Warren Buffet: Climate Killer

This profiteer is literally banking on the failure of global-warming legislation

Warren Buffett, chairman of Berkshire Hathaway speaks during annual shareholder meeting at the Qwest Center in Omaha, Nebraska on May 2nd, 2009. Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty

Despite being a key adviser to Obama during the financial crisis, America's best-known investor has been blasting the president's push to curb global warming — using the same lying points promoted by far-right Republicans. The climate bill passed by the I louse, Buffett insists, is a "huge tax — and there's no sense calling it anything else." What's more, he says, the measure would mean "very poor people are going to pay a lot more money for their electricity." Never mind that the climate bill, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would actually save Americans with the lowest incomes about $40 a year.

But Buffet, whose investments have the power to move entire markets, is doing far more than bad-mouthing climate legisla­tion — he's literally banking on its failure. In recent months, the Oracle of Omaha has invested billions in carbon-polluting indus­tries, seeking to cash in as the world burns. His conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, has added 1.28 million shares of America's biggest climate polluter, ExxonMobil, to its balance sheet. And in November, Berk­shire placed a huge wager on the future of coal pollution, purchasing the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $26 billion — the largest acquisition of Buffett's sto­ried career. BNSF is the nation's top haul­er of coal, shipping some 300 million tons ayear. That's enough to light up 10 percent of the nation's homes — many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy. Although Berk­shire is the largest U.S. firm not to disclose its carbon pollution — and second globally-only to the Bank of China — its utilities have the worst emissions intensity in America, belching more than 65 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2008 alone.

As a savvy investor, Buffett would only buy a coal-shipping railroad if he felt cer­tain that Congress will fail to crack down on climate pollution. "Whatever hurts coal also hurts the railroad business," observes Peter Gray, a corporate climate attorney at the international law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge. "Mr. Buffett must believe that efforts to adopt cap-and-trade legis­lation will fail."

That's a strange position for the billion­aire to take, given that he's promised to donate more than 80 percent of his for­tune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Founda­tion. "As someone who is giving so much money to international development, Buffett ought to know better," says Joe Romm, who served as an assistant energy secre­tary under Bill Clinton. "I Ie ought to have spent a great deal of time considering the greatest threats to developing countries — which would have quickly educated him about climate change."