What gives billionaires such a massive carbon footprint

Musk isn’t alone in seeing a important enhance in wealth throughout a 12 months of pandemic, recession, and dying. Altogether, the world’s billionaires saw their wealth surge over $1.9 trillion in 2020, based on Forbes.

These are astronomical numbers, and it’s arduous to get one’s head round them with out some context. As anthropologists who study power and client tradition, we needed to look at how all that wealth translated into consumption and the ensuing carbon footprint.

Strolling in a billionaire’s footwear

We discovered that billionaires have carbon footprints that may be 1000’s of instances increased than these of common Individuals.

The rich personal yachts, planes, and a number of mansions, all of which contribute greenhouse gases to the environment. For instance, a superyacht with a everlasting crew, helicopter pad, submarines, and swimming pools emits about 7,020 tons of CO2 a 12 months, based on our calculations, making it by far the worst asset to personal from an environmental standpoint. Transportation and actual property make up the lion’s share of most individuals’s carbon footprint, so we targeted on calculating these classes for every billionaire.


To select a pattern of billionaires, we began with the 2020 Forbes List of two,095 billionaires. A random or consultant pattern of billionaire carbon footprints is inconceivable as a result of most wealthy people shy away from publicity, so we needed to concentrate on these whose consumption is public information. This excluded a lot of the superrich in Asia and the Middle East.

We combed 82 databases of public information to doc billionaires’ homes, automobiles, plane, and yachts. After an exhaustive search, we began with 20 well-known billionaires whose possessions we have been capable of verify, whereas attempting to incorporate some variety in gender and geography. Now we have submitted our paper for peer evaluate however plan to proceed including to our checklist.

We then used a wide selection of sources, such because the U.S. Energy Information Administration and Carbon Footprint, to estimate the annual CO2 emissions of every home, plane, car, and yacht. In some circumstances we needed to estimate the scale of homes from satellite tv for pc pictures or pictures and collect data on the usage of personal plane and yachts by searching the popular press and drawing on other studies. Our outcomes are primarily based on analyzing the standard use of every asset given its dimension and the whole lot else we may study.

We didn’t attempt to calculate every asset’s “embodied carbon” emissions—that’s, how a lot CO2 is burned all through the availability chain in making the product—or the emissions produced by their household, family workers, or entourage. We additionally didn’t embrace the emissions of corporations of which they personal half or all, as a result of that will have added one other important diploma of complexity. For instance, we didn’t calculate the emissions of Tesla or Amazon when calculating Musk’s or Bezos’s footprints.

In different phrases, these are all possible conservative estimates of how a lot they emit.

Your carbon footprint

To get a sense of perspective, let’s begin with the carbon footprint of the common individual.

Residents of the U.S., together with billionaires, emitted about 15 tons of CO2 per person in 2018. The worldwide common footprint is smaller, at nearly 5 tons per individual.

In distinction, the 20 folks in our pattern contributed a median of about 8,190 tons of CO2 in 2018. However some produced way more greenhouse gases than others.

The jet-setting billionaire

Roman Abramovich, who made most of his $19 billion fortune buying and selling oil and fuel, was the largest polluter on our checklist. Outdoors of Russia, he’s in all probability greatest generally known as the headline-grabbing proprietor of London’s Chelsea Soccer Membership.

He maintains properties in lots of nations, together with a mansion in London’s Kensington Park Gardens, a chateau in Cap D’Antibes in France, and a 28-hectare estate in St. Barts that once belonged to David Rockefeller. In 2018, he left the U.Ok. and settled in Israel, the place he turned a twin citizen; he purchased a house in 2020 for $64.5 million. Abramovich cruises the Mediterranean in his superyacht, named the Eclipse, which at 162.5 meters bow to stern is the second-biggest on the planet, rivaling some cruise ships. And he hops the globe on a custom-designed Boeing 767, which boasts a 30-seat eating room. He takes shorter journeys in his Gulfstream G650 jet, one among his two helicopters, or the submarine on his yacht.

We estimate that he was accountable for not less than 33,859 metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2018—greater than two-thirds of it from his yacht, which is at all times prepared to make use of at a second’s discover year-round.

Massive mansions and personal jets

Invoice Gates, presently the world’s fourth-richest person with $124 billion, is a “modest” polluter—by billionaire requirements—and is typical of those that might not personal a big yacht however make up for it with personal jets.

The cofounder of Microsoft, he retired in 2020 to handle the Invoice and Melinda Gates Basis, the world’s largest charity, with an endowment of $50 billion.

Within the Nineties, Gates built Xanadu—named after the huge fictional property in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane—at a price of $127 million in Medina, Washington. The large house covers 6,131 sq. meters, with a 23-car storage, a 20-person cinema, and 24 bogs. He additionally owns not less than 5 different dwellings in Southern California, the San Juan Islands in Washington state, North Salem, New York, and New York Metropolis, in addition to a horse farm, four private jets, a seaplane, and “a collection” of helicopters.

We estimated his annual footprint at 7,493 metric tons of carbon, principally from a lot of flying.

The environmentally minded tech CEO

South African-born Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has a surprisingly low carbon footprint regardless of being the world’s second-richest individual, with $177 billion—and he seems intent on setting an example for other billionaires.

We calculated a comparatively modest carbon footprint for him in 2018, due to his eight homes and one personal jet. This 12 months, his carbon footprint can be even decrease as a result of in 2020 he sold all of his houses and promised to divest the rest of his worldly possessions. He doesn’t personal a superyacht and says he doesn’t even take vacations.

Whereas his private carbon footprint remains to be tons of of instances increased than that of a median individual, he demonstrates that the superrich nonetheless have decisions to make and might certainly decrease their environmental influence in the event that they so select.

His estimated footprint from the belongings we checked out was 2,084 tons in 2018.

The worth of naming and shaming

The purpose of our ongoing analysis is to get folks to consider the environmental burden of wealth.

Whereas plenty of research has shown that wealthy nations and rich folks produce way over their share of greenhouse fuel emissions, these research can really feel summary and tutorial, making it tougher to vary this conduct.

We imagine “shaming”—for lack of a higher phrase—superrich folks for his or her energy-intensive spending habits can have an vital influence, revealing them as fashions of overconsumption that folks shouldn’t emulate.

Newspapers, cities, and local residents made an impact through the California droughts of 2014 and 2015 by “drought shaming” celebrities and others who have been losing water, seen in their continually green lawns. And the Swedes got here up with a new time period—”flygskam” or flying disgrace—to boost consciousness in regards to the local weather influence of air journey.

Local weather specialists say that to have any hope of limiting world warming to 1.5 levels Celsius above preindustrial ranges, countries must cut their emissions in half by 2030 and get rid of them by 2050.

Asking common Individuals to undertake much less carbon-intensive existence to attain this objective might be galling and ineffective when it will take about 550 of their lifetimes to equal the carbon footprint of the common billionaire on our checklist.