How rich people could help save the planet from climate change

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio is one of thousands of investors who have pledged to divest from fossil fuels.

(CNN)Rich people don't just have bigger bank balances and more lavish lifestyles than the rest of us -- they also have bigger carbon footprints.

The more stuff you own, and the more you travel, the more fossils fuels are burned, and the more greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere.
Jetting around, buying luxury goods, keeping mansions warm and driving supercars -- they all have a carbon footprint.
    Oxfam has estimated that the average carbon footprint of someone in the world's richest 1% could be 175 times that of someone in the poorest 10%. Studies also show that the poor suffer the most from climate change.
      But some argue that the wealthy can do the most to help fix the climate crisis. Here's how they could make a difference.

      Spend wisely

        The buying decisions of the rich mean much more in the fight against climate change than those of most people.
        Ilona Otto and her colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research estimated that the typical "super-rich" household of two people (which they defined as having net assets of more than $1 million, excluding their main home) has a carbon footprint of 129 tons of CO2 a year. That's around 65 tons of CO2 a year per person, which is over 10 times the global average.
        Otto noted that because the sample in the study was small, the numbers are illustrative. "Probably our estimates are even lower than the true emissions of millionaires," she said.
        "Regarding their own lifestyle choices, the rich can change a lot," said Otto. "For instance, putting solar panels on the roofs of their houses. They can also afford electric cars and the best would be if they avoided flying."
        In the study, air travel accounted for more than half of the footprint of a super-rich couple.
        German architects  Aktivhaus say this home generates twice as much energy as it consumes.
        Rich people also have more flexibility to make changes.
        "A high-income consumer likely has access and is able to afford more climate-friendly products or produce from local farmers," said Tom Bailey, who contributed to a new report that highlights consumption in high-income cities.
        "High-income cities and high-income individuals also have the resources to trial new products, services and solutions," he explained, adding that they have the capacity to create a market for more sustainable goods.


        As well as choosing what to spend money on, rich people can choose what industries to invest in -- or not to invest in.
        Oxfam estimates that the number of billionaires on the Forbes list with business interests in the fossil fuel sector rose from 54 in 2010 to 88 in 2015, and the size of their fortunes expanded from over $200 billion to more than $300 billion.
        Steam rises from a coal-fired power plant in Germany.