There are worse things to be than the richest person in the world, but considering the flack that Jeff Bezos gets for his record-breaking net worth of $184 billion, his therapist (or team of therapists?) might disagree. When you’re the wealthiest human ever — and your fortune only grows during the COVID-19 pandemic that has financially devastated millions — people tend to ask you, “Hey, why not share the love and you know, save the world?” Most of us will never know what that’s like, but it sounds rather stressful to have the weight of the biggest net worth ever on your shoulders.
Saving the world is too tall an order for even the richest person. But with $184billion, the Amazon founder could afford to solve — or at least make a serious dent in solving — a number of global crises. The tech titan has more than enough money to tackle humanitarian issues like homelessness, poverty and climate change, and he’s started to by announcing the first round of donations from his $10 billion Earth Fund.
1. Pay Inequality
Women still make less money than men, and per the World Economic Forum’s estimate as of December 2019, it will take 99 1/2 years to achieve gender parity. Additionally, people of color still make less than white people, with a 2019 Payscale report finding that black men on average earned 87 cents for every dollar a white man earned and Hispanic men earned 91 cents.
While it wouldn’t make logistical sense for Bezos to swoop in and fix every company’s pay gap disparities, he could at least bring parity to his own paper, the Washington Post. The Columbia Journalism Review reported that it would cost just $9 million a year to fix pay inequality in its newsroom. Ensuring equal pay at the Post would be akin to sparing pocket change for Bezos, who would still have $183.991 billion.
2. World Hunger
There are 820 million people in the world suffering from chronic hunger — with roughly 30 million of those folks being in the U.S. How much money would it take to solve this global problem? According to Global Giving, estimates range from $7 billion to $265 billion per year. Why such a wide range? Because every year brings its own diverse challenges from natural disasters to disease outbreaks and any one of them plays a chief role in the hunger crisis.
For the sake of argument, let’s just say it’s a “good” year for hunger and the cost to solve it is on the lower end, let’s say $10 billion. Bezos could pay and still have $174 billion to his name.
3. Extreme Poverty
Hand-in-hand with hunger is extreme poverty, and it’s on the rise. According to the World Bank, the COVID-19 pandemic could push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty by 2021 — and that’s not counting the 689 million people already living in it. That means next year, there could be as many as 804 million people in extreme poverty. The World Bank classifies extreme poverty as living on less than $1.90 a day. To get above the extreme poverty threshold and into the higher poverty groups, you’d need to earn about $3.20 a day.
The math depends on location, but if 804 million people need a bump from $1.89 to $3.20, then $1.05 billion would be needed to close that gap. Bezos could front the cash and still have just about $183 billion in the bank.
4. Clean Water
Across the globe, 2.2 billion people do not have access to safely managed drinking water services. WRI research estimates that resolving the clean water crisis by 2030 would cost just more than 1% of the global GDP, or roughly 29 cents per person daily, from 2015 to 2030. That number would surely exceed Bezos’ worth.
But Bezos could manage the clean water crisis in the U.S. In Michigan, 140,000 Flint residents have been exposed to lead in their water supply. Replacing all lead pipes in municipal water systems across the country could cost somewhere between a few billion to $50 billion. Even if it cost him $50 billion to replace lead pipes and open up access to clean water in U.S. households, Bezos would still have $134 billion.
Education — one of the most important tools in socioeconomic mobility and rising up out of poverty — was already in a crisis before the pandemic, but things are much worse now. For perspective: About 258 million children and youth were out of school by the end of the school year in 2018. That number vaulted to 1.6 billion by April 2020. Additionally, nearly 369 million children who rely on school meals were forced to find other sources of nutrition. This is an extremely expensive problem, with education advocacy groups suggesting that up to $250 billion is needed just to stabilize the situation in American K-12 classrooms in the U.S. alone.
Perhaps getting the world an education is beyond the powers of Bezos’ net worth, but he could make an outstanding impact. Rescue.org states that $58 a year can pay for the education fees, books and school supplies of one child. Using this math, Bezos could cover this fee for 10 million children, for all grades K-12 at the cost of about $7.5 billion. He would still have over $176 billion.
6. Child Health
In 2019, 6.1 million children died — mostly from preventable causes, UNICEF found. At the start of 2020, the WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission found that some 250 million children under 5 years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential. This is a complex crisis that hinges on many other factors, including policy around climate change, and cold hard cash won’t fix it. But could it help? Sure.
A donation of $39 a month to Save The Children can sponsor a child in the U.S. in need. That’s $468 a year. Hypothetically speaking, for $40 billion, Bezos could sponsor 5 million children for 17 years. He’d still have $144 billion.
7. Clean Oceans
Assuming that the pattern for plastic pollution in the ocean holds, we could see 600 million metric tons clogging seas by 2040. Research from Pew Charitable Trusts and SYSTEMIQ, Ltd., found that to overhaul the global plastic industry — the best way to stem the flow of plastic waste into the oceans — plastic pollution could be reduced by 80% over the next 20 years. The price tag on such an ambitious overhaul is $600 billion, which is actually $70 billion cheaper than not overhauling it, because of reduced use of virgin plastic, National Geographic reported.
It’s too big a bill for even Bezos, but he could front a hefty deposit of say, $50 billion — or better yet, he could force Amazon to address its own plastics problem. The megaretailer shipped 7 billion packages in 2019, many of them packed in plastic.
As the world awaits a coronavirus vaccine, it’s worth remembering that millions of people around the globe are dying from diseases that already have vaccines. Look at tuberculosis (TB): This disease killed 1.5 million people in 2019 alone. Back in 2006, the study, “Worldwide cost‐effectiveness of infant BCG vaccination” found that for $1.8 million you could prevent nearly 300 cases of severe childhood tuberculosis worldwide, or 450 in Southeast Asia.
Factoring in inflation, that number today is more like $2.3 million. For around $23 billion, Bezos could provide TB prevention for 300,000 children worldwide, or 450,000 in Southeast Asia. He’d still have $161 billion.
Homelessness is another massive global crisis, and like others on this list, it will take more than money alone to tackle. But again, money helps. Let’s consider San Francisco, where the homelessness crisis has blown up by at least 285% since the pandemic began. A 2019 report released by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute determined that it would cost $12.7 billion to end homelessness in San Francisco. Bezos could pay that and still have $171.3 billion.
10. Climate Action
In 2019, Time reported that U.N. climate scientists estimated that global warming could be halted with $300 billion. These scientists in particular were looking at tackling the agricultural aspect of climate change, chiefly desertification.
The big picture of climate change is pricier: The International Renewable Energy Agency says $750 billion a year is needed in renewables over a decade. Then you’ve got the cost of carbon capturing and storage ($2.5 trillion), $ 2.7 trillion for biofuels — and the list goes on. All in all, you’re looking at at least $50 trillion to solve climate change.
Not even Jeff Bezos can make much of a dent in that figure, so what could he do with his riches? Donating $10 billion toward climate action (as Bezos pledged via his Bezos Earth Fund initiative) is a good start, but how he spends the money is imperative. Bezos just announced the first round of donations, totaling $791 million. The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, World Resources Institute and the World Wildlife Fund each received $100 million.
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Mark Evitt contributed to the reporting for this article.