Climate change: How rich people could help save the planet

Climate change: How rich people could help save the planet

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.

Spend wisely

Decisions to buy the rich mean much more in the fight against climate change than those of most people.

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

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.

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

“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.

Oxfam evaluation that the number of billionaires on Forbes’ list of business interests in the fossil fuels sector rose from 54 in 2010 to 88 in 2015, and their wealth expanded from more than $ 200 billion to more than $ 300 billion.
The steam rises from a coal-fired power plant in Germany.

But wealthy investors tend to sell their shares in climate-damaging industries known as exemptions.

More than 1,100 organizations and 59,000 individuals with combined assets totaling $ 8.8 trillion have pledged to get rid of fossil fuels through online traffic DivestInvest,,
Among them is the Hollywood actor Leonardo DiCaprio, signed the promise on behalf of himself and his entourage foundation as well as a group of 22 wealthy people from the Netherlands who pledged to remove their personal wealth from the top 200 oil, gas and coal companies.

“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.

There is more CO2 in the atmosphere today than at any point in human evolution

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.

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In May, a group of scientists I wrote up to 100 wealthy charities and families in the UK to claim an “extraordinary increase” in funding for environmental and climate issues.

“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.

Role model

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.

According to EU data, Ryanair is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the EU. The ranking includes power plants, manufacturing plants and aviation.
“We as a society must look for new ways to lead a ‘rich’ life that is independent of material wealth,” said Stephanie Moser of the University of Bern, Switzerland, who found that a person’s carbon footprint is better represented by his income than by his environmental beliefs.

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

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