In an interview published last week, Gates spoke with BBC journalist Amol Rajan, who asked the Microsoft co-founder, “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 was quick to defend his actions, saying he’s “not part of the problem.”
“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,” he said.
Gates has been fairly open about his private plane, saying on Reddit nearly a decade ago that “owning a plane is a guilty pleasure.” 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.
“Warren Buffett called his the Indefensible. I do get to a lot of places for Foundation work I wouldn’t be able to go to without it,” he said, saying a year later that it’s his “big splurge.”
Climeworks says it uses technology to “capture carbon dioxide directly from the air” and place it in underground storage.
But this method of offsetting carbon emissions isn’t yet as refined as it needs to be, according to the International Energy Agency. As of last year, there are just 18 small-scale DAC plants across the U.S., Europe and Canada. And right now, according to the IEA, the process for direct air capture “is more energy intensive and therefore expensive than capturing it from a point source,” a process that entails capturing CO2 emissions from something like an industrial facility so that it doesn’t get emitted in the first place.
Commercial and large business jets contribute 10% of U.S. transportation emissions and make up 3% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, citing the EPA.
And according to the World Resource Institute, while direct air capture is a positive tool in helping reduce the amount of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, the reduction of fossil fuel use in the first place is just as, if not more important.
“Scientists indicate we will need both faster emissions reduction and carbon removal,” the institute says, “and the amount of carbon removal needed is inversely proportional to how deeply we are able to cut emissions.”
Still, Gates, said, “Should I stay at home and not come to Kenya and learn about farming and malaria?” referring to his trip to the African nation in January to learn about changing farming practices amid climate change.
“I’m comfortable with the idea that not only am I not part of the problem by paying for the offsets,” he said, “but also through the billions that my Breakthrough Energy group is spending that I’m part of the solution.”
Gates’ Breakthrough Energy is an initiative started to help accelerate technology and innovation to help tackle the climate crisis through five “grand challenges” – manufacturing, electricity, agriculture, transportation and buildings. According to a December report by Reuters, Gates has invested more than $2 billion toward climate technologies.
Gates, who was listed as the world’s fourth-richest person in Forbes last year with a net worth of $129 billion, has been questioned about his private jet usage before. On “ ” in 2021, Anderson Cooper asked the billionaire if he’s “the right messenger” in climate activism.
“You fly private planes a lot. And you’re creating a lot of greenhouse gases yourself,” Cooper pointed out.
Gates responded, “Yeah. I probably have one of the highest greenhouse gas footprints on the planet. … My personal flying alone is gigantic.”
But, he added that he’s “spending quite a bit” to use plant-based aviation fuel. He also said that he uses an electric car and solar panels, as well as spends about $7 million a year to offset his carbon footprint.