We live in times where money is a major driver in getting anything done. Concepts that run along the lines of willpower can oftentimes succeed without money being involved, but even that can often wear out in the long run. For those depending on financial income as pillars to their lifestyle, even low wages would come across as a deciding factor in maintaining those pillars.
Thus, we tend to dwindle in the small issues while being wary of the bigger, more impactful events that happen around us. Sociopolitical milestones — the good and the bad — would end up across our radar with or without our awareness and even regardless of our opinions about it. In the end, we tune our minds to the inevitability that the big issues in our society can be addressed and solved solely by those with money and power.
This even holds true to the biggest issue we’re facing today: climate change. We have become numb to the thought that our small contributions would do very little to those given by the likes of billionaires. A dollar in donations per ordinary citizen would feel like drops in the ocean of wealth handed out by these billionaires. So, the thought would be, “What’s the point of our role here? Looks like the world can be saved by these people by themselves if they all pitch in.”
Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true for a handful of reasons. Billionaires may seem to appear altruistic in their intentions to curb climate change and save the planet, but if we divert our admiration of their performance center-stage and pull the curtains a bit further to see what’s behind the scene, you’d notice the whole show for what it really is: an act.
The first thing you should know is that each time they donate or contribute, realize how much of their wealth they are offering to the cause. If we look at the range — say between $100 million to $10 billion from wealthy elites such as Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Jeff Bezos, to name a few — those donations only account for less than 1% of their net worth. In other words, those absurd sums of money are — in a sense — pocket money that they hand out to improve their image as a fellow eco-friendly supporter.
Don’t get me wrong — this isn’t pointed out under the intent of criticizing their expenditure. There might be counter-arguments that they are spending their minuscule fraction of money under the same proportion that we would do with ours as well. This would also be backed by arguments that they compartmentalize their money for multiple projects — some that may perhaps prove beneficial to society in terms of progression and innovation.
The problem though: in terms of comparison, the lower classes are — understandably — keeping a huge portion of their income to hold on to their food, to their steady and manageable income on food and water, and as well as to save up their funds for education and medicinal needs. Billionaires don’t have that crisis on their hands. They play by the formula of generating more wealth off the back of wealth they are already amassing from. And like what most people do when they have that much money — they spend it to suit their needs: a lavish lifestyle while turning to that formula to keep more coming.
On top of that, their revenue depends on the blood, sweat, and tears of those they are trying to compare to that proportional spending logic. In addition to putting them into unfair labor practices with subpar payment, what they should be earning ends up in the pockets of these billionaires — the same earnings that end up being used for their ‘noble’ eco-friendly cause. So, technically, it isn’t them donating for the cause, the workers are… only that the credit for those donations is gravely misplaced.
This takes us to our next issue: taking credit, or more accurately, building a positive image for themselves. Their portrayal as social justice or eco-friendly advocates plainly serve as advertisements that would entice like-minded individuals to relate with them and, in effect, support whatever the advertisements offer. Behind that veil is just their plot to expand their hobbies, habits, and ideals with the rest of society being fine-tuned into embracing those whims. Turning ego into ego-friendly, so to speak.
This tactic would steer them away from controversies that affect climate change and subsequently invoke the ire of the actual people who are making tangible efforts against it. This could be said as an “if you can’t beat ’em, join ‘em” scenario, only that the joining part can be framed into making billionaires the good guys on the right side of the fight. But within the woodworks, they were doing what they were primed to do — harvest the benefits wherever and whenever they deem as ripe for the taking.
This brings us to the topic of the capitalization of the smaller advocates. By donating to the independent and grassroots movements that tackle climate change at their own pace and capabilities, billionaires have welcomed themselves into the fray so that they can insert their monetary influence and change the movements’ operations on how they see fit. On some occasions, it’s a steady relationship where both parties can proceed forward with their goal on the horizon. But in other instances, it becomes one-sided: the movement becomes another one of the billionaire’s business ventures and the path to the initial goal takes a hard turn.
Granted, funding is necessary to have a movement take larger steps, but it’s imperative that the funding does not dictate everything that the movement stands for, otherwise it becomes another brand owned and credited by the high-class donor.
Speaking of high-class, that’s something else we have to consider. As mentioned earlier, the billionaires advertise themselves as — despite being in a high position — relatable with the average joe and jane. But the rewards and benefits they generate from those ventures are only made in the interests of themselves and those who fit their wealth portfolio (i.e.: more upper-class people). After all, despite the electricity-powered Tesla cars being touted as a must-have for environmentally-conscious drivers, their price tags say otherwise. If someone barely has enough money for a rental gas-guzzler and these billionaire allies have nothing to say about it, it’s hard to believe that they’re allies.
And this brings us to the last topic: their point of view on things. What they experience regarding climate change is far different from what the average person experiences. Instead of relaying or referring to the point-of-view experience of a person directly affected by climate change, they would often see the effects from their lofty position and assume that’s what everyone else is going through. A true ally — billionaire or not — would be empathetic of the daily struggles of the society in the face of worsening climate, and use everything in their resources to serve their best interests; because their interests are tied to the ally’s interests. Instead, they resort to a ‘pie-in-the-sky’ approach and work on projects that remotely focus on the ongoing problem and instead focus on future issues that they can swiftly take credit for… again.
Some of these projects and innovations can be beneficial, but only if the involved parties have their bearings on the priority at hand. We don’t need to wholly depend on futuristic or technological means to solve climate change — we already have the natural and human resources necessary for the cause. Resources that are, however, being manipulated by the big donors to fulfill their pipe dreams first just so that they can earn a reputation.
In the end, it all boils down to commitment. People who stake their mind, body, and soul in advocating against climate change are often out of the limelight because fame and wealth aren’t their end goals. They just want to be on the right side of history in a world that can remain sustainable for future generations. Unfortunately, others do it solely for the limelight and sponsoring those movements for the sake of public image.
Again, not all of them have this mindset. Some people have the wealth, power, and influence, yet still, contribute in tandem with the average people to put the best foot forward. And they put far more than just a fraction of their resources to get the job done. It takes cooperating with people across all walks of life, and not setting up a corporate hierarchy, as the logical response to a global crisis.
Regardless, we can’t fully blame billionaires for their ulterior motives behind their contributions. At the very least, we have to be grateful for their interest in tackling climate change instead of shifting to other objectives, because any help is good help. We can acknowledge that they can use their wealth and expertise to indeed develop something revolutionary that can possibly alter the course of our crisis for a better outcome. All that we need to do is to eliminate the class disparity that sets us apart from each other as we pursue that same goal.
How exactly can we do that? For starters, dialogue is always the best first option when addressing any situation. We have to make ourselves open to visualize their point of view and vice versa. Single-mindedly deciding that they are either with us or against us goes against the fundamentals of cooperation. Our position of being directly involved with the effects of climate change gives us jurisdiction over first-hand experience and knowledge, which can be useful for the contributors to use their resources wisely and efficiently. Simply put, these wealthy donors need to count on us to relay them the most accurate information regarding the situation instead of playing a guessing game on their own.
In turn, their wealth, power, and influence are ultimately the decisive factors that can save us. This is quite a big feat for these donors. Whether a selfless deed or not, any humanitarian venture marks a major milestone for their list of achievements, and we have to let them know that even if they discard their grandiose pride and pitch a lot more than just pocket money, that’s more than enough for them to be revered as heroes. That alone can garner massive public adoration and respect.
Simply put, just as the small movements garner worldwide respect and representation for putting their 110% into their efforts, wealthy and famous donors and advocates can garner the same level of respect from those very movements by utilizing the same level of efforts. This is a far better sales pitch than holding on to the money. After all, saving the world is an investment no one can refuse.
Because despite class and wealth, we’re all humans still fighting to protect the world we’re living in. And no amount of space travel is going to change that fact.