EAST LANSING, Mich. — A recent study published in the journal Nature Energy reports that the wealthiest 1 percent worldwide are both the cause of and possible solution to climate change
“As the result of the burning of fossil fuels, we're seeing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases building up in the atmosphere, which is trapping heat from the sun," said Michigan Climate Action Network Executive Director Kate Madigan. "We're seeing temperatures rising globally and we're not only seeing temperatures rising, this is having effects on our hydro logical systems.”
Madigan said, here in Michigan, we're seeing increased rainfall and warming waters due to the trapped gases in the atmosphere.
“This summer the metro Detroit area experienced multiple major storms, including a flooding event that was the second 500 year flood in just seven years," Madigan said. "These storms flooded thousands of homes, damaged property, stranded a thousand cars on the roads and caused at least five major power outages that affected hundreds of thousands of people.”
And we're not the only ones.
“We saw extreme heat events that devastated the West in the Pacific Northwest killing hundreds of people," Madigan said. "We're seeing more intense hurricanes and other weather events like hurricane Ida that killed at least 82 people in Louisiana, and then it moved to the east coast and caused flooding there."
Thomas Dietz, a distinguished professor of sociology at Michigan State University, said it's not that these things "have never happened in Earth's history, but they're very different than the kind of climate that we've dealt with the last 100 or 200 years."
Dietz along with four other researchers around the globe conducted a study to see who's contributing to the warming atmosphere.
“About half of the release of so called greenhouse gases, these trapping gases really are the result of actions that are undertaken by the highest socio-economic status people in the world, the richest 1percent, for example,” Dietz said.
Dietz said the wealthiest 1 percent worldwide includes anyone who has an income of over $110,000 a year, but they're not the only contributors.
“The wealthier 1 percent accounted for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions, which means that everybody else accounts for another half,” Dietz ssaid.
The study found that poorer people don't always have the means to make changes in their lifestyles to combat climate change. The wealthier 1 percent do, both in terms of their own consumption and that of the organizations they have an influence on.
“What we do as role models matters," Dietz said. "People pay attention to our friends and neighbors behaviors and so that that can be important to, and most of us are in organizations. We work in organizations. We may belong to churches, we may belong to community groups, and through all those different things, we can have an influence on climate change.”
Madigan said there's a lot happening in Michigan to combat climate change.
“Governor Whitmer, about a year ago, she set a goal and through executive action, set a goal for Michigan to be carbon neutral by 2050," Madigan said. "This means we will move our all of our electricity to clean renewable sources like solar and wind, and then we'll electrify everything, all of our transportation, our vehicles, and our home heating our furnaces and air conditioners.”
There are also things you can do as an individual.
“Driving less, walking and biking more, buying an electric vehicle," Madigan said. "The next time you're ready to purchase a vehicle, invest in renewable energy on your own. If you can, put solar panels on your house.”
While it might not feel like you're making a difference individually, Dietz said, together we can make change.
“When you multiply that by 128 million households in the US, that matters a lot," Dietz said. "So if each of us do our share, together, a lot happens.”