Even as global billionaires take vows to make the earth better and propose climate change solutions, several studies say that a rich person contributes more to the climate crisis than a poor person. Recently, two US-based anthropologists from Indiana University conducted a study to understand how the wealth of the world's richest business tycoons resulted in higher carbon footprints. The report published in 'The Conversation' revealed that "billionaires have carbon footprints which can be thousands of times higher than those of average American".
Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, who is currently the world's fourth-richest person has stood as a 'modest' polluter by billionaire standards, the study claimed. Citing the plush assets of the richest, like yachts, planes, mansions, the study said all of these contribute extensively to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For instance, a superyacht with a permanent crew, helicopter pad, submarines, and pools emit about 7,020 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) a year, according to a calculation done by anthropologists. Therefore, having such assets is by far the worst asset to own from an environmental standpoint, the study claimed.
However, Bill Gates does not own a giant yacht but his private jets, luxurious mansions, and a seaplane have majorly contributed to the higher carbon footprints, the study added. Gates in the 1990s built a vast fictional estate in Orson Welles' "Citizen Kane"- at a cost of $127 million in Medina, Washington. The giant home covers 6,131 square metres, with a 23-car garage, a 20-person cinema, and 24 bathrooms. He also owns at least five other dwellings in Southern California, the San Juan Islands in Washington state, North Salem, New York, and New York City, as well as a horse farm, four private jets, a seaplane, and "a collection" of helicopters.
According to the study, Gates' annual footprint is at 7,493 metric tons of carbon, mostly from a lot of flying.
Further, the anthropologists found that Roman Abramovich, who made most of his $19 billion fortune trading oil and gas, was the biggest polluter as per their list. Roman was responsible for at least 33,859 metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2018 - more than two-thirds from his yacht, the study claimed.
Interestingly, the world's top-2 richest persons - Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk - have recorded relatively small carbon footprints, as per the study. Bezos with a $191 billion net worth had an estimated carbon footprint of 2,224.2 tonnes in 2018. Whereas Musk's estimated footprint was 2,084 tonnes in the same period.
Musk in 2020 sold all of his mansions and promised to divest the rest of his worldly possessions. Musk does not own a superyacht and says he does not even take vacations.
While both Musk and Bezos' personal carbon footprints are still hundreds of times higher than that of an average person, they are one of the examples of eco-friendly billionaires who have demonstrated that the superrich have a choice to lower their environmental impact.
The study analysed 2,095 billionaires listed in the Forbes list 2020. It revealed that yachts make up most of the emissions, while mansions and other dwellings make up a very minor share of their carbon footprints. However, the research did not include most of the super-rich in Asia and the Middle East.
Last year, the UN's Environment Programme also claimed that the world's wealthiest one per cent account for more than twice the combined carbon emissions of the poorest 50 per cent.