If the world is going to get serious about fighting the global problem of climate change, the effort must be led by those who have means. Corporations and wealthy individuals are the ones with the money and power, and thus they largely control the world’s consumption habits. If they’re willing to change the behaviors they engage in that impact the planet, the rest will naturally follow. But unfortunately, the richest and most powerful among us are often the ones most reluctant to do their part.
So says a new study, according to a release from American Association for the Advancement of Science. A group of researchers from four schools in Spain—the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, the University of Barcelona, the University of Zaragoza and the Carlos III University of Madrid—teamed up to study how people behave within populations. They took 324 subjects, divided them into 54 groups of 6 people and gave them varying amounts of money to work with. Consistently, they found that when the money was distributed unevenly, the groups were less cooperative and the richer members did less to benefit the group.
Anxo Sánchez, a math professor at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid who co-authored the team’s study, saw a clear link between this finding and the global struggle against climate change.
“The study demonstrates once again that cooperation is better than competition at achieving socially desirable outcomes,” Sánchez said. “In the case of climate change, cooperation is needed between all of the agents involved.”
The researchers in Spain used human subjects with tablets to measure their interactions from a game theory perspective, examining the social dilemmas they faced and how they navigated the tension between their individual interests and the common good. In some test groups with varying amounts of wealth, the researchers were specifically watching the differences between those with more money (50 or 60 euros) and those who had less (20 or 30 euros). Time and again, they found that the poorer did more to help the group overall.
This can be problematic when it comes to the climate change issue because in today’s world, the poor are often the most vulnerable. When food supplies dwindle, the rich can still afford to eat; when land becomes uninhabitable, they can afford to relocate. The poor, however, might be in trouble.
“Given the inequalities, the poorest groups are the most vulnerable and, therefore, are the ones who suffer most,” said Julián Vicens, a University of Barcelona researcher who also worked on the study.