Wealthy and influential people should step up to tackle climate change

Scientists have urged through a paper that the wealthy and the influential should use everything at their disposal to have concrete steps taken to tackle climate change at the global level.

The study published in the journal Nature Energy identifies five ways that people of high socioeconomic status have a disproportionate impact on global greenhouse gas emissions – and therefore an outsized responsibility to facilitate progress in climate change mitigation. According to researchers consumers, investors, role models, organisational participants, and citizens, have the potential to mitigate climate change.

The study defines high socioeconomic status as a person’s position in the structure of society, including not only their wealth and income, but also their ‘social resources’, which include social class, occupation, and social network. It encompasses a much broader spectrum of people than just the super-rich, including everyone with an annual income of US $109,000 and above.

The climate impact of air travel is now well known, but over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions from flying are caused by just 1% of the world’s population. The study highlights the need to change social norms associated with frequent flying – usually by people of high socio-economic status – but also to look beyond their role as consumers.

Investments also provide an opportunity for those of higher socioeconomic status to mitigate climate change. Although attention has focused on shifting the investment of large pension funds away from fossil fuel companies, the researchers say that the investment portfolios of individuals – particularly those with immense wealth – can also have a very significant influence.

In addition, high socioeconomic status individuals – whether owners or employees – can help to mitigate climate change through their organisations, for example by changing suppliers, business culture and investments.

And as citizens, people of high socioeconomic status have the networks to help them organise social movements, and better access politicians and decision-makers. Their financial resources also help: making donations helps smooth the path to advancing social change.

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