I was reading when suddenly information in the book along with other tidbits that have stuck in my brain from various sources gave me that Ah Ha moment where I realized the answer to a question I’ve asked myself for so long. Why don’t people care about climate change?
I was a small child when pictures of the Earth from space were first shown. I couldn’t get over what a beautiful planet we live on.
In contrast to our moon we inhabit paradise. How could anyone not want to care for this home of ours?
My feelings for the earth were intensified as I first held each of my children and yet again as I experienced birth from the other side, as more or less a spectator, when my grandchildren were born.
Before, when it was just me, I wanted to protect the earth for my own pleasure and enjoyment, now I want to protect the earth for them – my children and grandchildren and their grandchildren.
It’s with these deep feelings that I question often how others can ignore the problems of climate change or the pollution of our air, water and land.
My answer this week involves money, but not in the way you might think. Let me explain with figures.
- The top CEOs earn more than 350% more than those who work under them
- The average CEO pay is $12.4 million annually
- Chris Matthews, TV journalist, earns $100,000 per day
- The average global wage is $57 per day
- The average US wage is 5 times greater than the global wage.
These are striking figures. For simplicity, I decided to break the numbers down to see the contrast. I used 365 days as the number of working days. For some this might inflate the daily compensation for others reduce it. Not all CEOs work seven days a week yet some of the lowest wage earners hold multiple jobs and do work seven days per week. I didn’t adjust for vacations which the top wage earners are compensated for because part-time workers don’t receive vacation time.
- If the average CEOs earns $12.4 million then dividing that by 365 (days in a year) their daily compensation is $33,972.60
- If the average worker earns $57 per day the annual take home would be $20,805 per year.
What is so striking to me is that the CEOs take home more in one day than the average worker takes home in a year.
So what did these figures show me?
First I should say that my income falls close to the wages of the average worker. While I don’t often talk about my income, a hold over from the lessons learned as a child where pay was a private matter, as was savings, I decided sharing it today would show my bias on the topic I’m addressing.
My income varies from month to month but averages between $41 and $50 per day. I could make more if I wanted to work more but I prefer to have more free time instead. It is this figure, my earnings, compared against the above statistics that gave me some insight into the question of why all people aren’t concerned about climate change.
When you live on a lower income you must make choices in your purchases. You can’t just walk into a store and fill a cart with every item that catches your attention because you only have so much money on hand. You also can’t pull out that unlimited credit card and charge it because you probably don’t qualify for this type of credit.
In addition when you earn a lower income you will surround yourself with others who make a similar income. You will see the struggles of the average worker and have compassion for them. I believe it is because of that compassion that I am happy to give of my time to help another when I can. One example was gifting my time to restore a yard sale dresser for a foster child.
When you earn over $30,000 per day, yes, you will still have choices to make. If you choose to spend your money on a huge estate that costs you hundreds of thousands of dollars per month you will have less disposable income. But you will also have at your disposal unlimited credit where you can charge to your heart’s content.
Colin Beaven, in his new book How to Be Alive, mentioned how much fun he had one afternoon boating with a friend. He enjoyed it so much he bought himself a boat. He didn’t enjoy his boat and came to the conclusion that the time spent on repairs and upkeep could have been better spent renting a boat and enjoying time on the water. He sold his boat. But what if Beaven earned $12.4 million a year, would he have not bought a yacht and paid others to maintain the vessel so he could enjoy it when he had the time?
I wondered how I would live if I made $30,000 per day. What in the world would I do with that kind of money? There were the immediate items we all think of when the subject of winning a lottery comes up. I would pay off my house, pay off my children’s homes, put money in trust for the grandchildren to pay for college and help them start their adult lives and I would create a charity to give back to those who are less fortunate.
Would I start businesses with that kind of money to help my community? I honestly can’t say. Would I want to put in more hours working than I already was? I’d like to think I would.
At $30,000 a day it wouldn’t take me more than a few days to pay off my home and homes for my children. Then what?
I’d take that vacation I’ve always wanted to Ireland. I’d probably arrange to take my family as well. I’ve just added air pollution from the plane we would fly in. (I should mention that I have only been in a plane twice in my life). Now I’m not saying travel, even if it involves air travel, is a bad thing. Okay planes are heavy polluters that aside what I’m saying is my carbon footprint would go up from how I’ve been living.
As I write this my mind now goes blank. What would I want? What could I do with that money? I don’t know because I have everything I need and have reduced my wants over the years. If you had asked me what I would do with this kind of money a decade or two ago My first thought would be a spending spree of books, but even that wouldn’t make much of a dent in the money I had at my disposal. I was addicted to buying books. Today, if I had a book spree it would be at a used bookstore and I would limit the number of books brought home at any one time because I enjoy the uncluttered look of my home. I no longer desire overflowing shelves of books the way I once did.
If I worked a stressful job that compensated me in the thousands of dollars per day might I not want to spend that money? With the income I currently have it is easy to spend my money on experiences. This summer I’ll be sharing a day at the zoo with the grandchildren but most of our experiences will be sharing time together over spending money. If I worked long hours and had little time to give to my family would I not spend money buying “stuff” to replace the time I was away from them? And that stuff comes with a carbon footprint which as a result further speeds up climate change.
When my son worked a stressful job that provided him a middle class income, he felt the need to shop and fill his home with things. He bought his children more toys to make up for his time away from them. He says he felt he deserved to treat himself, and his family, because he hated the hours and politics of his job. He was compensating for the stress by consuming yet he freely admits the things he bought delivered very little satisfaction once the purchase was made resulting in his wanting even more to relieve the feeling that he was missing out in life due to his job.
Even though my son grew up exposed to my feelings about the earth, even though he too cares about the condition of our earth, now even more for his children’s sake, when he was stressed and worn down from a job he clearly took for the money, not for the personal satisfaction, he ignored the environment and made decisions he wouldn’t make today. He also admits that he felt trapped by the job. He knew there were limited jobs out there that would compensate him equally. He felt trapped by the house he was able to purchase with his earnings from this highly stressful job and fearful of taking that away from his children should he leave this job.
I thought about the latest oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I should stop to mention that a Greenpeace activist told Thom Hartman this week that in the years between the BP spill and last week’s spill there have been 10,000 other minor spills. The CEO of Shell, company responsible for the latest spill, would fall in that category of one of the top CEOs earning millions a year. Does he feel trapped by the status his position has provided for him and his family? Maybe. From my point of view he could easily put aside a huge amount of $12.4 million this year to start a new life away from the fossil fuel industry but what if he got so caught up in spending that he’s now deeply in debt and fears how his family would react if he suddenly changed their economic status by leaving this job? Does he have to tell himself a story, one where his job isn’t responsible for climate change, just to be able to go to work each day?
My point is once you are compensated with such a large amount of money, an amount most of us can’t get our heads around, you will find a way to spend it. Until we as a society level the playing field, reducing the income gap between the top one percent and the rest of us, we won’t have consensus on how to address climate change.
Until recently the mayor of Miami denied climate change, then he was shown photographs of the coast line over a period of several decades. He saw the coast slowly disappearing and his views immediately changed.
When a large majority of people work long hours, regardless of income, and spend more hours indoors than out they won’t notice the environment changing. They can see increases in the cost of living, their bills go up, food costs more, sure, but they won’t see that this year the trees were late blooming. They won’t notice it will rain soon because the trees have turned their leaves up to catch the water or that there are fewer songbirds visiting their neighborhood. They won’t stop to smell the flowers because they are too tired or rushed. We are disconnected from nature as a direct result of chasing the almighty dollar to fund a way of life we have become accustomed to.
I realize that the worst thing that can happen to us is to have runaway climate change. The worst is already happening and yet almost half the population of the US still denies climate change or that it is intensified by human action. I must conclude that until climate change directly impacts all of us those who deny human causation, and those who form policy, are going to continue to deny until climate change directly impacts them and their way of life.