequel to some kind of dystopian apocalypse tale?