How Bill Gates Justifies His Private Jets As An Environmental Activist

As an environmental activist, Bill Gates justifies his private jets because he says that the money he pours into combatting climate change offsets his carbon footprint.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

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Many of the world’s elites, or at least the wealthiest people, gather together every year for summits to discuss combating climate change. This year, Davos attendees made the news for flying their private jets to their climate summit. Many, including Bill Gates, received a healthy dose of criticism online for these actions.

Ultimately, that attention led one intrepid journalist to directly ask Bill Gates about his private jet in a recent interview. Amol Rajan, with BBC News, inquired “What do you say to the charge that if you are a climate change campaigner, but you also travel around the world on a private jet, you’re a hypocrite?” Gates immediately deflected.

He responded, “I buy the gold standard of funding Climeworks to do direct air capture that far exceeds my family’s carbon footprint and I spend billions of dollars on climate innovation.” Gates continued, “I’m comfortable with the idea that not only am I not part of the problem by paying for the offsets, but also through the billions that my Breakthrough Energy group is spending that I’m part of the solution.” But what are Climeworks and Breakthrough Energy?

According to CBS News, Climeworks captures carbon dioxide out of the air and puts it into underground storage. This process is a relatively new way to try and offset carbon emissions. However, it isn’t widely available because the International Energy Agency said it requires too much energy. 

And Breakthrough Energy is the brainchild of Bill Gates. The initiative hopes to combat climate change through accelerated innovations in technology. Some of the group’s focus areas include transportation, electricity, buildings, agriculture, and manufacturing.

These initiatives are some of the ways Bill Gates has contributed over $2 billion to climate research and technologies. However, many question whether he’s the right spokesman for the job. And with good reason.

Bill Gates does not just have one private jet. “According to aircraft charter broker Private Jet Charter, Gates has four private jets, a seaplane and a helicopter, although CBS News has not confirmed this information.” And the problem isn’t necessarily that he owns them.

Large businesses and commercial jets contribute 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. And they make up 10% of the transportation emissions in the US. So the constant trips Bill Gates takes around the globe certainly add to that total output.

But Gates does not see any problem with this. In his mind, as long as he buys carbon credits, he can continue contributing to the issue he claims exists. He asked, “Should I stay at home and not come to Kenya and learn about farming and malaria?”

The recent BBC interview is not the first time Bill Gates got questioned about his flying habits. Anderson Cooper also asked him about his greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. At the time, Gates admitted his flights give off significant emissions.

“Yeah. I probably have one of the highest greenhouse gas footprints on the planet. … My personal flying alone is gigantic,” Gates said.