Carbon Footprints, Emission, and Offsets
By Brooklin Painter
Many celebrities claim they are activists for climate change, but do they claim this for PR motives or are they actively combating climate change? The carbon footprints made by millionaires and billionaires could outweigh the good these celebrities claim to do for the planet.
One of the primary issues of climate change is the carbon footprint each individual adds to the planet. Carbon offsets were created to essentially neutralize the effects of carbon footprints. Carbon offsets can now be purchased through credit to compensate for an individual’s carbon footprint by transporting those credits to various environmental projects that will help protect the planet.  They do this by using green energy (renewable energy), protecting nature, and planting trees to help combat the usage of carbon.
Bill Gates—advocate for climate change, billionaire, co-founder of Microsoft, American business magnate, and philanthropist—has a sizable carbon footprint. Gates reportedly owns at least six mansions, four private jets, a seaplane, and several helicopters. Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros, writers for The National Interest, estimated his annual footprint at 7,493 metric tons of carbon.  The average American’s carbon footprint is about 16 metric tons according to The Nature Conservancy. 
Furthermore, Gates celebrated his 66th birthday on a superyacht and additionally flew his private jet to the COP26 climate summit located in Scotland. In Gates’ book “How To Avoid a Climate Disaster” he wrote that he neutralizes his “non-aviation” emissions by purchasing carbon offsets from a company that helps eradicate carbon from the air. 
Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world, has contributed to the immense carbon emissions of his electronic commerce company Amazon. Bezos founded the company and was its CEO for 27 years until he stepped down in 2021. According to Jon Fellowes, a writer for Metro News, Bezos is still reported to own around 10% of Amazon’s shares. 
Bezos’ own carbon footprint may be modest compared to other billionaires, but not to the average American individual. According to Business Today, Bezos was reported to have a carbon footprint of 2,224.2 metric tons in 2018. 
Karen Weise, a writer for The New York Times, said, “In September, [Amazon] revealed its own carbon footprint for the first time, disclosing it emitted about 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2018—the equivalent of burning almost 600,000 tanker trucks’ worth of gasoline [Not including the material demands].” 
Weise continued, “‘That would put them in the top 150 or 200 emitters in the world,’ alongside oil and gas producers and industrial manufacturers, [said] Bruno Sarda, president of CDP North America, a nonprofit organization that encourages carbon disclosures.”  This does not include Bezos’ personal carbon footprint, nor the various other companies he owns.
Bezos does in fact contribute to reducing climate change, though he does not come close to counteracting the carbon footprint he created through Amazon. He created the Bezos Earth Fund to endow “scientists, activists and nongovernmental organizations.” He additionally co-founded the Climate Pledge to help counteract Amazon’s carbon emissions by meeting “the goals of the Paris climate agreement.” This was after his Amazon employees publicly began staging walkouts and speaking out about how he could do more to improve climate change. 
Prince Harry, famous climate activist and the Duke of Sussex, has created several Instagram posts about the urgency of combating climate change. According to BBC News, Prince Harry recently said on Instagram, “With nearly 7.7 billion people inhabiting this Earth, every choice, every footprint, every action makes a difference.”  Yet, Prince Harry’s private jet commutes have created a significant carbon footprint.
Together, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, actress and wife of Prince Harry, took a trip to Nice, France on a private Jet to visit Elton John. BBC News says, “The flight time to Nice is about one hour 40 minutes, which would mean a fuel requirement of 342 gallons (1,556 litres). This means a total of 3.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide is emitted. For a return flight, it would be 7.8 tonnes.” They also reportedly flew to Ibiza in 2019 that calculated 8.6 tonnes of carbon. Their carbon footprint is triple the annual carbon amount of the average Briton. 
Elton John, a famous English singer, came to the defense of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle about their private jet carbon emissions. According to BBC News, Elton John rationalized their private jet usage and said, “[it was to] maintain a high level of much-needed protection.” He provided the couple with his private jet and paid for the flight with carbon offset “to support Prince Harry’s commitment to the environment.”  Elton John is also known to fly his private jet often.
Studies have shown that billionaires and other rich celebrities’ carbon footprints could be the leading cause for carbon emission. Our World, a United Nations University research site, said, “British charity Oxfam released a study that found the richest 10 percent of people produce half of the planet’s individual-consumption-based fossil fuel emissions, while the poorest 50 percent—about 3.5 billion people—contribute only 10 percent.” 
The remaining question is, do carbon offsets genuinely improve the state of climate change? This is a complex question that many scientists and researchers debate over. Huddleston from CNBC News said, “Critics claim that carbon offsets are mostly a convenient way for corporations and billionaires to justify their pollution, rather than reducing their emissions.”  In simple terms, carbon offsets will not eradicate the effects of carbon emissions, but they can help to reduce it and are ultimately better than doing nothing.
- Fleming, S. (2019, June 14). What is carbon offsetting? World Economic Forum. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/06/what-is-carbon-offsetting/
- Wilk, R., & Barros, B. (2021, February 22). Calling Bill Gates: what gives billionaires such a massive carbon footprint? The National Interest. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/calling-bill-gates-what-gives-billionaires-such-massive-carbon-footprint-178288
- What is your carbon footprint? (2019). The Nature Conservancy. https://www.nature.org/en-us/get-involved/how-to-help/carbon-footprint-calculator/
- Wilk, R., & Barros, B. (2021, February 22). Calling Bill Gates: What gives billionaires such a massive carbon footprint? The National Interest. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/reboot/calling-bill-gates-what-gives-billionaires-such-massive-carbon-footprint-178288
- Fellowes, J. (2022, May 4). When was Amazon founded and does Jeff Bezos still own it? Metro News. https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/04/when-was-amazon-founded-and-does-jeff-bezos-still-own-it-16586359/?ico=tag-post-strip_item_3_news
- Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates–Which billionaire has lowest carbon footprint? (2021, February 23). Business Today. https://www.businesstoday.in/latest/world/story/elon-musk-jeff-bezos-and-bill-gates-which-billionaire-has-lowest-carbon-footprint-289151-2021-02-23
- Weise, K. (2020, February 17). Jeff Bezos commits $10 billion to address climate change. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/17/technology/jeff-bezos-climate-change-earth-fund.html
- Prince Harry and private jets: What’s the carbon footprint? (2019, August 20). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49408915
- Elton John defends Harry and Meghan’s use of private jets. (2019, August 19). BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-49398852
- Colarossi, J. (2015). The world’s richest people emit the most carbon. Our World. https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-worlds-richest-people-also-emit-the-most-carbon
- Huddleston, T. Jr. (2021, November 5). Why billionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos buy carbon offsets — and how they work. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/05/why-bill-gates-and-jeff-bezos-buy-carbon-offsets-how-they-work.html