The Rich Are to Blame for the Climate Crisis, International Study Finds
A new international study has pinpointed an enormous chasm in the amount of resources the rich use versus the poor — both within their own countries and compared to an international population, according to a new study published in the journal Nature Energy.
The researchers found that the wealthiest tenth of people use up about 20 times more overall energy than the bottom ten percent, no matter where they are, according to the BBC. The greatest part of the disparity is in transportation, where the wealthiest tenth consume 187 times more fuel than the poorest ten percent.
The researchers from the University of Leeds parsed data from the World Bank and the European Union to calculate the energy consumption of residents in 86 different countries, both highly industrialized and developing countries, according to the study. The researchers also looked at what energy-intensive goods and services different income groups use and how the different income groups spend their money.
The results showed a huge disparity in energy use as income climbs. The study found that as income climbs, people spend more of their money on energy-intensive goods, such as vacations or new cars or second homes that require heating and cooling — all of which leads to increased inequality in energy use, according to the study.
"There needs to be serious consideration to how to change the vastly unequal distribution of global energy consumption to cope with the dilemma of providing a decent life for everyone while, protecting climate and ecosystems," Julia Steinberger, a professor at the University Of Leeds and author on the paper, said in a University of Leeds statement.
The data showed that the top ten percent not only used 187 times the energy for transportation as the bottom ten percent, but the top ten percent actually used more than half the energy used for transportation. Most of that energy use came from fossil fuels, according to the University of Leeds.
When it came to energy use for cooking and heating, the disparity was not as great, but the wealthiest ten percent did use roughly one-third of the energy. That most likely came from the size of their home, according to the BBC.
"This study tells relatively wealthy people like us what we don't want to hear," Kevin Anderson, a professor from the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, England who was not involved in the study, said to the BBC. "The climate issue is framed by us high emitters – the politicians, business people, journalists, academics. When we say there's no appetite for higher taxes on flying, we mean we don't want to fly less. The same is true about our cars and the size our homes. We have convinced ourselves that our lives are normal, yet the numbers tell a very different story."
The authors of the study say the numbers show a need for policies that will curtail excess energy use. It shows a need for improved public transportation, higher taxes on bigger vehicles, and frequent flyer penalties for people who take the most vacations, according to the BBC.
While the world often wags a finger at China and India for their dependence on coal energy and their outsized contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the average citizen uses far less energy than most Europeans. The study found that only 2 percent of Chinese citizens and 0.02 percent of Indian citizens are in the top 5 percent of energy consumers.
That is a stark contrast from the UK where 20 percent of the public is in the top 5 percent. Germany has 40 percent of its citizens in the top 5 percent, while every single person in Luxembourg is in the top five percent, according to the study.
The research shows that the rich will have to change their behavior and their consumption habits for countries to wean themselves from fossil fuels and move to a zero-carbon economy.
"Growth and increased consumption continue to be core goals of today's politics and economics," Anne Owen, an author on the paper and a professor in the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds, said in a statement. "The transition to zero carbon energy will be made easier by reduction in demand, which means that top consumers will play an important role in lowering their excess energy consumption."
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As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
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With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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