Billionaire tech founder Bill Gates is often a target of criticism for his lifestyle and views on climate change. Therefore, it's not a huge surprise that claims are swirling about Gates supposedly aiming to destroy forests. However, there are key facts that provide context to the forest-related investments Gates is making.
Let's examine the facts about the investments of his climate fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures. Is Bill Gates really cutting down trees while proclaiming the need for climate action?
Is Bill Gates paying to cut down 70 million acres of trees in the name of climate change?
The Associated Press has conducted a fact check of a claim that Bill Gates supports cutting down 70 million acres of trees, and the news agency found that it is false.
There is no plan to simply chop down huge swaths of forest; rather, Gates has invested $6.6 million in Kodama Systems, per MIT Technology Review. Kodama is a startup company that has a unique concept for removal of trees to protect California forests.
An online article with a clickbait title cast Gates as the bad guy promoting massive deforestation. But Kodama Systems operates in California and aims to bury dead trees underground in order to prevent their carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere.
As MIT Technology Review explains, trees absorb carbon dioxide efficiently, but when they die and rot, they release the CO2 into the atmosphere. Although more research is needed, biomass burial could contain that carbon dioxide underground for many years. In addition, removal and burial of dead trees may help prevent wildfires, another devastating part of the climate crisis.
A spokesperson for Gates, Alex Reid, responded to the AP regarding claims of Gates wanting to cut down trees, stating: "These claims are false." Plus, as Kodama spokesperson James Sedlak noted, the "70 million acres" came from a Forbes article stating that the U.S. Forest Service would "thin" about 70 million acres of forest in the American West.
What is ecological forest thinning?
The confusion and outcry over Bill Gates cutting down trees is largely related to the "ecological forest thinning" that Kodama and the Forest Service aim to do. As Kodama's spokesperson Sedlak told AP, this involves taking at-risk trees from denser parts of forests in order to allow mature trees to grow properly. Tree thinning, he said, improves overall forest health and helps make the forests less vulnerable to wildfires.
According to Kodama's website, "After decades of fire suppression and other factors such as climate change, forests in the western U.S. are overgrown, threatened by disease, and at risk of megafire. In order to bring these forests back into balance, we must dramatically accelerate forest thinning treatments and utilize excess biomass at scale."
The company's CEO, Merritt Jenkins, told the AP that Kodama plans to focus its forest thinning on an area of the Eastern Sierra Mountains of California. It will cut down smaller trees that might not become lumber, and instead of burning them, bury them in Nevada to store their carbon indefinitely.
As a major investor in Kodama Systems, Gates appears to be trying to help find solutions to the world's carbon emissions problem, not making it worse.