Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Survey Shows Americans Are Willing to Change Their Lifestyles for the Climate. Bill Gates Disagrees.

climate change protest

Demonstrators reinforce the global target to cap temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

The climate crisis is changing how some Americans think about their own futures, according to a new survey — with 1 out of 4 worried they may have to give up long-term goals like starting a family. It’s no wonder then that half of U.S. respondents said they're willing to abide by the vast majority of changes needed to restore our planet. Yet billionaires like Bill Gates have been shamelessly using their platforms to blame the state of the climate on the masses.

Gates reasserted his belief that it will be up to technology to save us from ourselves on his annual Ask Me Anything Reddit thread this month, hinting at his earlier statements that regular people just aren’t willing to abandon their extravagant lifestyles in order to limit rising global temperatures.

While the third richest man in America is clearly out of touch with the rest of us, he continues to tell on himself by emphasizing products that consumers can buy instead of encouraging everyone to scale down. Gates’ response to one Redditor’s question — “What’s the biggest way an individual can contribute to the climate solution?” — failed to address any tangible lifestyle choices that people can make to significantly lower their carbon footprints. Even worse, the solution he offered would actually lead to increased emissions and environmental destruction if everyone took his advice. 

“You are a voter, a consumer, a giver and a worker. In every one of those roles you can help,” Gates wrote on Reddit, without offering any significant options for doing so beyond “buying an electric car helps” and “there will be options to pay a bit extra to offset your travel emissions coming soon."

But buying an electric vehicle (EV) prematurely — when the ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicle in the driveway is still running just fine — does not lead to a net reduction in carbon emissions. Truly, if it were even possible for every American to ditch their ICE vehicle for an EV right now, meeting that demand would create a dramatic rise in global emissions and cause substantial environmental damage from mineral extraction.

Such flip suggestions miss the entire point of transitioning to cleaner energy and transportation, seemingly demonstrating Gates’ interest in keeping mass consumption rolling. He continued by mentioning that he already pays to offset his family’s travel — once again giving away the same “let them eat cake” mentality he has previously exhibited in regards to overshooting the targeted cap on global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees Celsius.

In fact, as we learned last year, Gates spends $9 million annually on carbon offsets to make up for his own lifestyle — an astronomical amount that begs two questions. Just how lavishly does he live? And does he do anything at all to limit his own carbon footprint? (It’s hard to imagine to what extent he does, considering the sheer number of private jets he owns.) The billionaire was clearly speaking about himself when he told Bloomberg’s “Zero” podcast that the people of Earth would be unwilling to give up their lifestyles to lessen the effects of the climate crisis.

Of course, as the recent survey — conducted by researchers from Elabe on behalf of the private resource management firm Veolia — demonstrated, he’s wrong. Half of U.S. respondents across age groups, genders and geographies said they're willing to make sacrifices to fight climate change — and 55 percent recognize that technological advances will not be enough. We have to change how we live, a concept that Gates and his peers choose not to comprehend.

Likewise, concerns from the financial elite about slowing population growth feel rather ironic when faced with the quarter of Americans surveyed who fear they may have to forego major life events like having children because the planet is on its way to becoming unlivable. What’s more, 52 percent of U.S. respondents want to see more conversations about climate change and its solutions, agreeing that it’s difficult to imagine “ecological transformation” without them. But that’s not surprising with billionaires like Bill dominating the dialogue. 

Image credit: Mika Baumeister/Unsplash

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of Baja California Sur, México. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.

Read more stories by Riya Anne Polcastro