Bezos’s sub-prime delivery

One is a billionaire with visions of conquering space — the other is Hugo Drax

On Monday, the Glasgow climate summit heard from Boris Johnson in his role as James Bond, saviour of the planet from the ticking bomb of doom. So it was only fitting that on Tuesday it should hear from a Bond villain.

If Johnson pictures himself as Roger Moore, which movie does he think he’s in? The Man With The Golden Gun is set in the midst of the OPEC energy crisis, with a solar-powered MacGuffin, but surely the summit of Moore-as-Bond was Moonraker.

Which brings us to Hugo Drax. Or possibly Jeff Bezos. How to tell them apart? One is a billionaire industrialist with an Amazon base and visions of conquering space, and the other is Hugo Drax. One is redesigning human relations and seems indifferent to the welfare of his army of henchmen, and the other is Jeff Bezos.

The lights reflecting off the top of his polished head, Bezos addressed the room while Johnson slumped on stage, forced like Bond to listen to the villain’s plans. The prime minister looked disheveled, though probably not from wrestling a giant python.

Speeches to the summit have mixed self-congratulation and doom, as world leaders have informed us that the planet is on the brink but that their personal efforts to deal with the problem have been tip-top. They all leave one asking why, if everyone is doing such a great job, things are such a mess.

Bezos’s effort was no different, but at least, coming from a megalomaniac, it made sense. After all, every Bond villain announces catastrophe in a tone of deep self-satisfaction. “Witness the splendour of my conception,” Drax tells the spy. “A necklace of death about the earth.”

Bezos too has put a girdle round the earth, though it’s of carbon-spewing vans dropping off packages. But he wasn’t there to talk about how he’d made his money. He was there to tell us how he was spending it.

It’s a long time since anyone laughed at Bezos to his face

“Nature provides all the food we eat, the water we drink, and the oxygen we breathe,” he said in an opening whose banality reminded us that it’s a long time since anyone laughed at Bezos to his face. “It gives us life. It is beautiful but it is also fragile.” For a moment, it seemed he was going to explain that this was why customers in the US could now subscribe to Nature Prime™, which reliably provides water and oxygen to your door on a subscription basis. Sadly not.

“I was reminded of this in July when I went into space with Blue Origin,” he went on. Of course. Bezos has ridden a willy-shaped rocket into the sky, and that gives him a deep wisdom that escapes those of us still gripped by earth’s surly bonds. “The atmosphere seems so thin, the world so finite and so fragile,” he went on, his speech apparently constructed from those posters you used to see on teenage walls about only realising you can’t eat money when all the trees have gone.

Drax had better lines. The Sketch began to long for Bezos to announce that in the untainted cradle of the heavens he would create a new super race of perfectly bald physical specimens.

It was not so much that there was anything wrong with what Bezos was saying, and indeed the $2 billion he announced he was giving to nature conservation is rather more than most of us will donate this year. It was what he didn’t talk about. The only reference to his company was to say that Amazon aims to be carbon neutral in 20 years. Most businesses plead poverty when asked why they aren’t cleaning up faster, but most of them haven’t generated enough spare cash to allow their main shareholder to spend $5.5 billion on a 10-minute space joyride.

“We must conserve what we still have,” said Bezos, who has attained vast wealth by expanding the disposable economy.

“When people hanker for the good old days and glamourise the past,” he went on, “they are almost always wrong.” At this point the camera cut, somewhat cruelly, to Johnson, who has attained a reasonable amount of power by exploiting the past-glamourising industry.

“By almost all metrics, life is much better today than it was in the past.” He was monologuing now. “But there is a notable exception. The natural world is not better today than it was 500 years ago when we enjoyed unspoiled forests, clean rivers and the pristine air of the pre-industrial world. This is an unacceptable anomaly.” For just a second, he might have gone full villain, and announced the deployment of nerve gas to rid the world of the virus of humanity, and the ejection from the airlock of Mr Johnson, but instead he closed with an appeal for us all to do better.

On the stage the prime minister stirred himself to his feet. Where does his mind go during these things? Perhaps he was day-dreaming of saving the planet, before hearing a whisper in his ear: “Oh Boris, take me round the world one more time.”

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover