Eat the rich & billionaire philanthropy

Billioniare philanthropy and a quiz to see how rich you are

Usually, the themes of our Changeletters are innocuous like “plastic” or “food” or “transportation” but I’m feeling spicy today.

August’s theme is EAT THE RICH!!

Content warning: this month’s Changeletter might nudge you to re-examine your own life and privilege, and alas, encourage you to eat… yourself. Oh no I’m sorry

I was going to make this month’s topic about sustainable event planning but then it struck me how I actually have a lifestyle where I can invest in sustainable wedding planning — and I realized I have to take a huge step back.

August is all about looking at the real culprit of carbon emissions. Yes Jeff Bezos, but we’ll also see where we stand. Eat the rich or the rich eat you, so let’s feast!

Today, we’ll talk about the carbon footprint of rich people. Cardi’s footprint’s got red bottom’s and it’s not doing us any favors 👠

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Wealthier people produce more carbon pollution (yes, you xoxo)

🎯 Action step 1 of 4: READ — Let's start by looking at a few articles together.

Time for our READ module on Eat the Rich. Every month, we use this module to take a look at the facts and ground ourselves in an article (or two or three).

Each of the facts below is linked to one of three articles. Pick the article that resonates most with you — your bite-sized action is to read ONE of these articles.

  1. Celebrities are truly wildin out here.

    Kim Kardashian recently took a 17-minute trip on her cashmere-lined private jet… which emitted 2 tons of CO2. Look up “average global carbon footprint” and be shocked at what this means. (Source — Soapbox Project Journal)

  2. Billionaires who are “climate advocates” are… very confusing.

    Bill Gates — who wrote a book about climate change and does charity etc. etc. took 59 flights in 2017, covering a distance more than eight times around the world – generating more than the equivalent of the yearly emissions of 105 Americans. Just his flights!! (Source — BBC’s Carbon Cost)

  3. However, the billionaire might be YOU.

    Ok, you’re not a billionaire, but maybe you ARE part of the global elite, as peasant-like as you may feel typing this newsletter on a Tuesday evening. As soon as you fly, you belong to a global elite," says Eat the Rich expert Stefan Gössling. More than 90% of people in the world have never flown! (Source — BBC’s Carbon Cost)

  4. Green intentions ≠ green impacts… sad

    Ecological footprint is determined mostly by wealth. As much as we like bringing along our reusable straw, this action is overruled by our lifestyle choices like flying, driving, and eating factory-farmed meat. Here’s a not-fun fact:

    ”Environmental identity will lead to some relatively low-impact (high-signaling) pro-environmental behaviors, but it rarely drives serious reductions in the biggest sources of lifestyle emissions. Environmental self-identification rises with income, but so do emissions.” (Source — Vox on “green” wealthy people)

  5. Choice editing, which prevents certain products coming to the market, is one possible solution to our overconsumption mess.

    VERY IMPORTANT note: NONE of this is to say your individual choices don’t matter. They do! Especially if you’re part of the global elite (e.g. you’ve been on a plane before), this means you can influence other members of the global elite.

    But beyond our own actions, choice editing can be a powerful tool. This is where “governments restrict carbon-intensive products – like private jets or mega yachts – from coming to market in the first place. The idea is low-carbon options, many of which already exist, will fill the gap.” Hot take, but choice editing is already happening all around us. (Source — BBC’s Carbon Cost)

Many challenges lie ahead of us. We might find it hard to palate our complicity in the problem. Richer people might use all their wealth to lobby against sustainable policies (which is currently what’s happening). It might be difficult to find the courage to talk about our lifestyle choices with our friends.

Good news — there will be some EASY action steps ahead of us in our ACT module two weeks from now!

Again, here are your three bite-sized action reading choices before we move on:

  1. We should care about Kim Kardashian’s private jet — Soapbox Project
  2. How the rich are driving climate change — BBC’s Carbon Cost
  3. Wealthier people produce more carbon pollution — even the “green” ones — Vox

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 1 of 4: READ.

What about billionaire philanthropy?

🎯 Action step 2 of 4: LISTEN — we'll watch a short video or listen to a podcast to further expand on our topic.

Last module, we talked about eating the rich yum yum and you chose to read one of 3 articles.

But what about philanthropists? Shouldn’t we be eternally grateful to people like Bill Gates who donate their wealth to save us all?

That’s what today’s LISTEN module will cover. Should we eat the rich, and does that include philanthropists who are Using Their Money To Do Good?

Enough dilly dallying! Let’s get right to it.

Actually, one small dilly dally: if you loved the Kim Kardashian article last week, Gabrielle is out with her next Pop Climate article on why it matters that Drew Barrymore loves the rain.

Now, time to decide which rich people to eat or not!

Watch this video and then decide... which rich do you want to eat?

Always, some key takeaways are below!

Ready for the verdict? Here's what we learned from the video:

  • Billionaire philanthropists benefit from donating $

    This is through 3 main ways: imagine whitewashing, financial consolidation, and building influence. Donations help billionaires boost their public image, get HUGE tax write-offs which robs the government + public of money, and get to make big-ticket donations and get more say in what priorities non-profits should focus on. Money is tied to power and many organizations are being dragged away from radical change since they now depend on billionaire philanthropy. Undemocratic to the max 🚀

  • Exploitative practices make people rich. Why should they dismantle this system?

    There’s really no systemic incentive for billionaires to dismantle extractive capitalism. The same system that’s made these people rich is exactly what’s fueling climate change. The richest 1% cause DOUBLE the emissions of the world’s poorest 50%. As we talked about in the previous module, wealth is closely tied to emissions!

  • The ultra-wealthy are really not “doing their part”.

    A study showed that the richest 20 people gave only .8% of their wealth in 2018. As the video says, billionaires are “spending millions to mask the harm they cause making billions.” 🤯

  • Billionaire climate solutions over-index on technological solutions and ignore systems change.

    See above bullet “why should they dismantle this system”.

We need real change from real people. Movement- and community-building is critical to the world we want to live in. In the READ module, I mentioned that if you’ve ever taken a flight on a plane, you are part of the global elite. Well, this is GREAT NEWS! We might not be ultra-rich like Bill Gates, Elon Musk, or Jeff Bezos, but we’re in the perfect position to make a difference.

We have WAY more power (and money) than we realize, and we are experiencing Real People issues. It’s time for us to step up and use our voices for change, so let’s get on our soapboxes and make a real difference. Next, we’ll talk about how!

In conclusion: yes, we can include philanthropists in our meal plan of eating the rich. Yum!! Tell me what seasonings you’re using. This is my favorite one.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 2 of 4: LISTEN.

Quiz: how rich are you?

🎯 Action step 3 of 4: ACT — Now it's time to do something. Let's go!

I apologize in advance with the low-grade chaos of this range of actions. Have fun!!

  1. 10 sec | Check yourself before you wreck your… planet

    You may have heard the phrase “check your privilege” before with respect to race, but climate privilege is a thing too.

    We'll go into this more in our REFLECT module, but for now, answer one simple question for yourself: How Rich Am I?

  2. 5 min+ | Conduct a lifestyle audit

    I'm still trying to define what a "lifestyle audit" means for me, but right now, I'm trying to see the bigger picture of where I fit in on the global scale - carbon emissions and all. Yes, no one individual is responsible for the climate crisis, BUT, the more we emit, the more control we likely have over solutions. I love using Joro, which shows you how your spending habits stack up with carbon emissions. It's a very helpful tool in deciding how much to fret (or not) over my own life choices.

  3. 1 day | Make it a PRIORITY to shift where your money lives.

    You've heard me say this MULTIPLE times already. Switching where you bank/invest, either fully or partially, is one of the simplest high-impact steps to take, especially since many of us ARE the “rich” in “eat the rich”. Our actions absolutely matter, and I want to help you — if you haven’t switched your bank/investment account(s) yet, what’s stopping you?

    💡I used Mighty Deposits to switch my bank and Carbon Collective for my investment accounts.

  4. Fund culture change.

    The great thing about having climate privilege is that WE are in charge of the world we’re building. I find it really important to put aside money each month/year for cultural shifts I want to see. A few examples in my own life include contributing monthly to Grist, which reports on climate solutions, Wikipedia, which keeps info free, and most recently, I’m contributing to Create the Future’s crowdfunding campaign. You should too — this climate anthology is amazing.

  5. Ban billionaires.

    I have to be honest — this is a placeholder action because it’s an entire topic that requires policy change. So join Climate Changemakers, our partner who is incredible at making policy easy for anyone to get involved in.

    If you live in the United States, you can also check out Represent Us, an org working on campaign finance reform.

  6. Find small ways to eat the rich #TheSnackThatSmilesBack

    Your voice matters, and there are SO many people who care about what you have to say, whether you know it or not. Find small ways to (gently?) call out overconsumption. This can be really small, like when your friends dream about buying a bigger house, maybe you share YOUR dream of a resilient future!

    Or when rich and famous lifestyles are glamorized, push back on why this wastefulness is "cool".

Ok that was a lot of hodge-podgey but relevant Eat the Rich actions, so let’s take a break and regroup for next week’s REFLECT module to wrap up this series. We'll dive a little deeper into climate privilege.

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 3 of 4: ACT.

Before we go any further, it's time for you to pledge your commitment. It takes less than 30 seconds to pledge and we can bother you about it in a friendly way, so we can hold each other accountable. Pledge here!

🎯 Action step 4 of 4: REFLECT — what can you commit to? What fresh perspectives can we look at?

Netflix just put out a show called Love, Death & Robots. I watched the first episode yesterday and it was… very timely for the content we’re running this month. There is literally a scene that is about eating the rich. I'm not kidding.

Watch the episode “Three Robots: Exit Strategies” from Volume 3 — it really does leave a lot of room for reflection. The episode is only 15 mins long, and I’ll leave you with some reflection questions below.

Here's the direct Netflix link if you need it:

Some things to noodle on:

  • How does your How Rich Am I? result from our ACT module make you feel? In general? In the context of the video?
  • What do you think about the narrative the episode tells about humans and their role in the apocalypse? What role do you think humans will play in the future — apocalypse, redemption, or both?
  • If you were to write this episode, how would you reimagine it?

Ok bye see you next time, take a deep breath, touch some grass, go see the sun, and BE WELL <333

🏁 Checkpoint: This is the end of action step 4 of 4: REFLECT.

Check out our membership community for more resources like free weekly events with social justice experts, sustainable product discounts, pre-written email templates, a social impact job board, and in-person hangouts with new friends. Thanks for taking action with Soapbox Project!

Fight climate change in a way that works for you.

💌 Thinking about sustainability can be overwhelming after a busy workday, so we're here to help. Join over 7,000 other busy people and subscribe to Changeletter, a bite-sized action plan that'll take you 3 minutes or less to read every week.
Headshot of Ash Borkar (a woman with glasses and a cardigan)
"The info is always timely, actionable, and never stale." - Aishwarya Borkar,
Headshot of Meghan Mehta speaking at Google with a microphone in her hand
"Making social change always felt so overwhelming until I started reading this newsletter." - Meghan Mehta, Google

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