Billionaires In The 21st Century: Are They Doing Enough For Our Environment?
Since the beginning of the pandemic, the super wealthy seem to only be getting richer. Both their net worth and carbon footprint have increased exponentially, raising concerns and serious criticism from the public.
So, what are these billionaires in the 21st century doing to offset their carbon footprint and address the daunting threats of climate change?
Well, they’re not doing much. Some of them are doing more than others under the scrutiny of the public eye, but could they be doing more? That’s the real question.
The Top 5 Big Guys
Let’s name a few of the most influential billionaires to start...
Jeff Bezos of Amazon
The world’s single richest person recently made a significant charitable gift of $10 billion to fund new programs dedicated to combating climate change. Addressing the effects of climate change publicly in a speech, Besos made this contribution which is about 7.5 percent of his net worth of $194.4 billion. This is considered the second-largest charitable donation to date– subsequent to the $43 billion from Warren Buffet in 2006 to the Gates Foundation.
After years of criticism and public pressure, Bezos made other notable contributions to environmental initiatives including the Bezos Earth Fund and Amazon’s Climate Pledge, which has been signed by approximately 104 corporations aiming to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040.
Bernard Arnault of LVMH
The richest man in Europe, and the brains and deep pockets behind an empire of 75 luxury brands (including the renowned Luis Vuitton), Arnault’s net worth is about $179.9 billion. He launched an initiative called “Life 360” which aims to achieve 100% renewable energy and the complete elimination of virgin plastic packaging by 2026. Any personal contributions are unknown, which likely means nothing significant enough to virtue signal to the press.
Elon Musk of Tesla
The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk’s net worth is $175.5 billion. His development of Tesla’s electric car has influenced other companies to follow suit and he provides an alternative to fossil fuels with his solar firm, Solar City. He has advocated at the White House for a carbon tax in the U.S. and earlier this year, Musk pledged $100 million to a carbon-removal initiative by the XPrize nonprofit organization.
Although Tesla’s impact reports focus on their energy savings and efficiency, they have not set targets. There has also been criticisms about the transparency of these reports, as well as the company’s increasing footprint.
Bill Gates of the Gates Foundation
Bill Gates, whose net worth is $130.4 billion from Microsoft and other investments, has contributed around $2 billion in innovative climate change initiatives. He also published a book this year called How To Avoid A Climate Disaster where he proposes a plan for eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.
Also, he is said to have rallied up some other billionaires to launch the Breakthrough Energy Coalition towards zero-carbon technologies. To this end, Microsoft has a target of negative carbon emissions by 2030.
Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook
Worth $110.3 billion in net, Zuckerberg has not shown any noteworthy investments in climate change specifically. He signed on to the Energy Coalition started by Gates, and he and his wife set up The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative which funds some programs related to sustainability.
On the other hand Facebook, which relies on energy-sucking data centers has been boasting its focus on renewable energy and claims that it will invest in carbon removal initiatives in the future.
The Climate Critics
Although each of these billionaires has contributed in some fashion to offsetting climate change, there is still criticism from climate experts about their hand (along with some others) in the crisis, and the “generosity” that now ensues.
Do these seemingly utilitarian efforts make up for the environmental damage that has been done by these lucrative industries?
Well, it’s one thing to demand that the wealthiest tech-lords of the world contribute personally. It’s another to demand more transparency from the industries and companies that are causing so much detriment. This calls for accountability on all fronts.
There is also some adversity to billionaire philanthropy as a whole, which gives immense political power to just a small handful of individuals like these big guys listed above.
Instead of deciding where the money should be allocated through the good old democratic process (i.e. taxes), these billionaires get to decide where and how to allocate their belated charitable gifts. Some worry there is too much power in the hands of a few who are tied so directly to their industries.
What else is possible?
According to research conducted by Joshua Pearce, a professor of engineering at Michigan Tech University, it would cost $1.59 trillion to replace all CO2 generating fossil-fuel electricity with solar in the United States. In his study, he claims it would take a few dozen of America’s wealthiest billionaires to cover this cost. Each billionaire, according to his calculations, would need to invest nearly all of their wealth except $1 billion.
Now, will they ever choose to live off $1 billion dollars after having close to $200 billion? That is a great question, and likely the answer is no. But there is some hope after seeing the response to public pressure on many of these wealthy one percent-ers.
To sum it all up, yes these billionaires could be doing more for the environment, and let’s all hope that they do.