Wealthy friends! Here’s your chance to save the planet
Updated: May 25
Private planes, multiple luxury cars, steak dinners at restaurants, far-flung vacations a few times a year: What do these have in common? They are components of a lifestyle many did and do aspire to. But there’s another thing these components have in common - and that’s a significant damaging effect on our planet.
The jet setting, lavish lifestyle associated with affluence, and the global elite is perhaps not shockingly, a high carbon, high emission lifestyle. But are we aware of just how much this takes a toll on the environment?
Oxfam estimated that the wealthiest 10% of people (anyone who makes more than $38,000 USD annually) around the world are responsible for 50% of global greenhouse gas emissions and have a carbon footprint that is 11 times the carbon footprint of the poorer half of the world. The 1%? They have a carbon footprint that is 175 times that of the poorest 10% of people around the world.
The wealthier you are, the more likely you are to be part of the ‘carbon elite’ as Dr. Kimberly Nicholas has recently dubbed wealthy, high emitters. This is thanks to a lifestyle that tends to involve more flying, meat (particularly beef) consumption, and owning and driving multiple cars. The 1% of people who fly most often are responsible for half of all air travel-related emissions (aviation is responsible for 2% of global emissions, and more worryingly, 7.2% of atmospheric warming effects.)
While many people are understandably skeptical about focusing on individuals when companies and corporations are responsible for a large part of global emissions, we agree with Dr. Nicholas that high emitters, rather than the working class or people struggling to make ends meet, have to start thinking particularly seriously about the impact of their lifestyles on the planet, and commit to taking action.
“We all have to take responsibility for what we can control,” Nicholas said in an interview with Grist. “And people like me, and like my friends from college who I initially started writing this book for, are one of the major sources of emissions.” Nicholas herself has committed to flying less by traveling in Europe exclusively via train while another researcher Kim Cobb now rides her bike to work every day rather than drive.
For those with the means to make changes, cutting back or making more affordable switches such as reducing meat twice a week from your diet, traveling by carpool or by public transit, as well as more expensive purchases such as retrofitting your home with new energy-efficient heating and cooling utilities, or installing solar panels on your roof will make a significant impact in cutting down on your carbon footprint.
And if you’re in the 1%, you can bet that those changes add up. The wealthiest 1% of the globe emits 5.4 gigatonnes of CO2 every year. That’s 15% of global emissions and the equivalent to the United States’ carbon footprint! If half of the world’s wealthiest 1% cut their CO2 emissions in half through lifestyle changes, that would be equivalent to cutting out India’s 2016 CO2 emissions (the 3rd biggest polluter in the world) from global carbon emissions.
We agree with Dr. Nicholas that taking climate action doesn’t end with individual action either! While it is important to think about the ramifications of our lifestyle choices, we don’t have to stop there. We won’t be able to make the infrastructure changes needed as individuals after all...
Along with making crucial lifestyle changes where we can, let’s also up-our-game on holding systemic polluters and emitters, such as banks and fossil-fuel energy companies, responsible for moving us into a cleaner, greener future. We can also work to make sure our governments see the urgency of climate action and fund the necessary infrastructure to meet net emissions and improve the quality of life for future generations, especially those who already live with the consequences of climate change.
Feeling inspired? Looking for a place to help you understand and reduce lifestyle-based emissions? Join us in taking part in the #CaptureChallenge for the month of April on Instagram and shrink your carbon footprint by 7.6% by tracking your diet and transportation choices.