The More Money You Make, the More Likely You Are to Contribute to Global Climate Change

Spoiler alert: it’s because of business travel.

Photo credit: Piper, CC BY 2.0.

Last week, we learned that CNBC had the sixth highest percentage of “wealthy readers,” aka “people who earn $150,000 or more per year:”

What Do Rich People Read Online?

So I immediately hopped on to CNBC to see what kind of special rich-people news was attracting six-figure earners to the site, and found this:

The best way to help combat climate change: Don’t be rich

The article is actually about behaviors that have the largest affect on global climate change—earning more money, in and of itself, has very little effect—and reports that… well, read it for yourself:

As you can see, your light bulbs and laundry verge on meaningless, carbon-wise. The only “high-impact” actions are ditching your car, flying less, switching to a plant-based diet, and, the biggie, not having a child.

I’m not sure why CNBC is correlating these actions with “non-rich people.” Let’s break ’em down: first, plenty of high-earners bike to work, especially if their offices offer showers and other amenities. They also work from home, or can afford to live close enough to walk to work, etc. (Does taking Uber to work every day count as “ditching your car?”)

Eating less meat is a good way to save money, sure, but it’s not strictly a lower-income thing. Plenty of rich people are vegetarian and vegan, and many people eat a plant-heavy diet for a variety of reasons.

And… um… I know that everyone is like “Millennials are putting off kids because they can’t afford them!” but the decision to have children is not as strictly correlated with income as this CNBC article suggests.

And then—after a couple of uncomfortable tangents about wealthy children vs. children born in so-called “developing countries”—we get to the real, actual takeaway of the piece.

It’s about air travel, which is the one “high-impact action” not yet covered:

But if some earnest Gen X climate activist cancels the family vacation to see the grandparents over carbon guilt, the Earth is not going to give a damn. What will matter is if a business executive decides to fly back and forth from New York to London once a week instead of twice, or once a month instead of weekly. And it will only matter if all the wealthy travelers make the same decision, consistently, over time.

So it’s not actually rich people, per se, that are causing global climate change—that is, it’s not the individual. It’s the system. It’s the workplace that demands constant travel. It’s the pressure of bosses and stakeholders to produce more every year. It’s capitalism, if you want to go that far.

Or we could just say it’s business travel, and then people like me who are only medium-high earners but still fly at least every other month can feel guilty too!

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