Elon Musk may be trading places with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos these days for the title of the world’s richest person by net worth, but the Tesla and SpaceX CEO also holds a unique place among his fellow billionaires. Based on estimates from anthropologists from Indiana University, Elon Musk may very well be one of the billionaires with the smallest carbon footprint.
Critics of Elon Musk would argue that the Tesla and SpaceX CEO’s carbon footprint is excessive due to his frequent travels with his private jet. However, Richard Wilk, the director of the Open Anthropology Institute at Indiana University, and Beatriz Barros, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at Indiana University, noted in an analysis that Musk’s carbon footprint is actually quite small relative to his fellow billionaires. This is because, unlike other billionaires, Musk owns no luxury superyachts or custom-made, sprawling mansions.
Wilk and Barros opted to analyze a number of billionaires from the 2020 Forbes List, particularly those whose consumption is public knowledge. This excluded a good number of the super-rich in Asia and the Middle-East, but it still provided a good sample of billionaires from across the globe. To estimate each billionaire’s carbon footprint, the anthropologists used data from the US Energy Information Administration and Carbon Footprint. Together with some extensive research, this allowed the pair to estimate the annual CO2 emissions of each house, aircraft, yacht, and vehicle publicly declared by each billionaire.
On average, US residents pollute about 15 tons of CO2 per year as of 2018, though the average global footprint per person is smaller at just about 5 tons annually. The 20 billionaires who were included in the study, for their part, contributed an average of 8,190 tons of CO2 in 2018. But even among this list, some billionaires polluted significantly more than others. And as it turned out, those who owned massive luxury yachts tend to consume significantly more than those who did not.