Are Tech Billionaires the Worst Polluters on Earth?

Technology Policy Brief #75 | By: Mindy Spatt | December 8, 2022

Header photo taken from: Jason Goad / The Guardian

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Crypto companies logically cannot be carbon neutral. Cryptocurrency mining generates an enormous amount of technology waste, with discarded electronics containing gold and other metals ending up in landfills. Waste associated with Bitcoin mining alone was an estimated 35,000 tons annually as of June 2022, or about the same as all electronic garbage produced by the Netherlands, according to a report.

Photo taken from: ESG Clarity

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Tech Billionaires Leave an Outsize Carbon Footprint, Despite Their Carbon Neutral Claims. Advocates claim  allowing polluters to purchase carbon offsets is a “scam” and hurting, rather than helping the planet.

Among the many false claims that rained out of the mouth of billionaire BS artist Sam Bankman-Fried was the claim that his crypto exchange FTX was a “carbon neutral company”, a claim parroted by his celebrity spokesperson Gisele Bündchen and gushed over in Forbes magazine.   

How could a crypto company be carbon neutral?  According to a recent report by the White House, the crypto industry is poisoning the air at an alarming rate, with more emissions than many countries including Argentina and Australia, and “the rapid growth of crypto-assets could potentially hinder broader efforts to achieve U.S. climate commitments to reach net-zero carbon pollution.”

FTX was likely no different. Bankman-Fried’s boast was based on his own calculations of the company’s purchase of carbon offsets in relation to  FTX’s direct emissions only, not those associated with the crypto products being traded there.  Or the broader implications for the environment.  Neither calculation stands up under scrutiny.

The White House report found that the crypto industry’s environmental impact goes far beyond the operations of a single trading platform. “Besides purchased grid electricity, crypto-asset mining operations can also cause local noise and water impacts, electronic waste, air and other pollution from any direct usage of fossil-fired electricity, and additional air, water, and waste impacts associated with all grid electricity usage.”

But the bigger problem with Bankman-Fried’s boast is that it drastically overestimates the value of offsets and their impact, which critics allege are minimal. Despite that offsets have become the flavor of the month for billionaires looking to make excuses for the huge streams of emissions they and their companies  spew.  Advocates are fighting back with data that says offsets are at best meaningless and at worst harmful. 

Chart taken from: The Conversation

Offsets are primarily the planting of trees or other measures that protect forests.  These offsets, however, don’t have any direct impact on reducing the planet-heating gases building up in our atmosphere.  While trees may absorb some carbon, it is difficult to measure, and many credits go toward preserving existing forests, which creates no new benefits.

An analysis on offsets in California by found that a large number of the credits in the program do not reflect real climate benefits.  Their research shows that the “scale of the problem is enormous: 29% of the offsets we analyzed are over-credited, totaling 30 million tons of  COe worth approximately $410 million.”

Carbonplan’s criticism seems mild  in comparison with Greenpeace’s call for an end to carbon offsets altogether, According to Greenpeace, carbon offsetting “is truly a scammer’s dream scheme.”  In Greenpeace’s view, the purchase of offsets far away from the places they are actually polluting allows companies to avoid making meaningful reductions in their emissions or repairing  the communities that are directly impacted. 

Bankman-Fried is hardly alone in trying to justify his outrageous lifestyle and fossil -fuel driven businesses with the purchase of offsets. Billionaires like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos have routinely shrugged off criticisms of their companies’ outsize carbon footprint and  their own lavish, fuel-burning lifestyles with claims that offsets take care of the problem.

But no matter how many trees they plant, according to Oxfam, billionaires are the worst polluters in the world, not just because of their businesses, private jets, yachts and rocket ships..  The world’s richest people emit huge and unsustainable amounts of carbon and, unlike ordinary people, 50% to 70% of their emissions result from their investments. “ Oxfam’s analysis shows that the top 125 billionaires in the world are emitting, on average, “3 million tonnes a year, more than a million times the average for someone in the bottom 90% of humanity.”

Bankman-Fried was also lauded for his future commitments to climate change and other worthy causes, as Bezos has been, donations that are unlikely to make a meaningful dent in all the poison these individuals and their companies have left behind.

And that may never materialize.  With his company in bankruptcy and its celebrity backers being sued right and left, Bankman-Fried’s big promises are looking pretty empty. The foundations funded by FTX are likely to go under and grantees are worried that under bankruptcy law they could even be required to return recently received funding.   

Engagement Resources​

Click or tap on resource URL to visit links where available 


Climate and Energy Implications of Crypto-Assets in the US, Sept. 2022.

Greenpeace logo

Carbon Offsets are a Scam, by Chris Greenberg, November 10, 2021,

Carbon Billionaires: The investment emissions of the world’s richest people , 07/11/2022 ,

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