How Spiritual Materialism and the Coaching Industry Help Bankroll the Climate Crisis
This time, instead of being the epicenter of a global pandemic, NYC had the worst air quality of any city in the world, smothered under drifting smoke from wildfires burning hundreds of miles away (for the second year in a row) to the point that we were issued warnings to stay indoors and wear masks, and my work shifted to remote operations for two days.
I am acutely aware that this is not a freak accident, and that it’s going to happen again, but unlike a lot of people, I am also acutely aware of its root cause, which leads me to today’s post.
I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy…and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation – and we, (lawyers) and scientists don’t know how to do that.
– Gus Speth, American environmental lawyer, cofounder of the Natural Resource Defense Council
Consider that people at the top and even the middle and perhaps even the bottom of the coaching industry are also in the top 10% of wealth holders in the world:
A net worth* of $93,170 U.S. is enough to make you richer than 90% of people in world. A net worth of $871,320 is enough to put you in the top 1%.
*cash assets + property assets – debt = net worth
– Credit Suisse (2018)
I imagine a number of people reading this meet this criteria, myself included. As members of the global elite, here’s your contribution to climate change:
The world’s richest 10% produce half of all global emissions while the poorest half contribute only 10%.
– Oxfam International (2021)
The world’s wealthiest 16% use 80% of the planet’s natural resources.
– World Resources Institute (1999)
People in high-income countries are responsible for 74% of excess resource use causing ecological breakdown.
– The London School of Economics and Political Science (2022)
According to that last study, the top three perpetrators are as follows:
- USA – 27%
- European Union (27 countries) – 25%
- China – 15%
The rest of the Global South – the low-income countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East and Asia – is responsible for only 8%.
In other words: wealthy, mostly white people in America and Europe are responsible for more than half of all global carbon emissions, and according to a new study, Americans’ per-capita emissions are more than twice that of Europeans:
Climate Crisis Is on Track to Push One-Third of Humanity Out of Its Most Livable Environment
As conditions that best support life shift toward the poles, more than 600 million people are already living outside of a crucial “climate niche,” facing more extreme heat, rising food scarcity and higher death rates.
“Each American today emits nearly enough emissions over their lifetime to push one Indian or Nigerian person of the future outside of their climate niche, the study found. This shows exactly how much harm Americans’ individual actions can cause (1.2 Americans to 1 future person, to be exact).”
Our income isn’t the problem, specifically, it’s how we accrued it, what we spend it on, and how our society is designed.
The amount of money we make is not in direct correlation with how much co2 we emit, it’s how we spend that money on resource consumption that determines our impact on the environment. The more money we have, the more money we spend, and the more we spend, the worse it gets.
The richest 0.1% of the world’s population (earning roughly $3.21M U.S. or more per year) emits 10 times more carbon than all the rest of the richest 10% combined – 200 tonnes per capital, annually.
– International Energy Agency
The Upper Class
Upper-Upper Class: 1% of U.S. population, 0.1% of global population, earns hundreds of millions to billions per year.
Lower-Upper Class: 2% of U.S. population, 0.1% of global population, earns millions per year.
This group as a whole makes up 3% of the U.S. population, is part of the 0.1% of the global elite and earns millions to billions per year.
The ultra wealthy use more fossil fuels than any other income bracket. But what are they spending it on? The answer: leisure. All the perks that come with being wealthy which are the reason we want to be rich in the first place: cars, boats, planes, vacations – one of the most energy-sucking consumer categories. They also own multiple homes, which are often sprawling and require a ton of energy for heating and cooling. Private jets alone emitted more carbon than the entire country of Uganda (46M people) in a single year.
The Upper-Middle Class
The upper middle class makes up 14% of the U.S. population, but it’s annual salary range is wide, spanning from $76,000 per year to hundreds of thousands per year.
Those with a net worth of approximately $870,000 or more are part of the global 1%.
Those with a net worth of approximately $96,000 or more are part of the global 10%.
So what about the other 9.9% who aren’t in that category? The vast majority of the upper upper-middle class still own large homes or multiple homes and cars, or RVs, boats, jet skis, and go on regular vacations, they just don’t own as expensive of a model, or as many, or go as often. They choose popular, gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks – they may even require them to pull their boats and jet skis, or they need a towable car to pull behind their RV. It’s still excess.
The Regular Middle Class
The bottom-tier of the upper-middle class category, and those who are just above the top 10% net worth threshold likely do not engage in an excessive lifestyle that massively contributes to carbon emissions in the same way as the upper upper-middle class. I’m in that category (barely), but I don’t own a car, I live within walking distance from my job, food, and entertainment. There’s ample public transportation for me to get around, but that’s only because I live in an urban area, which is also very expensive so there’s not a ton of disposable income left over to blow on luxuries.
Our contribution to climate change is mostly due to things which are out of our control, like poor urban planning. Back in the midwest where I grew up, people are forced to consume more energy due to the way society is designed. Rural communities or sprawling suburbs with poor or no public transit and non-walkable communities forces people to use cars to get to work every day. Depending on the area, it may not be feasible or affordable for someone to live near their job, so they have to drive many miles each day (and use a lot of gas). The people in this category can’t really do much more to reduce their energy usage, and even if they could, it wouldn’t be nearly enough to make up for the excess of the other two categories.
Bottom line: the wealthier you are, your carbon footprint grows exponentially.
One could also argue that even if you fall in the above categories and live a modest lifestyle, so long as you are investing your stock market dollars in fossil fuel companies and other known polluters, you’re still contributing to a massive carbon footprint.
In the US, the 1% owns 35% of the total wealth, but they own 50% of the shares in companies and funds. The top 10% owns 86% of the shares in companies and funds. Only half the country owns any shares.
The biggest culprits are even worse than you can imagine.
I don’t want to pretend that this is entirely driven by the rampant consumerism of individual people. Government inaction on regulating the industries who produce the goods that we buy is a huge factor, as is the U.S. military which produces more carbon annually than many small countries. If it were a nation state, it would be the 47th largest emitter in the world.
Our military exists to protect our interests, and nothing is more interesting to the U.S. than maintaining it’s global economic dominance. Our wealthiest citizens whom not only contribute 10 times more with their personal carbon footprint, also own polluting corporations with military contracts that benefit from this arrangement. Space X, owned by Elon Musk, and Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, two of the richest men in the world, both have contracts with the US military and their space companies themselves are responsible for ungodly amounts of carbon emissions:
A single passenger aboard a rocket is responsible for 100 times more climate-changing pollution than a passenger aboard an airplane.
If so much of this is the fault of industries and the wealthy, then the average citizen surely can’t bare the brunt of the responsibility, or can they? The average citizens who invest in those company’s stocks for their retirement also benefit from their activities. Most people don’t even know what they’re invested in, and who knows if you can even make enough money to retire without investing in these companies, which suggests that it’s not necessarily individuals or corporations which are to blame, it’s the system itself.
If there is one thing which drives individuals, the wealthy, corporations, the government, and the system itself, it’s the accumulation of wealth, both on an individual and collective level.
So what’s the coaching industry and spiritual materialism got to do with climate crisis and being a part of the global elite?
The coaching industry is permeated by aspiring one-percenters.
In all of the time I’ve spent observing and listening to people in the industry talk, in particular victims of it, a common thread is that many people felt like they were failures even when they were already making multi-six figures. Their business revenue – and thus, income – was never enough to make them feel successful because their coaches were always pushing for bigger, higher, and more, and the lifestyles being exhibited by those at the top of the industry are lavish. The industry culture made these people feel as though they should be millionaires and if they weren’t, they were a failure. Many of them also reported a skewed relationship with money and an inability to discern true value after extracting themselves from the industry.
A huge portion of coaches center almost entirely on spiritual materialism and becoming part of and rising through the ranks in the global elite via:
- exploitation (rapidly building 7-figure business empires)
- wealth accumulation (money manifestation)
- aspirational lifestyle goals (obtaining your material desires)
- the psychological justification of material excess (money mindset)
- actively encouraging rampant consumerism (spend for the lifestyle you want)
- spreading economic ignorance (money is an unlimited resource, money is an energy)
- reinforcing individualistic cultural narratives that put self-interest above that of the global community and perpetuate cultural and spiritual narcissism
In short, the predominant narrative in coaching industry messaging actively serves as propaganda and indoctrination for all of the beliefs, ideals, values, and activities that are collectively responsible for the climate crisis (and no, climate change is not “still up for debate” or a hoax. A review of 90,000 scientific studies in 2021 found that 99.9% of all climate scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans. This is as high as the scientific consensus for evolution.).
Aside from all of that, crypto, the favorite get-rich-quick scheme of spiritual bros everywhere, has its own contribution to climate change:
Crypto-asset activity in the United States is estimated to result in approximately 25 to 50 Mt CO2/y, which is 0.4% to 0.8% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. This range of emissions is similar to emissions from diesel fuel used in railroads in the United States.
Our materialist aspirations and insatiable desire for wealth both as individuals and as a nation is literally killing people and the planet, and yet it’s the predominant brand promise of many online coaches.
Unabated climate change will cause 3.4 million deaths per year by century end.
– United Nations Climate Change Conference (2022)
That’s more people than the COVID killed in a single year. Climate change is becoming like having a world-wide pandemic on an annual basis.
Everyone tells themselves they only want to be rich so they can live a pleasurable life and help people, but getting rich requires exploitation. The byproduct of wealth accumulation is harm, regardless of whether or not you engage in unethical practices, because the system itself is exploitative. It’s designed that way, and no amount of telling people things like, “We just need more money in the hands of good people,” or, “Wealth is your birthright,” will change that.
Even if you could obtain wealth without exploitation, it still won’t reduce your carbon footprint, and it won’t keep your lifestyle from killing people.
And after all, the lifestyle is the entire point of being rich to begin with, amiright? What good is having all the money if you don’t spend it on expensive toys, homes, and vacations?
You’ve heard of living beyond your means. It’s time to talk about living beyond your needs.
Have you ever heard a girlboss proudly proclaiming that they were a millionaire, or were going to be a millionaire, and that everyone else should and could be a millionaire, too? Here’s the facts:
If all 8 billion people on planet Earth lived the same lifestyle as the average American (and let’s be clear: the average American has not reached millionaire status), the resources of more than five full planets would be needed to satisfy the global need for resources every year. The earth can only support 1.5 billion people consuming at the same rate as the average American. As it stands, humanity is already using nature 1.7 times faster than our planet’s biocapacity can regenerate.
The inconvenient truth is that white Western culture’s standard of living – especially the American upper-middle and in particular, the upper class – is bankrolling the destruction of the planet and the mass murder of millions of people, habitat, and wildlife.
Excess wealth accumulation is not a birthright, it’s a crime against humanity.
The data shows that even if the rest of the top 10% cut their emissions, it wouldn’t make up for the excess of the 0.1%. While this lets the 9.9% somewhat off the hook, it forces us to ask ourselves:
Why do we put wealthy people on a pedestal in our society and why do we aspire to be like them?
That’s the ultimate question that the coaching industry needs to grapple with. I’ve seen multiple messages from people in the industry – even alleged anti-capitalists – claiming that we shouldn’t focus on or even think about millionaires (the top 1%) and entirely concern ourselves with the billionaire class (the 0.1%). But as I mentioned earlier, the entire point of having money is spending it, and millionaires are still contributing significantly more to climate change than those in the bottom 90%.
The problem with all of this is: a society that values being wealthy above all else will protect the wealthy at all costs – even to its own detriment – because its people still want the opportunity to become one of them.
So you’re one of the global elite. What now?
I imagine a lot of people may feel defensive or at least guilty after reading this. If the latter, then that’s a good thing because it means you have a conscience, and that conscience may catalyze you to do something about it.
I work with climate scientists at my full time job and have asked them point blank, “What can we do, individually, to combat this?” Their answer: the government must act to regulate industry. That’s the only way we will be able to make massive amounts of change in the timeframe required.
That’s difficult to do in a capitalist society where most of our politicians are lobbied by and benefit from political donations from the very industries which are killing the planet. Individualism leaves the onus on us as citizens to try to solve problems that are much bigger than our individual capacity to control. So if a single person can’t solve it, what is within our individual power to do about it?
Firstly, address the root cause: examine your relationship to wealth, status, power, and privilege. Do these things actually meet your physical and emotional needs? Then examine how that relationship affects your behaviors and buying habits. What psychological needs are you really trying to meet when you engage in various activities where you spend money? How can you be more conscious of what’s driving that behavior? Can you make other choices to meet those needs? One of the simplest individual choices you can make to cut down on your carbon footprint is to significantly reduce how much dairy and red meat you consume, or reduce the amount of meat, period. Animal agriculture contributes to 15% of global emissions, and cows alone are responsible for 9.4%.
Secondly, examine your relationship with the way you perceive and define “enough.” How much is having enough? How much is feeling enough? Where does feeling like you’re “not enough” drive your desire for social status? How can you redefine your idea of what success looks like and shift the messaging in the content you generate as a business owner based on these revelations? How can you instill new values in your children?
Lastly, beyond changing your mindset and your own lifestyle, how can you take action toward holding the top 1% accountable? How can you spread awareness? What organizations and policies can you support? Who can you vote for? How can you contribute to changing the way we plan our cities and neighborhoods?
If ever there were a valid sense of urgency in our capitalist society, this is it. Your children and grandchildren’s lives – and the rest of the world’s – depend on it.
Find more discussion about this topic in my Climate Crisis Instagram highlight.
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