There is no shortage of characters in Newsweek’s cover story on the most affluent people in the world. There is Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates. There is a personal assistant worth $30 billion named Arianna Huffington. There are the WhatsApp founders who are profiled here. There are Meg Whitman, the former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, and New York University economist Robert Frank. And of course, there is Elon Musk, the billionaire who owns Tesla and SpaceX and is the chairman of SolarCity, an electric carmaker. But the most important person in the story is Anne Thorndike, the director of the Center for Global Development who has spent two decades researching the costs and benefits of wealth, and who concludes that the most lucrative way of curbing the climate crisis is by investing in clean energy and financial systems to help people get ahead in it.
Mr. Musk said he believes it’s “better to release a few million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year than it is to release a few thousand jobs” and likened investing in clean energy to climate change not being a critical issue for Americans. But Thorndike is not prepared to let the country’s wealthy people off the hook. “You have to speak up for these countries’ poor,” she said. When she advocates for help in a conversation with high-end investors, they sometimes roll their eyes. But Thorndike says she has to share her vision because the world is now where it should be for combating climate change: an overwhelming global concern. “When the research and science are strong, people listen. When they’re not strong, people don’t,” she says.