At the beginning of 2021, Bill Gates had authored a new book titled “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. In it, the multi-billionaire philanthropist had talked about the need for reducing our carbon footprint. However, he also called himself “an imperfect messenger”. There was a reason behind that self-proclaimed title as the man owns 4 private jets, and frequently flies them as well.
Gates says in the book that he has an absurdly high carbon footprint. So much so that he even flew to the climate conference in Paris in one of his private jets. But he admitted to feeling guilty about it for a long time. As such, he claimed to have begun using jet fuel that was sustainable from 2020, as well as offsetting the aviation emission of his family in 2021.
As far as Gates’ other sources of carbon emissions go, he claims to be buying carbon offsets via a company that has a facility that filters the air and extracts carbon dioxide. But is Gates’ philanthropic efforts and environmental funding really enough to excuse his continuing high carbon footprint?
An Interesting Statistic About Carbon Footprints
Did you know that the consumption of fossil fuels emitting carbon is grossly disproportionate? 1% of carbon-emitting fossil fuel consumers are the ones primarily driving climate change. On the other hand, the poorest face the toughest consequences of climate change. Bill Gates’ carbon emissions make him fall in that 1%.
Moreover, carbon offsets are not believed to be permanent solutions. Rather it is widely agreed to be a temporary stop-gap measure that buys time. Large companies and wealthy personalities, however, usually think of it as at least doing something. As such, offsets have become among the most short-term and efficient ways of gathering finances for emission-reducing technologies.
Gates, in his book, talks about reaching a net-zero stage: where no further emissions will be added collectively. The UN states that emissions cannot be stopped. However, there will be enough technology absorbing at the same time so that the atmospheric content remains constant. Gates claims that the technologies he has funded, should they work, will remove a lot more carbon than he and his family emit.
But the question remains: does this give Gates a free pass to continue emitting carbon at this scale?
The Details Of His Jet Collection
One of Gates’ highest carbon emissions comes from the emission from his fleet of private jets. He refers to them as “guilty pleasures”. The collection costs nearly $200Mn collectively. A 2017 Study by the Swedish Lund University showed that Bill Gates’ flights had been responsible for nearly 1,600 tonnes of carbon dioxide. To put that in perspective: the average carbon footprint of a person across the world is less than 5 tonnes.
His collection consists of 2 Gulfstream G650ERs and 2 Bombardier Challenger 350s. The G650 is the jet holding the record for flying the farthest and fastest among business jets. It is known to guzzle nearly 450gallons per hour. Gates’ Cascade Investment has recently invested in acquiring Signature Aviation, the largest company for private jet services in the world. As such, this investment basically expects private jets to be used more frequently – which may seem contrary to Gates’ efforts at reducing carbon emissions.
To that effect, in an interview on Fox News, he repeated his investments toward offsetting the emissions. However, he also noted that it was considerably more expensive and that the price needed to be brought down. He hopes to reach net-zero by 2050 but admits that eliminating emissions by the end of this decade is “completely unrealistic”.
Image credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons