Illustration by Jam Moreno.

Superyachts, Rotten Eggs and the Social Contract: Jeff Bezos’ Bridge Saga

The city of Rotterdam is dismantling a historic bridge temporarily for the sole purpose of allowing Jeff Bezos’ superyacht to pass. Locals have responded with pledges to pelt it with rotten eggs. Are we living by two different sets of climate rules?

Feb 13, 2022

The world’s wealthiest tend to enjoy spending their time on luxurious yachts. Be it for bragging rights, private refuge or high-end parties, these vessels allow billionaires and multi-millionaires to “perform their wealth status”. Unsurprisingly, the newly divorced and now merely the world’s second richest man is commissioning a new yacht that will be the world’s largest at 417 feet long when completed later this year. After it is constructed in a shipyard in Rotterdam, it will require the dismantling and rebuilding of a historic bridge in the city which will be paid for by Jeff Bezos himself.
Considered a city monument and source of local pride, the De Hef bridge was recently renovated and reassembled in 2017. So is it being torn down four years later, just to profit from a billionaire’s extravagant expense? The outrage surrounding this development would make one think so — that the bridge will be torn down forever, only an empty expanse of open sea left in its wake. But the bridge is actually having its middle span temporarily removed and put back into place, according to the current plan.
Nonetheless, on seeing Jeff Bezos and the dismantling of history in the same sentence 13,000 individuals have marked “interested” and 4,000 have said they would attend a Facebook event titled “Throwing eggs at superyacht Jeff Bezos.” A successful hit will require a throwing distance of about 238 feet, for those who wish to better their baseball skills. The organizer of the joke event says that the campaign has gotten “way out of hand.” But does the collective mobilization behind this cause reflect a deeper frustration regarding the richest members of society not being subject to the same rules as the rest of us?
As Jeff Bezos bankrolls the city of Rotterdam to follow his bidding, the state of infrastructure in his home country of the United States is such that nearly 224,000 bridges are in need of repairs. His company, Amazon, has been able to build a global empire with the help of convenient exemptions, letting the responsibility for funding these repairs fall to the workers and their taxpayer money.
The bridge would not fall without the brute force power of Amazon’s money — the same money that it has used to prevent workforce unionization, overwork staff, engage in ‘aggressive’ tax evasion and dominate e-commerce. Government policy has redistributed wealth upward in society to people like Jeff Bezos, not only doing nothing to solve inequality but arguably actively contributing to it. “The rich” have been framed as an enemy in this climate and thus it is much easier for sensationalist headlines like the complete removal of the Rotterdam bridge to spread throughout social media.
Even if no one is harmed and the one section of the bridge is ultimately replaced, there are very real ways that Bezos’ yacht is exempt from the rules that we all have to follow for the betterment of society. The European Climate Law has set forth measures to achieve an intermediate 55 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Included in this law is the transition of ships to clean fuels and the introduction of an Emissions Trading System. In the necessary journey to reduce carbon emissions, the costs of this transition may be passed onto consumers through the increased prices of shipping goods. But superyachts, that hold no utility toward improving the well-being of the general populace, are exempt from these carbon pricing measures.
How, then, can each individual member of society be expected to do their part to reduce their carbon footprint and live less extravagantly when those who have the most power to make a positive impact are exempt from any liability? What today are joke campaigns to throw messy food at extravagant uses of resources might morph into serious efforts to resist proclimate efforts. Taking the necessary steps to build a sustainable society requires public buy-in and the support for Green Deal like plans is jeopardized when they only apply to the less privileged members of society.
Perhaps there is nothing wrong with the ultra rich being able to buy superyachts. However, these yachts should be subject to the same rules as any other ship and perhaps more, instead of placing the burden of reducing emissions on industries the middle-class depends on. Otherwise, societal trust in necessary measures to prevent the worsening of the climate crisis stands to erode further.
Ethan Fulton is Deputy Opinion Editor. Email him at
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