If you care about climate change, forget offsets, green products, being vegetarian, etc. The real variable that's missing in climate talk is that the more you spend, the more total emissions you are creating. It’s that simple. If we want to half emissions, we need to spend half as much. Many workers, banks, governments, and businesses will suffer, but it’s the only true solution to climate change. Any other action is going to do is almost the same as doing nothing if your spending doesn’t drop.
Let’s use the US as an example, for every dollar you spend on average in the US, you are giving money to some group, and they will split that money among workers, owners, supplies, and governments in taxes. Those groups will then spend close to 100% of their income on additional products and salaries. Each dollar that is spent will produce close to the average CO2 output in aggregate, labor and taxes are high enough that it eats most of the purchase cost for most products and services. In the US this is 2,291 per metric ton of CO2. So, for every rough $2300 dollars someone spends in the United States, they will create 1 metric ton of CO2 on average.
You might think the products you buy don’t have this effect because they are:
* environmentally friendly
but, if they pay:
* tax to the government
and you end up spending more money than you would for your “non-sustainable” product, it's likely that the product has a worse overall effect on the environment because of how the money will be spent.
Here is the list of carbon outputs for large emission countries and the European Union. Your same spending in these countries (or for their products) will have a bigger environmental effect:
- USA - $2,291 per ton
- China - $435 per ton
- European Union (28 countries) - $3,712 per ton
- Russia - $632
- Japan - $3,374
- Canada - $2,348
- South Korea - $2,003
We can choose the emissions we create. By not spending less, we can complain and blame all we want, but instead I would challenge us all to look in the mirror instead of blaming others for the environmental disaster. If we’re rich or average income citizens and happy spending our money, as Americans or Europeans or wealthy educated elites, we are ruining the planet.
What you do with your saved money is up to you. If you invest the money, especially in oil companies, the returns for people who don't care about the environment will drop too, and you will get to vote on what companies do. Maybe there are environmental friendly companies where you investments would help, but it will take a lot of research. Lots of companies could sell themselves as green but if they spend a lot of money they are creating more emissions.
You can spend the money slower, meaning your emissions per year will decrease and you will make a positive impact, especially if you can convince others to spend less money too. Donating money is probably NOT a good way to lower your emissions, unless that donated money isn't spent on staff and physical products somehow but on higher multiple emission reductions.
You could buy oil barrels and store them, make the cost higher for others. It sounds counterintuitive but you can implement your own carbon tax by buying and storing lots of oil.
All these solutions will vary in impact based on how many people are doing them, but in general, saving money and not spending it is a high impact way to lessen your environmental impact. We need to get the conversation away from blame and political finger pointing to the actual action, and it's much less thinking to reduce your spending than measure the impact of spending, so start there.