In the past, I have been impressed by the philanthropy of Bill Gates. Now, after spending billions of dollars combating poverty and infectious disease, he seems to be flirting with investments that would counteract his earlier goals. Along with Warren Buffet, Gates recently toured the Athabasca oil sands, supposedly in search of investment opportunities.
We are now at a juncture in time where we understand the magnitude of the threat posed by climate change, as well as the growing role the oil sands are playing in Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. It is simply immoral to assert that just because a resource is under your feet, you can exploit it regardless of the harm that does to others. While it is theoretically possible that future technologies will reduce the harm caused by oil sands extraction and upgrading, such technologies do not exist today and cannot serve to justify the destruction that is ongoing.
If Gates does decide to invest, he will be adopting a deeply hypocritical position with respect to good global citizenship and the challenges facing the global poor. The IPCC and others have stressed that it will be many of the world’s poorest people who suffer most from climate change. Projected impacts include droughts, famines, storms, and the increased spread of some infectious diseases. Hopefully, the actual sight of boreal forest being stripped mined and rendered toxic through greenhouse-gas-spewing industrial activities will put him off the investment idea.