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How The Rich and The Poor Manage Their Carbon Footprint


It’s always been a matter of taste and common sense not to throw everything to the garbage can after the first use (recycle), to drive fuel efficient cars and to refrain from causing damage to the environment. Here’s what people with totally different social statuses (rich and poor) do to control their own carbon trace.

The poor

A new study reveals that Chinese people actually care about their pollution habits, and the fact that the poor understand the environmental harm they do by collecting recyclables, reusing the bags and so on.

The study, published in the international journal AMBIO, contradicts the conventional wisdom that the poor can’t afford to protect the environment. “We feel it’s a major contribution to provide empirical evidence that environmental harm is one of the most important predictors of environmental behavior,” said Xiaodong Chen, who conducted the study while working on his doctorate at CSIS. “Environmental harm could be more important than economic status in predicting environmental behavior. If people are affected by degraded environmental conditions, then even people with low economic status still may sacrifice some economic benefit in order to protect the environment.”

People seem to react no matter of how much money they’ve got in their pockets when it comes to their own lifestyle and life quality being endangered. For example, the study also reveals that in 2005 alone there were some 1,000 protests per week in China related to environmental pollution.

Moreover, the people seem to be more engaged in pollution reduction behaviors only if they can easily control the actions to be done, such as reusing plastic bags or preaching environmental issues to others.

The rich

Intuitively, one would say that the people with lots of money will have a directly proportional carbon footprint. It’s easy to say that a private jet, used at will, or a Ferrari at full throttle will use more fossil fuel and hence emit more carbon dioxide than a cheap 1995 Volkswagen Golf, for example. On an absolute scale, it’s true. But only 1 percent of the people are rich, and only an even smaller percentage of them have such dirty habits.

A non-profit organization from Ottawa, Canada, analyzed data from the collection of a carbon tax in British Columbia, and found that (let’s plainly say it) rich people, constituting 1 percent of the population, have carbon emissions three times than the provincial average. Why? Because they afford to. By “rich” people we mean those with incomes 10 times higher than average.

New Scientist recently published a piece on this matter, and quoted the findings of British analyst and author Chris Goodall, who found out that the top 10 percent in the UK spend “nearly 6 times as much each week as the bottom 10 percent. Still their carbon footprint is only 2.4 times higher.”

Hence, a bigger income does not necessarily mean commensurately bigger carbon footprint, just like a bigger car doesn’t eat gas proportionally to its size – there’s this sweet spot present everywhere in natural laws at the peak of efficiency.

The rich, for example, may choose quality over quantity, which translates into more hours of work to make those goods. They also buy more food, but don’t each much more than the poor.

Now, the final question is: if everyone earned the same and ate the same (we’d all be rich), wouldn’t the carbon dioxide figures go through the roof? I’m not advocating anything here, but it’s just plain commonsense, and I think I’ve rediscovered the wheel: each social layer has their role in this complex gearing mechanism called “society.”

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