Jets, donations… billionaires, angels and demons for the climate

More CO2 in one month than a Frenchman in seventeen years. In May, private jet travel by Bernard Arnault (shareholder of Challenges ) released 176 tons of carbon, according to the Instagram account laviondebernard, which tracks the journeys of the plane of the 2nd richest man in the world. Its objective: “To make visible the polluting way of life of the richest”, while the average carbon footprint of the French amounts to 10 tons per year. “Celebrity Jets”, “I Fly Bernard”… In recent months, Twitter accounts displaying the jet routes of billionaires have multiplied. What annoy celebrities, ready to offer several thousand dollars to creators to bury the accounts. An attempt that shocked public opinion as France went through a historic drought and aligned temperature records.

Two Indiana University anthropologists, Richard Wilk and Beatriz Barros, have taken this approach even further. Looking in the billionaires list of Forbes those whose lifestyle could be best documented, they listed their possessions (jets, yachts, cars, homes, etc.) and wanderings, calculated greenhouse gas emissions and published a “Top-20 of the most polluters”.

Outstanding champion, the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, with an astronomical score of 33,000 tonnes for the year 2018. However, he is only the 208th on the list of Forbes but its sumptuous way of life is an ecological disaster, with its ten residences from London to Saint-Barth, its Boeing 767 and, above all, its gigayachts the Solaris and the Eclipse, palaces of the seas with heliport, swimming pools… which have generated 22,400 tonnes of CO2. “These luxury boats are the worst you can own, by far, from an environmental point of view, notes Grégory Salle, sociologist at the CNRS and author of Superyachts, luxury, calm and ecocide (Ed. Amsterdam, 2021). They burn more than 500 liters of fuel per hour of navigation!”

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Moreover, if Bernard Arnault is in 4th place, at 10,400 tonnes, it is the fault of his megayacht Symphony, which accounts for more than 80% of its carbon bill. On the contrary, Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, 1er and 3e the world’s richest non-ship-owning men turn out to be less gamblers, ranked 19th and 18th.

Musk and Bezos, worst polluters

“Our list does not list all the billionaires or all their emissions, but by exposing these well-known personalities, we wanted to show concretely how much this ostentatious lifestyle is ecologically untenable, explains Beatriz Barros. To put pressure on them, but also because as long as they are held up as role models, they undermine the consensus needed to avert climate catastrophe. a year?”

And again, this count leaves the source of fortune in the blind spot. By this yardstick, Elon Musk, despite the virtues of his Tesla electric cars, and Bezos, despite his commitment that Amazon will reach zero emissions in 2040, are propelled to the rank of the worst polluters by investing their billions in space tourism, paroxysm of ecological heresy. In February, Oxfam and Greenpeace France published a ranking of 63 French billionaires, attributing their company’s carbon emissions to them, in proportion to their share of capital. Bernard Arnault’s “financial carbon footprint” becomes dizzying, with 2.3 million tonnes of greenhouse gases over one year… but only 12th, far behind the Mulliez (Auchan), Besnier (Lactalis) and Saadé families ( CMA-CGM). “As large shareholders, they have a systemic impact which must be taken into account, defends Alexandre Poidatz, of Oxfam. They decide on the strategy of these groups and carry out lobbying for their interests, which are often contradictory with the fight against the climate deregulation.”

Lucas Chancel, economist at the Paris School of Economics, has developed a benchmark method, integrating the impact due to consumption and heritage, but retaining only a fraction of the emissions of the companies in which it is invested. The figures are edifying: the wealthiest 1% of Earthlings emit 101 tonnes of greenhouse gases, 63 times more than the poorest 50% of humans, at 1.6 tonnes. In France, it’s 50 tons for the Top-1%, against around 5 tons for the lowest 50%. Remember that the IPCC indicates that the level of carbon emissions must be reduced to 2 tons per Earthling by 2050 to hope to contain global warming to 2 degrees.

Green wealth tax

“The climatic inequalities are so glaring that it will imperatively be necessary that the sacrifices to come be equitably distributed, analyzes Lucas Chancel. The poor cannot accept a tax on gasoline and dilapidated housing while the carefree rich are not penalized by fly for a weekend or invest in an oil company.” Hence his idea of ​​reintroducing a tax on wealth, reinforced and greened, with a penalty on assets placed in polluting sectors.

Take their billions from the rich to solve the climate problem? We are far from it. But some billionaires open their wallets in the service of ecology. Last September, nine philanthropists announced a record donation of $5 billion to fund the protection of 30% of the planet’s land and sea spaces by 2030. Among them, veteran climate advocates such as the American magnate of media Michael Bloomberg, the Swedish Lisbet Rausing (Tetra Pak) or the Swiss Hansjörg Wyss (Synthes medical equipment). And also Jeff Bezos, freshly reconverted, with his Earth Fund, which he promised to endow with 10 billion dollars… without being able to get rid of the suspicion of “greenwashing”.

Some “green barons”

Environmental philanthropy, however, lags behind, representing only 3% of donations in the United States. And no more in France, where Gérard Brémond, founder of Pierre & Vacances, and his wife Jacqueline, are almost alone in having dedicated their foundation to the preservation of the environment.

But a dynamic is beginning as the urgency of the ecological transition imposes itself. In a classic register, there are the “green barons” who devote themselves to buying back huge areas returned to wildlife. Such as the late Douglas Tompkins, founder of clothing brands The North Face and Esprit, who acquired and restored more than 1 million hectares in Patagonia which his widow, Kristine, then returned largely to Chile and Argentina subject to to make them inalienable natural parks. In the United States, Ted Turner (founder of the CNN channel) is one of the first landowners in the United States, reintroducing wolves, condors and bison. Gordon Moore (Intel) and Swede Johan Eliasch (Head skis) are trying, with millions, to save what remains of the Amazon rainforest. While the Swiss Ernesto Bertarelli (biotech Serono) helped create the largest marine reserve in the world, in the Indian Ocean. Dane Anders Holch Povlsen (Asos, Zalando) is one of the most active, becoming the first owner in Scotland. In France, one of Yves Rocher’s sons, Jacques, has planted 100 million trees around the world with his program Plant for Life.

In contrast to this return to nature, American tech stars are betting everything on technological innovation. Elon Musk has launched the X-Prize, a 100 million dollar scholarship for who will manage to invent a system for capturing as much carbon as possible in the ambient air. Bill Gates, on the other hand, scatters the billions in futuristic greentech labs and start-ups.

hustle establishment

Mike Cannon-Brookes Fortune (Forbes, as of June 21): $12 billion.

Finally, Mike Cannon-Brookes inaugurates an original positioning as an activist billionaire. This Australian tech boy has used his notoriety to loudly criticize Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s climate inaction. And especially its dollars, to launch a hostile takeover of the first local electricity company, AGL, in order to force it to quickly close its coal-fired power stations. The takeover bid was rejected but the bosses of AGL were forced to resign… and the conservative Morrison has just lost the election because of the victory of small pro-environment candidates. “As a businessman, I don’t have the power to fix the climate, but I have enough to shake up establishment in order to contribute to it”, he said. Inspirational.

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Jets, donations… billionaires, angels and demons for the climate

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