During the pandemic, Bill Gates’s personal fortune has increased by an impressive $20 billion, but even these gains pale in comparison to his soaring political influence—as the news media has widely trumpeted his leadership on Covid-19, praising his charitable donations or extolling him as a “visionary” who predicted the outbreak.
It’s a highly questionable narrative, one that ignores widespread controversy over the way Gates made his fortune and how he chooses to spend it, but which nonetheless has delivered a windfall of political capital for our philanthropist in chief—which he is now spending down.
It would seem like a major victory for divestment campaigners, but Gates’s announcement has some important caveats.
His announcement comes years after many of his peers—philanthropies, celebrities, universities, companies—dumped fossil fuels, and at a time when the value of the industry is plummeting.
“Oil and gas hasn’t just underperformed, it’s been pretty much the worst possible place you could put your money,” Clark Williams-Derry, an analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, noted in an e-mail. “Over the past decade, it would have been far better not to invest at all than to buy fossil fuel stocks.”