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In a previous part of my life, to reduce my environmental footprint, I consciously kept my salary low. My thinking was, even saving the money wouldn't help, as banks would invest them in energy demanding projects.

I am under the assumption that businesses should report salary levels as part of their GHG reporting. Whilst that would be at an aggregate level, for the individual, what's the connection between salary level and environmental footprint?

Simply put: If I get a significant pay rise (e.g. 30K USD), will I realistically be able to avoid this affecting my carbon impact? If yes, how?

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One argument would be that the more money you have control of the more you can direct it towards less carbon-intensive aims. (Of course this is also an argument the effective altruists make, but they all turned out to be much less than altruistic.)

You assume that if you put your higher salary into savings banks will use it for evil, but not all banks/building societies are equal. At one end of the spectrum is HSBC/Barclays, but at the other end of the spectrum there are cooperatively owned building societies with the explicit aim of funding projects for the social good.

The other alternative is to use your higher salary in a different way. Maybe you can trade it off for time. I.e. if you take a salary increase but decrease your working hours so your pro-rata income remains the same, you have then freed up time you can spend on volunteering/sustainability projects/growing your own food/etc.


One of the drivers behind the correlation between wealth and carbon impact is that they will be using their investments to seek the highest returns without regard for social consequences, which as you rightly point out, will be carbon/energy-intensive.

But the other driver is more direct - high levels of consumption. Richer people use more energy at home (swimming pools, higher heating levels, more demand for cooling), more for transport (cars, multiple cars, flights), conspicuous consumption (lobsters flown in from Maine) and so on.

You're in control of what you spend your money on so if you feel you can live the same lifestyle as you do now despite getting richer at least the consumption part of your emissions won't increase.

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Simply put: If I get a significant pay rise (e.g. 30K USD), will I realistically be able to avoid this affecting my carbon impact? If yes, how?

If you live in a house you own, you can invest this money in energy efficiency. For example, you could improve home insulation, replace fossil-fuel based central heating by renewable central heating (heat pump), good quality solar photovoltaic arrays, and/or sodium batteries. It's not difficult to invest 6-digit amounts of €/£/$ into energetic home improvements. If you live too far from the equator to be self-sufficient with solar energy in winter and you really have some money you can and want to invest, you can consider seasonal energy storage where you produce hydrogen using surplus solar energy in summer, and generate electricity from that in winter. In Germany such systems are on the market, but expect to pay at least €100k.

If you drive a car a lot and you really, really cannot avoid doing so, replacing an ICE-based car by an electric car pays off environmentally. Of course, avoiding driving a car is much better. You could get an electric freight bike. The high-end ones have 5-digit price tags.

Beyond direct personal use, you can invest in (local) energy cooperatives that build citizen-owned wind turbines, solar energy plants, and electricity storage. This you can do even if the investments mentioned in the previous paragraphs are too expensive.

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  • Indeed. If I was earning a little less, I wouldn't dare raid my savings to pay for solar panels because I wouldn't be able to build them back up again in a reasonable timeframe even with their effect on reducing my outgoings.
    – Chris H
    Commented Feb 12 at 16:12
  • @ChrisH Pushing to install more renewable capacity is not necessarily a direct promotion of sustainability - as long as overall energy demand in society keeps growing and growing we will still not be on a path to sustainability. Everyone serious about sustainability should read up on Jevons' Paradox. Also there's an article titled "The Home-Solar Boom Gets a 'Gut Punch'" on how the economics of installing renewables has hit a kind of plateau because demand isn't keeping up (because traditional energy-hog activities - home and industrial - are not switching to electric fast enough).
    – Don Joe
    Commented May 8 at 12:59
  • @DonJoe yes, though I'm not sure if this is exactly the right place for the details. Renewables and efficiency improvements are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for decarbonisation. The rest i politically hard with is why a technological approach is an easy sell - electrified business as usual, which is particularly obvious in the push for electric cars rather than sensible transport.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 8 at 15:33
  • ...Here in the UK there's a lot of room for efficiency savings on domestic heating, that would also have health/social benefits, but no political will. OTOH in my case I've only had my panels a few weeks, and have so far managed to save quite a bit of direct gas consumption as well as producing and storing essentially all my electricity (and giving away 15-20kWh mot days because I'm waiting on the paperwork to get paid for it)
    – Chris H
    Commented May 8 at 15:35
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I believe you would - and there are a number of ways you can do this -

You may be able to use the additional funds to reduce your carbon footprint (Putting solar power on your roof, converting appliances to greener technologies, switching to an EV if its not a step backward for you) - and even if you can't, you can invest/spend the money in ways that will reduce others footprint. This varies from supporting projects that reduce CO2 emissions to financing green initiatives.

Making some reasonable (but maybe wrong) assumptions that you have a typical job - I could go so far as to argue that you SHOULD take a raise to reduce the worlds carbon footprint. If you don't take the raise, the money will still be invested/spent - only in ways you don't control - and are more likely to increase the carbon footprint

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More salary = more investment in knowledge = smarter utilization of energy sources. Being a high salary taker myself, i am pretty aware of recycling and waste management. on a level, we are also consciously using the electricity and water as compared to others.. this is my personal experience

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Oh no, a salary raise is an excellent way to decrease your environmental impact. Don't consume it on a generous lifestyle, though. Maintain your existing lifestyle and invest the raise into something sustainable.

I agree that there are still banks that don't take into account the environmental impacts of the loans they give to other companies or private persons. However, there are banks that are starting to take this into account too, and in fact keeping the money in a bank is probably the stupidest possible way to maintain its value. Instead, you should invest into stocks, and not any stocks but stocks that increase in value as green energy becomes more common.

The world requires nearly 100 000 billion USD to provide electricity in a green manner to the future population. And that isn't even counting all of the electrification required to make steelmaking and other industrial processes previously using fossil fuels to use electricity or hydrogen instead. Furthermore, this doesn't count the amount of money invested to convert all vehicles on the road into electric vehicles. Also, this doesn't count the CO2 capture needed in cement manufacturing. So the total figure is more like 200 000 billion USD.

Not all of that is something you can do. For example, cars are predominantly owned by private persons and there's no way you can affect their decisionmaking. But at least the over 100 000 billion USD needed to convert all energy assets owned by companies into sustainable ones is something you can affect, because most large companies are public companies listed in the stock market.

So all you need to do is to invest into companies that are doing good for the environment. This includes energy storage using pumped hydro, hydrogen, sand batteries or lithium ion batteries, energy production using wind power, solar power or hydropower, companies making all of the needed components like wind turbines, solar panels/cells, heat pumps, electrolyzers, hydrogen power plants, hydropower turbines, lithium ion batteries, electric vehicles etc. So a lot of stuff to invest into.

I can assure you that unless you are planning to earn over 100 000 billion USD in your lifetime, that you will find enough green energy projects to invest your money into.

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