Climate change: how rich people can help save the planet

The more things you have and the more you travel, the more fossil fuels are burned and the more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Traveling by plane, buying luxury items, keeping mansions warm, and driving supercars all have a carbon footprint.

But some argue that the rich can do the most to solve the climate crisis. Here’s how they can make a difference.

Spend wisely

The shopping decisions of the wealthy matter much more to the fight against climate change than the decisions of most people.

Ilona Otto and her colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research rated that a typical two-person “super-rich” household (which they defined as having net assets of over $1 million, excluding their primary home) has a carbon footprint of 129 tons of CO2 per year. This is about 65 tons of CO2 per year per person, more than 10 times the global average.

Otto noted that because the sample in the study was small, the numbers are illustrative. “Probably our estimates are even lower than the true outliers of millionaires,” she said.

“When it comes to lifestyle choices, the rich can make a big difference,” Otto said. “For example, install solar panels on the roofs of your houses. They can also afford electric cars and it’s best if they avoid flying.”

In the study, air travel accounted for more than half of the ultra-rich couple’s footprint.

Wealthy people also have more flexibility to make changes.

“The high-income consumer is likely to have access to, and be able to afford, more climate-friendly products or produce from local farmers,” said Tom Bailey, who participated in the new initiative. report which highlights consumption in high-income cities.

“High-income cities and high-income people also have the resources to test new products, services and solutions,” he explained, adding that they have the opportunity to create a market for more sustainable products.


In addition to choosing what to spend their money on, rich people can choose which industries to invest in or not to invest in.

Oxfam estimates that the number of billionaires on the Forbes list with business interests in the fossil fuel sector rose from 54 in 2010 to 88 in 2015, and their net worth increased from over $200 billion to over $300 billion.
Steam rises from a coal-fired power plant in Germany.

But there is a tendency for wealthy investors to sell their stakes in climate-damaging industries, known as divestment.

More than 1,100 organizations and 59,000 individuals with combined assets worth $8.8 trillion have pledged to go fossil fuel-free through the online movement. DivestInvest.
Among them is a Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCapriosigning a pledge on behalf of himself and his entourage foundation — as well as a group of 22 wealthy people from the Netherlands who pledge remove your personal wealth from the top 200 oil, gas and coal companies.

“You don’t invest in coal, you don’t invest in oil, you don’t invest in gas, and you don’t invest in some car companies that make regular cars, or in aviation, so you’re channeling the money,” Otto said.

And with a sale, a little can go a long way. “We ran some simulations that show that with a divestment movement, you don’t have to get rid of everyone,” Otto said. “If a minority of investors sell shares, other investors will not invest in these fossil fuel assets because they will be afraid of losing money … even if they don’t have environmental issues.”

Wealth means power

Wealthy people not only make economic decisions, but they can also have political influence. They can fund political parties and campaigns and have access to legislators.

There is more CO2 in the atmosphere today than at any time since human evolution.

Otto argued that rich people can use their political power to instigate positive changes in climate policy.

“People with the highest emissions have the most opportunity to make a difference,” Otto said. “There is so much research on the poor, the impact of climate change on the poor… sustainable development goals and so on. But when it comes to action, resilience and transformation, there is nothing the poor can do because they are busy surviving.

“But the educated, the rich and the super-rich are a different story. They have money and resources to act, and they also have social networks,” she explained.

Fund climate research

The rich can also support climate research. In 2015, Microsoft founder Bill Gates set aside $2 billion of his fortune to fund clean energy research and development.

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In May, a group of scientists wrote To 100 wealthy charities and families in the UK asking for an ’emergency boost’ in funding for environment and climate issues.

“We ask you to urgently consider making significant investments to prevent further environmental catastrophe – whether it be your personal investment or your charity,” the letter says.

The rich have plenty of incentives to demand action on climate change: a recent UN report warned that postponing climate policy would cost the world’s leading companies $1.2 trillion over the next 15 years.

role models

The super-rich can also influence other people’s carbon emissions.

“High status in our society is still associated with high material wealth,” Otto said. “It’s a desire to become very rich, and you emulate the lifestyle of the people you want to be like.”

For example, air travel is no longer reserved for the super-rich. This year, low-cost airline Ryanair became the only non-coal plant among the top 10 issuers in Europe.

According to the EU, Ryanair is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in the EU.  The ratings include power plants, manufacturing plants and aviation.
“We, as a society, must look for new ways to lead a “rich” life, independent of material goods,” said Stephanie Moser from the University of Bern in Switzerland, who found that a person’s carbon footprint is better determined by their income than by their environmental beliefs.

“We need to redefine wealth in our society so that the ‘good life’ is possible without high greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.

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