The Rich Must Change
The rich need to make more dramatic behavioral changes to save the planet.
This isn’t the full picture. Developing countries emit CO2 to produce goods consumed by developed countries: this trade pattern has existed for centuries. So after looking at where emissions are consumed rather than where they are produced, the US had the highest per capita emissions at 17.6 tons/capita in 2019, while China had 10.5. Remember “per capita.” Always, always remember capita before throwing stones.
In the end, it comes down to the global affluent. Their wasteful consumption habits drive the climate change problem. For the past three decades, the world’s richest 10 percent have contributed to more than half of the global cumulative carbon emissions. During the same time, the top 1 percent has caused fifteen percent of emissions, which is more than half of what the poorest 50 percent contribute.
Billionaires are culprits. I do not complain here — at all — about their billions. I complain about how those billions get used. To match their CO2 emissions, the average American would need 550 lifetimes. The cause of environmental harm is not affluence in itself, but what people choose to do with their money.
There are great examples of alternative behavior. Chuck Feeney, who founded Duty-Free Shoppers, not only donated billions of his money for philanthropy but also lives modestly in San Francisco in an apartment “that has the austerity of a freshman dorm room.” No yachts. No private jets. No multiple large houses. No huge wardrobe. No battalion of luxury cars.
As for me: I have made significant changes to my own behavior and will continue to do so. There is a long way to go. But I am trying.