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Experts: To curb climate change, get wealthy people to enact reforms

Researchers say that wealthy and well-connected people have a greater ability to push the conversation on climate change, at least partially because of their contribution to pollution -- such as the 50% of greenhouse gases linked to air travel being caused by 1% of the population. Photo by MichaelGaida/Pixabay
Researchers say that wealthy and well-connected people have a greater ability to push the conversation on climate change, at least partially because of their contribution to pollution -- such as the 50% of greenhouse gases linked to air travel being caused by 1% of the population. Photo by MichaelGaida/Pixabay

Sept. 30 (UPI) -- The wealthy have a larger carbon footprint than their well-off neighbors, multiple studies have confirmed.

According to new research, published Thursday in the journal Nature Energy, they also have a greater ability to enact change.

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For the new study, scientists identified five ways in which wealthy, well-connected people disproportionately impact global greenhouse gas emissions.

Because those with higher socioeconomic status bear a greater responsibility for warming trends and have a greater potential to precipitate progress, the authors of the new study insist it's imperative that governments and policy makers find ways to motivate behavioral changes among society's upper echelons.

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To identify those with high socioeconomic status, the researchers considered more than just a person's paycheck. They also accounted for a person's occupation, social status and social network.

"High socioeconomic status people aren't just those with more money, but those with stronger social networks," first author Kristian Nielsen said in a press release.

"Their connections can enable them to influence behaviors and policies to help mitigate climate change -- and we need to find ways to encourage them to do this," said Nielson, psychologist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge.

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The carbon footprint of wealthier people is primarily inflated by their consumption and travel patterns.

Studies have shown that the per capita energy usage in wealthier neighborhoods is significantly higher. Recent research also suggests just 1% of the world's population accounts for 50% of the greenhouse gas emissions from air travel.

People with high socioeconomic status have the potential to enact change outside their roles as consumers, researchers say in the new study.

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"People of higher socioeconomic status could also act as role models, making more climate-friendly choices that influence others -- for example driving electric cars or eating a vegan diet," said Nielsen. "You don't need a massive income to be a role model, you just need to be well-connected."

In addition to enacting change through their roles as consumers and role models, wealthy people can invest in global warming mitigation technologies, directing capital to solar power and other forms of clean energy.

Wealthy people can use more than just money. They can also use their positions of power to influence the purchasing decisions of business, as well as their large social networks to organize progress.

"Our study focused on people of high socioeconomic status because they have generated many of the problems of fossil fuel dependence and associated climate change, which affect the rest of humanity," Nielsen said.

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"And they are also well positioned to do something about it," Nielsen said.

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