People stand on a street flooded with rain water.

How the Rich Fuel the Climate Crisis

The month of April kicked off with a week of global demonstrations from more than 1,000 scientists in over 25 countries. Scientists in Madrid were arrested after throwing fake blood on the facade of the National Congress of Spain. Scientists chained and glued themselves to the street in Berlin, Germany, blocking the Kronprinzenbrücke Bridge for four hours. In Washington, D.C., scientists were arrested after chaining themselves to the White House. Two days later, they marched down I-395 at rush hour and were arrested again. The Los Angeles Police Department deployed upwards of 50 cops in riot gear against four scientists who chained themselves to a Chase Bank office building before arresting them (Twitter). The demonstrations, ahead of Earth Day, were carried out by the Scientist Rebellion, a coalition of activists with scientific backgrounds who use civil disobedience to advocate for climate action. The goal was to start a climate revolution that would stoke immediate mobilization and government action to prevent the climate and ecological crisis from accelerating. Continual inaction would result in devastating climate-related disasters, with marginalized people globally feeling the brunt.

“We’ve been trying to warn you guys for so many decades that we’re heading towards a fucking catastrophe, and we’ve been being ignored,” NASA scientist Peter Kalmus said (Yahoo News). “The scientists of the world are being ignored, and it’s got to stop. We’re not joking. We’re not lying. We’re not exaggerating.”


• If you’re a scientist or academic, sign the Scientist Rebellion’s Demand Letter pushing for a climate revolution to help gain support for climate change mobilization.

• Donate to organizations like West Virginia Rising and Declare Emergency using civil disobedience to advocate for climate change and demand government action.

The demonstrations began a few days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the latest climate report. It warned that “rapid and deep” cuts to greenhouse gas emissions are necessary to prevent severe climate-related disasters in the next three years (Business Insider). Surpassing the 1.5-degree goalpost would exacerbate the ecological crisis, which occurs when the “environment of a species or a population undergoes critical changes that destabilize its continuity” (IGI Global). Yet governments and corporations are failing to meet the emission reduction goals despite having the resources and tools to mitigate the climate crisis that has already caused a megadrought, intense heatwaves and wildfires, and “record-breaking” floods globally (National Geographic). In 2021, the U.S. saw 20 climate disasters that cost more than $140 billion and caused the deaths of 724 people (National Centers for Environmental Information). 

The climate and ecological crisis mostly affect marginalized communities who are already suffering from poverty, unemployment, and a failing healthcare system. They contribute the least carbon emissions but are often hit first and worse by climate change (The Guardian). “They are the least likely to be able to recover, often forgotten as decisions take place about rebuilding their communities by those who benefit from the disaster economy.” 

About 57% of people of color live in areas with at least one failing grade for ozone or pollution, compared to 38% of whites. 

Due to the lasting effects of redlining and federal housing discrimination in the 1930s, Black and Brown people are sectioned off in more hazardous areas. They experience heavier levels of air pollution, live in hotter neighborhoods with rising heat temperatures, and are exposed to chemical dumps and waste sites that contribute to poor health and air quality (Washinton PostNPR). 

Globally, indigenous people are being starved off their ancestral lands due to climate change, such as melting glaciers in the Himalayas, diminishing ice roads in North America, and fires in the Amazons are cutting them off from year-round water access, hunting, and harvestable food supplies (United Nations).

The onus of remedying the climate and ecological crisis has been on individuals, specifically middle to low-income people, who are encouraged to reduce their carbon emissions by eating local and seasonal foods, replacing their cars with bikes or public transportation, and recycling. But upping one’s recycling game isn’t going to counter the 270,000 barrels of oil the U.S. military, one of the largest polluters in the world, uses in a day (The ARDYahoo). Nor how U.S. corporations, which are responsible for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, like Walmart, emit more than the whole of Germany’s foreign-owned retail sector (The ARDEcologist). 

The relatively rich have largely skirted any climate and ecological crisis ramifications, even though their carbon footprints propel the planet further into an irreparable climate emergency. It’s estimated that the wealthiest 10% of the world’s population was responsible for 52% of the cumulative carbon emissions, compared to the poorest 50%, who accounted for 7%. The 1% burnt through 15% of cumulative emissions (Oxfam). This “carbon inequality” means that the “richest 63 million are producing fully double the dangerous greenhouse gases that half of all humanity, or nearly four billion people, emit” (Noema). And on an individual level, on average, the carbon footprint of someone in the top 1% is more than 75x that of someone in the bottom 50% (Nature).

In the last six years, 60 of the world’s largest commercial and investment banks have collectively put $4.6 trillion into fossil fuels (Banking On Climate Chaos). The three banks that did the most fossil fuel financing from 2016 to 2021 were JPMorgan Chase at $382 billion, Citi at $285, and Wells Fargo at $272 billion. 

As the billionaire space race highlights the gap between the mega-rich and lower-income people, it’s becoming apparent that as the planet becomes extremely inhabitable for humankind, those with the means and power are banking on leaving behind a desolate world they helped create.


• Scientists worldwide held a week of demonstrations to shift governments into climate emergency mode. 

• Marginalized people globally are most affected by the climate and ecological crisis despite contributing the least carbon emissions. 

• The top 1% has a carbon footprint more than 75x higher than the bottom 50%.

2400 1598 Dominique Stewart

Dominique Stewart

Dominique is a writer and editor whose interests lie within the intersections of social justice and culture. She has written and edited for several outlets, including Brooklyn Magazine, The Tempest, and the Broward-Palm Beach New Times. Dominique was the managing editor for a women’s health magazine called Sidepiece Magazine.

All stories by : Dominique Stewart
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