We often hear about industrial factories and fossil fuel plants releasing tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but how often do we talk about the carbon footprint of the world’s richest one percent? According to the Washington Post, climate experts believe that the world’s most affluent need to reduce their footprint by thirty percent to help slow climate change. In fact, the wealthiest ten percent are responsible for an entire half of the world’s greenhouse gases. Internationally, the top one percent makes more than 871,320 USD, but the wealthiest ten percent only earns 93,170 USD a year. Additionally, one need only earn 4,210 USD annually to be richer than half of the world’s population. The massive divide between the top one and ten percent illustrates the massive wage gap in the world, which is almost directly proportional to their susceptibility to climate change. In contrast, the poorest half of the population (which comprises 3.5 billion people) is only responsible for ten percent of the world’s carbon emissions. However, their communities are also the most susceptible to climate change.
The disparity between the amount of various social classes’ carbon emissions can be attributed to factors such as more travel, energy intensive homes, and an increased amount of red meat in diets. Most Americans use cars, emitting 8,887 grams of carbon dioxide per gallon of gasoline. However, many wealthy individuals use private jets, resulting in a spike in their carbon footprint. An average plane emits around 53 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile. However, depending on the model of the aircraft, private jets can emit ten to forty times as much carbon dioxide as a regular passenger plane. Wealthier people also tend to have more energy intensive homes. According to the U.S Energy Information Administration, more than half of the energy used in homes is for heating and cooling systems. Almost 90% of American homes contain A/C units, most of them were put in place before the year 2000. The older technology is detrimental to our environment and contributes to around 25% of global greenhouse emissions. Additionally, livestock contributes to around 14.5% of emissions. While meat is not essential for our survival, it is very common in the diets of wealthier people. Around 360 million tonnes of meat are consumed annually, amounting to 7.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide. The carbon footprint varies for different meats. For example, lamb emits 6.5 times as much carbon dioxide as tuna. Those with more money tend to eat more land animals such as poultry or beef, emitting more carbon dioxide than those whose diets incorporate more fish.
We do not have the power to outlaw everything that harms our climate, but we must make the conscious decision to help the environment. In America, the average car costs 40,000 USD. Instead of purchasing a car that runs on gasoline, buy an electric car. The cheapest electric car is currently the 2020 Mini Cooper SE, starting at 30,000 USD. Additionally, Tesla, a world renowned electric vehicle company, sells their Tesla Model 3 for only 38,000 USD. Additionally, instead of eating red meat, use meat substitutes such as Beyond Meat. Brands like these provide environmentally friendly food that still taste like meat. A diet without meat produces 41.7% less carbon dioxide than one with meat. Finally, look to more eco friendly ways to cool and heat your house. Some climate advocates such as Hank Green have even opted to not use their A/C system and are simply putting on more layers during the winter. However, solar and geothermal systems are both environmentally friendly options. While the prices of these systems are generally higher than the average heating and cooling system, you must again make the decision to sacrifice comfort for the well being of our planet.
As wealth increases, quality of life goes up as well, thus leading to a higher carbon footprint. Luxury carbon emitters owned by the top 1% such as the private jet add tons of unnecessary carbon dioxide to our atmosphere. While the richest 10% are responsible for half of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, we should still remember the impact of our own carbon footprint. Although we cannot force the extremely wealthy to give up parts of their extravagant lifestyles, we can contribute to our environment by reducing our own carbon footprint.
Dennis, Brady, et al. "The World's Rich Need to Cut Their Carbon Footprint by a Factor of 30 to Slow Climate Change, U.N. Warns." The Washington Post, 9 Dec. 2020,
"Extreme Carbon Inequality." Oxfam Media Briefing, PDF ed., 2 Dec. 2015.
Vidal, John. "Climate Change Will Hit Poor Countries Hardest, Study Shows." The Guardian, 27 Sept. 2013, www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/sep/27/climate-change-poor-countries-ipcc.
Elkins, Kathleen. "How Much Money You Need to Be Part of the 1 Percent Worldwide." CNBC, 2 Nov. 2018, www.cnbc.com/2018/11/01/how-much-money-you-need-to-be-part-of-the-1-percent-worldwide.html.
Willow, Francesca. "The Emissions of Private Jets and Why It's Time for a Carbon Tax." Ethical Unicorn, 29 Apr. 2020, ethicalunicorn.com/2020/04/29/the-emissions-of-private-jets-why-its-time-for-a-carbon-tax/#:~:text=The%20report%20estimated%20that%20Gates,than%20five%20tonnes%20per%20person.
Gustin, Georgina. "As Beef Comes under Fire for Climate Impacts, the Industry Fights Back." Inside Climate News, 21 Oct. 2019, insideclimatenews.org/news/21102019/climate-change-meat-beef-dairy-methane-emissions-california/.
"Fight Climate Change by Going Vegan." PETA, www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/global-warming/#:~:text=Researchers%20with%20Loma%20Linda%20University,gases%20than%20meat%2Deaters%20do.
"Use of Energy Explained: Energy Use in Homes." EIA, 4 Aug. 2020, www.eia.gov/energyexplained/use-of-energy/homes.php.
Copyright © 2020 Change the End - All Rights Reserved.