The more you own and the more you travel, the more fossil fuels are burned and the more greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.
Walking, buying luxury goods, maintaining mansions and driving supercars – they all have a carbon footprint.
But some argue that the wealthy can do the most to help address the climate crisis. Here’s how they could make a difference.
Decisions to buy the rich mean much more in the fight against climate change than those of most people.
Otto noted that because the sample in the study is small, the numbers are illustrative. “Probably our estimates are even lower than the real emissions of millionaires,” she said.
“As for their own way of life, the rich can change a lot,” Otto said. “For example, placing solar panels on the roofs of their houses. They can also afford electric cars. It would be best if they avoid flying.”
In the study, air travel accounted for more than half the footprint of a super-rich couple.
The rich also have more flexibility to make changes.
“High-income cities and high-income people also have the resources to try out new products, services and solutions,” he explained, adding that they have the capacity to create a market for more sustainable goods.
In addition to choosing what to spend money on, the rich can choose which industries to invest in – or not to invest in.
But wealthy investors tend to sell their shares in climate-damaging industries known as exemptions.
“You don’t invest in coal, you don’t invest in oil, in gas, also in some car companies that make normal cars, or aviation, so you direct financial flows,” Otto said.
And with the release, little can go a long way. “We’ve done a few simulations that show that with the liberation movement, you don’t need everyone to release them,” Otto said. “If a minority of investors invest, other investors will not invest in these fossil fuel assets because they will be afraid of losing money … even if they have no environmental concerns.”
Wealth means power
Wealthy people are not only economic decision makers, they can also have political influence. They can fund political parties and campaigns and have access to lawmakers.
Otto argues that rich people can use their political power to make positive changes in climate policy.
“These people with the highest emissions, they have the biggest agency to change something,” Otto said. “There is so much research on the poor, the impact of climate change on the poor … sustainable development goals, etc. But when it comes to action and sustainability and transformation, the poor can do nothing because they are busy surviving. .
“But the educated, the rich and the super-rich – it’s a completely different case. They have the money and resources to act, and they also have social networks,” she explained.
Climate research funding
Wealthy people can also support climate research. In 2015, Microsoft founder Bill Gates set aside $ 2 billion of his wealth to fund clean energy research and development.
“We ask you to urgently consider significant investments to prevent further environmental catastrophe – whether through your personal investment or your philanthropy,” the letter said.
There are enough incentives for the rich to demand climate action: A recent UN report warned that slowing climate policies will cost global companies $ 1.2 million over the next 15 years.
The super-rich can also affect other people’s carbon emissions.
“High status in our societies remains associated with high material wealth,” Otto said. “The goal is to become like the very rich and imitate the lifestyle of the people you want to look like.”
For example, air travel is no longer just a delicacy for the super-rich. This year, the budget airline Ryanair was the only coal-free power plant among the top 10 emissions in Europe.
“We need to redefine wealth in our societies so that living a ‘good life’ is possible without high greenhouse gas emissions,” she said.