Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates: Which Billionaire Has the World's Largest Carbon Footprint?

Buzz Staff
·3-min read

Bill Gates, American business magnate, software developer, co-founder of Microsoft and philanthropist has with his recently released book, been stressing the importance of climate change and reducing our carbon footprint.

While Gates wants you to stop eating meat and switch to synthetic meat, in his book, 'How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,' he also feels Tesla CEO and SpaceX boss, Elon Musk's plans of going to Mars in a rocket may not be the solution - but his electric cars maybe. Even as the world's billionaires propose climate change solutions - billionaires have a much, much larger footprint than the average person.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk could be alternating between the top spot in terms of the richest human on the planet, two anthropologists from Indianan University wanted to see how all that wealth translated into consumption and the resulting carbon footprint.

The calculation by Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros published in The Conversation, found that billionaires have carbon footprints, sometimes thousands of times higher than those of average citizens of the world.

The wealthy own yachts, planes and multiple mansions, all of which contribute greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. A superyacht with a permanent crew, helicopter pad, submarines and pools emits about 7,020 tons of CO2 a year, finds the calculation.

To accurately calculate the individual footprint, they focused on transportation and real estate as make up the major share of most people’s carbon footprint.

However, based on their calculations it wasn't Musk or Bezos or Gates, but a Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich who had the highest carbon emissions.

Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich is a Russian-Israeli billionaire businessman and politician. Abramovich is the primary owner of the private investment company Millhouse LLC and is best known outside Russia as the owner of Chelsea F.C., a Premier League football club. According to Forbes, he owns the world's second-largest yacht, 533-foot Eclipse, bought for nearly $400 million in 2010.

The second-biggest carbon emitter was David Geffen, who is an American business magnate, producer, film studio executive, and philanthropist.

Bill Gates, currently the world’s fourth-richest person is a 'modest' polluter and doesn't own any yachts. While he may not be a Mars person, he owns four private jets, a seaplane and “a collection” of helicopters. His annual footprint stood at 7,493 metric tons of carbon, mostly from a lot of flying.

Musk, on the other hand, has a surprisingly low carbon footprint. He superyacht and says he doesn’t even take vacations. In 2018, he owned eight houses and one private jet. In 2020, his carbon footprint would be even lower after he sold all of his houses and promised to divest the rest of his worldly possessions.

The authors note that "While his personal carbon footprint is still hundreds of times higher than that of an average person, he demonstrates that the super-rich still has choices to make and can indeed lower their environmental impact if they so choose."

The calculation, however, has limitations: the list they based on excluded most of the superrich in Asia and the Middle East. It also only relied on public records to document the assets billionaires owned. It also did not include the emissions of companies of which they own part or all, because that would have added another significant degree of complexity. The emissions of Tesla or Amazon when calculating Musk’s or Bezos’ footprints were not included. The paper is also currently awaiting peer review.

While we all do need quantitative action to reverse the effects of climate change and prevent it from getting even worse, it may not be your individual action that can save the planet, as the world's billionaires need to start practising what they preach first.