Study: Rich People are Greedy, Contribute Less to Climate Change Mitigation Efforts

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Apparently you can learn all about greedy rich people by giving psych experiment participants a few hundred dollars and seeing what they do with it.

Wealthier people do less in the struggle against climate change

This is the principal finding of a citizen science experiment where participants were encouraged to act collectively against global warming


These are the principal findings of a study published in the journal PLOS ONE by researchers from the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, the University of Barcelona, the University of Zaragoza and the Carlos III University of Madrid, who measured how a group of individuals acted in the face of a common threat.

To do so they designed a “lab-in-the-field” experiment involving more than 320 individuals divided into 54 groups of 6 people. The experiment was conducted as follows. A total of 240 euros was given to each group of individuals. Each member of the group was given a specific amount of money. In half of the groups the 240 euros were divided evenly into 40 euros for each member. In the other half, the money was distributed unevenly in quantities from 20 to 60 euros. Over the course of ten rounds, each person then had to contribute to a common fund in order to reach a specific goal, namely 120 euros to be used in an activity against climate change, in this case planting trees in Collserola. The participants were allowed to keep any money that was left over. At the start of the experiment, each participant knew how much money the other had and at the end of each round they could see how much money each person had contributed.

In this way, the researchers were able to test the economic effort that each individual was prepared to make for a common benefit, in this instance the fight against climate change. The results showed that, although all the groups achieved the collective goal of 120 euros, “the effort distribution was highly inequitable”, explained Jordi Duch, from the Alephsys (Algorithms Embedded in Physical Systems) research group at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili. Specifically participants with fewer resources contributed significantly more to the public good than the richer, sometimes up to twice as much. The researchers concluded that the poorest participants congregated within the two “generous clusters” whereas the richest were mostly classified into a “greedy cluster”. The results suggest that future policies could be improved if they reinforced climate justice actions in favour of the most vulnerable people and taught the importance of fairness rather than focusing on teaching people about generic or global climate consequences, as the latter have not been proven to lead to equitable contributions.

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The abstract of the study;

Resource heterogeneity leads to unjust effort distribution in climate change mitigation

Julian Vicens, Nereida Bueno-Guerra, Mario Gutiérrez-Roig, Carlos Gracia-Lázaro, Jesús Gómez-Gardeñes, Josep Perelló, Angel Sánchez, Yamir Moreno, Jordi Duch

Published: October 31, 2018

Climate change mitigation is a shared global challenge that involves collective action of a set of individuals with different tendencies to cooperation. However, we lack an understanding of the effect of resource inequality when diverse actors interact together towards a common goal. Here, we report the results of a collective-risk dilemma experiment in which groups of individuals were initially given either equal or unequal endowments. We found that the effort distribution was highly inequitable, with participants with fewer resources contributing significantly more to the public goods than the richer −sometimes twice as much. An unsupervised learning algorithm classified the subjects according to their individual behavior, finding the poorest participants within two “generous clusters” and the richest into a “greedy cluster”. Our results suggest that policies would benefit from educating about fairness and reinforcing climate justice actions addressed to vulnerable people instead of focusing on understanding generic or global climate consequences.

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A skeptic might suggest that giving an impoverished psych experiment participant €120 probably doesn’t make them think like a rich person; it probably makes them think like a student who just pocketed enough cash to have a wild time this weekend in Barcelona.

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November 5, 2018 5:50 pm

The main thing one learns from psych experiments is that the participants know they are in an experimental situation, and will act unusually. Beyond that, bupkis.

michael hart
Reply to  Tom Halla
November 5, 2018 6:42 pm

Yup. It’s complete twaddle. The experimenters make a so many implicit assumptions that they probably haven’t even considered a small fracton of them.

And they think they have determined the endpoint in people’s motivations and actions.
In reality, the “good” guy is probably hoping to impress the attractive woman sitting next to him, or the impressionable student running the experiment. There are simply squillions of confounding variables.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  michael hart
November 6, 2018 4:13 am

The experimenters make a so many implicit assumptions that they probably haven’t even considered a small fracton of them.

Well “DUH”, don’t be expecting a miracle, …… they are “psychobabblers”, ya know.

As a matter of fact, that is about all that they have been educated (brainwashed) to do, …… “make or mimic silly assumptions” ……. and then claim they are “scientific fact”.

Andy Pattullo
Reply to  Tom Halla
November 6, 2018 9:46 am

Correct. This is why psychology “research” is rife with problems of reproducibility. The study designs are so flawed their results are meaningless. And as if often the case, this study was designed to show the value of socialist dogma over capitalism though it does no such thing.

November 5, 2018 6:05 pm

Or maybe they are educated and harder to fool.

Paul r
November 5, 2018 6:12 pm

So if you give people a nice amount of free money and tell them they can keep what they dont spend they spend less.mmmmm . Was that really hard to work out!.

Joel O'Bryan
November 5, 2018 6:13 pm

The experiment demonstrated why in the real world capitalism works and socialism fails. Socialism and Climate Change become their own religions, asking for alms. Most people who are rich, didn’t get rich by throwing away their money. And wealthy people are the people who are entrepreneurs, risk takers who must employ labor to make more money.
Socialism’s central tenet is to create dependencies on the government, to confiscate wealth creation, which disincentives wealth creation. Socialism creates a lower class dependent on government largess, while the elites prosper, and any middle class is hollowed out.

Climate change is religious belief, much like the Roman Catholic church. The Roman Catholic Church has always depended on the poorest giving their tithe. The Left is of course attempting to supplant Christian religion in the West with environmentalism and Climate Change orthodoxies.
Like so many things he did to expose the Climate scam, Michael Crichton saw this when he described the environmental movement and the global warming (as it was called then) movement as a religion almost 20 years ago.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 5, 2018 6:32 pm

My point is made clear here in the experimental set-up, which states, “A total of 240 euros was given to each group of individuals. “

Note, they were given €240. They did not first earn it.

Reminds me of the old joke:

“At a street interesection near our neighborhood, we have the all-too-common homeless pan-handler with his cardboard sign asking for donations. He’s been there for at least a month.
My yard-sign Progressive Democrat neighbors have a sweet 9-year old girl who is the cutest thing. I saw them out walking around the neighborhood one evening, where she was knocking on neighborhood doors, with her parents proudly waiting at the curb, asking for Donations to help that homeless man, so she would give that money to that homeless man. I pulled out my wallet and gave the girl a $5 bill.
Her Liberal Democrat Parents were beaming with pride at their little girl’s care for others.

Then I told her I’d give her $50 dollars if she’d come back on Saturday and cut my grass using my lawnmower and gas. Then she could give that whole $50 to the homeless guy.
She thought about it for a few seconds (you could see the wheels turning in her eyes). She then asked “Why can’t that homeless guy come and cut your grass for the $50?”

I replied, “And that my child is the difference between Democrats and Republicans.”
My Democrat neighbors haven’t talked to me in 6 months.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 5, 2018 6:45 pm

Joel, that is the best story ever!!! Did that really happen? Or is it something you have liked to happen?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Shelly Marshall
November 5, 2018 6:51 pm

I sure it’s one of those made-up stories that gets propagated around in Conservative e-mail lists every few years to remind hard-working people what the Democrats stand for.
But just like an ancient Aesop fable, it tells a moral truth about our world and the character of people.

Another Paul
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 6, 2018 4:27 am


old construction worker
Reply to  Shelly Marshall
November 6, 2018 5:35 am

Bingo, we have a winner.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 5, 2018 6:33 pm

How about … rich people are less humble and therefore more likely to behave in an antisocial manner. link

It depends. A rich guy who got that way because he can work with people and put deals together, in my experience, is usually a pretty decent guy. His wife, on the other hand, is often a real, entitled, out of touch, jerk. She didn’t have to earn her wealth so she thinks she got that way because she’s somehow superior.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  commieBob
November 6, 2018 4:23 am

“HA”, that reminded me of the song lyrics that go …..

Your daddy is rich and your mommy is good looking“.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  commieBob
November 6, 2018 7:06 am

That’s also why most second generation nouveau riche are left-wingers and socialists. They didn’t have to earn it either, so most have the wife’s attitude. Part of it may also be due to suppressed guilt that daddy’s money was ill-gotten at the expense of the poor underclass.

Robert W. Turner
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
November 5, 2018 7:00 pm

Exactly, keep the experiment going for a few years giving them 240E a week. The socialists get twice as many trees planted as the “greedy” in a few years, but then the greedy use their savings to start a tree farm and the supply of trees grow, making them easier to buy and plant for everyone – all due to that evil profit.

robert Goldman
Reply to  Robert W. Turner
November 6, 2018 2:39 pm

That’s like the give a fish/teach a man to fish parable. Way way too simple, logical, and sensible for the liberal mind. Besides, a nursery would create good long term jobs. Can’t have that.

November 5, 2018 6:17 pm

Educated people are easier to fool as they have reduced their stock of common sense, to makeroom for imported knowledge.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  nicholas tesdorf
November 6, 2018 7:40 am

+10 :<)

November 5, 2018 6:29 pm

Why isn’t the conclusion that we should encourage poor people to contribute more and forget about what rich people give? If we’re trying to save the world, should we be concerned about a handful of greedy people?

Curious George
November 5, 2018 6:30 pm

How many participants in this Spanish experiment were American millionaires?

Robert W. Turner
November 5, 2018 6:48 pm

Because that’s how earning money works, someone just hands it to you out of self proclaimed need. And if you don’t pool your self proclaimed need money into the community project then you are greedy.

What is the word for people that are completely detached from reality? Oh yeah, delusional.

November 5, 2018 7:02 pm

Oh this experiment is ridiculous.

Give 1% of the participants 99% of the money and split the rest evenly between the remaining 99% of the people and give them the exact same goal.

Surprise! The poor people combined don’t have enough money to meet the goal! And the wealthy can meet the goal without even noticing they paid it! Also not real world but you get the point.

The wealthy in fact give a greater percentage of their income to taxes than do the poor in most western countries, and not by a little bit. But the amount they pay impacts them far less personally than the amount the poor pay. The poor guy pays 10% tax and has to budget between food and shelter, the 1% pays 40% tax and never has to make a choice between food and shelter. Which is why the wealthy are for the most part in favour of things like carbon taxes. It impacts their lifestyle by zero.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  davidmhoffer
November 6, 2018 4:32 am

Iffen you take all the money in the world and divide it up equally between all the people in the world, ……. in less that 50 years, …….. 80% of that money would be back in the hands of the people it was taken from.

Reply to  Samuel C Cogar
November 6, 2018 8:42 am

And Sam, the reason for this is seldom mentioned by leftists, who seem to believe rich people got their money by illicitly taking it from the poor. Yet in the modern world the rich generally get rich by providing goods and services to people who happily part with a little of their money to obtain those goods and services. The person who paid must have received more benefit than the money was worth to him, or he wouldn’t have spent it. So you could argue that the rich person’s bank acccount is a measure of how much good he has provided others. And the more rich people you have, the more value they have provided society. Of course there needs to be caveats on people who actually do steal money to get rich.

Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  DMacKenzie
November 7, 2018 4:18 am

Beautiful and intelligently reasoned response, DMac.

Thank you.

November 5, 2018 7:24 pm

“We found that the effort distribution was highly inequitable, with participants with fewer resources contributing significantly more to the public goods than the richer −sometimes twice as much. An unsupervised learning algorithm classified the subjects according to their individual behavior, finding the poorest participants within two “generous clusters” and the richest into a “greedy cluster”

I did not read anywhere that they actually evaluated a person’s home earnings/savings/wealth. Based on their wording, it appears they consider the amounts given to participants as the deciding factor.
i.e.; a participant given €20 equals a poor participant,
a participant given €60 or € equals a rich participant.

“two “generous clusters” and the richest into a “greedy cluster”

I did not read what constitutes “generous” or what constitutes “greedy”.

If I was given €20, I’d buy myself lunch and bring back pastries for the others.

If I was given €60, I’d take that money home to where it makes a difference.

Basically, this appears to be another narrow parochial confirmation bias study based upon a student or professor’s opinions, not on reality.

Reply to  ATheoK
November 5, 2018 11:49 pm


I did not read anywhere that they actually evaluated a person’s home earnings/savings/wealth.

My first thought as well, although I haven’t read the paper on it, but it seems other than by a highly intrusive means test, there is no way to establish the wealth of the participants other than by taking their word for it.

The second thing I noticed was “Climate change mitigation is a shared global challenge……….” Assuming one is daft enough to believe it’s a threat in the first place.

And there is one thing for sure, the wealthy are wealthy because they don’t spend money. There’s no mystery to this phenomenon, which is pretty much all this study demonstrates.

Craig from Oz
November 5, 2018 7:25 pm

So let me get this straight. The cost of ‘saving the trees’ in each case was 120.

On one set of groups we have 6 people with 40 each, so if they fork up 20 each they hit their KPI and each get to keep 20.

In the other group some people have 20 and others have 60. So if they still fork out 20 each some are left broke while some have 40.

Published conclusions are now that 60 owners are horrible people as they refused to pay more than 20.

Okay… Isn’t 20 each ‘Fair’?

To me what this study is really showing is that ‘rich’ people are more willing to see ‘save the world’ programmes as spending 20 still leaves them with 40, while ‘poor’ people are basically being forced to choose between ‘saving the world’ and having money to spend.

Translate this study into something real world like say… “Are you prepared to pay a ‘little’ extra on your power bill?” and you might actually be able to draw some useful conclusions.

Reply to  Craig from Oz
November 5, 2018 8:19 pm

The problem is how you define “fair”, you could easily argue fair is each gives up 50% the 20’s have to give up 10, the 60’s give up 30 so each group ends with exactly half what they started and they still reach the goal.

The fair question is very relevant to climate change, I have never understood why emission per capita is viewed as fair. I still think be emission per land area is a fairer formula especially if renewables are your proposed fix. Small densely populated countries like Japan are disproportionately impacted under the per capita situation and they don’t have the land area to implement renewables. You know the saying one mans fair is another mans unjust.

November 5, 2018 7:26 pm

” Over the course of ten rounds, each person then had to contribute to a common fund in order to reach a specific goal, namely 120 euros to be used in an activity against climate change, in this case planting trees in Collserola. The participants were allowed to keep any money that was left over.”

Forced participation is not a test of greediness or generosity.

November 5, 2018 8:19 pm

What a waste of 12,960 taxpayer euros and 324 people’s time.

Richard Patton
November 5, 2018 8:52 pm

It actually reflects real life here in the US. Those on the lower end of the economic ladder give a higher percentage of their income to charity than those at the upper ends. It may be because the more wealthy look at how much they have given away rather than what percentage they give. Bill Gates and others are trying to change this, saying those to whom much is given much is required. Now I know that this doesn’t hold true in other countries. The US has a culture of giving, we are the most generous culture in the world. In cultures where giving to those in need is discouraged (you might be taking on their Karma of you help them) I am sure that the results would be much different.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Richard Patton
November 6, 2018 6:23 am

The entire “percentage of income” position is crap and used by liberals to extract even more money out of people. 10% of $50,000 is $5,000 and 10% of $500,000 is $50,000. Who pays more? This is the flat tax position.
Now I have had liberals argue, that means the $500,000 people still have $450,000 left and really don’t need that much. But that is another discussion altogether.

November 5, 2018 10:08 pm

I thought we had already proved this. Al Gore flys around telling everyone to give up everything for Climate change while collecting money for the privilege of his travel, while we peasants try and get by on what is left after the climate shills raid our pockets for increased costs.

Chris Hanley
November 5, 2018 10:45 pm

Off topic.
Until about October 28 I could look up the daily lower troposphere temperature movement @
I now get a message: Forbidden! You don’t have permission to access /amsutemps/ on this server.
Does anyone know what’s going on?

November 6, 2018 12:59 am

This reminds me of the old joke about the end effect of charity being ‘poor people in rich countries giving to rich people in poor countries’.

November 6, 2018 1:50 am

If I read this right, the “rich” are the ones given the most money. And amazingly enough those with the most to lose tried to keep as much as possible. Whereas those with small amounts figured that they would have to contribute it all no matter what.

And why is contributing more if you have more “fair”? If everybody contributes the same amount say, isn’t that obviously “fair”?

Research conducted by biased idiots and then interpreted according to those biases.

K. Knott
November 6, 2018 2:46 am

As Thomas Sowell noted, you’re not greedy if you want to take somebody else’s money; you’re greedy only if you want to keep yours.

Ivor Ward
November 6, 2018 2:47 am

It would be more interesting to have found out what “climate mitigation” the researchers spent their salaries on. Especially if they were not told that they were the subjects.

Peta of Newark
November 6, 2018 3:55 am

Is it possible that the students worked out, or were aware of the, futility and dangers of handing out Free Money.

How it is entirely counter-productive EXCEPT in creating a demand for Free Money – the Victorians in the UK worked that out nigh-on 200 years ago and where Socialism falls flat on its face. Every Single Time.

Beware of projection here, but its an experiment I run when visiting Wetherspoon pubs here in the UK. (The Value-for-Money pub chain run by an ardent Brexiteer)
I will often find money on the floor, especially by the bar.
If it’s coins, I’ll pick it up and immediately pop it into one of the charity boxes they have on the bar. (For Clic-Sargent = a children’s cancer charity)
If I find a note (£5, £10 or 20) I’ll still pick it up but keep it and watch the bar area to see if anyone returns in an ‘agitated state’ to look for it.
In the 15 years I’ve been doing that, no-one has ever returned to look for their money.
I keep it, plus a mental note of where & when.

Here’s the projection bit – what happens next?

As it (checkably) happens, the staff of Wetherspoons are ‘encouraged’ to do Charitable Stuff.
They’ll do Fun Runs, inflatable obstacle courses, cake & table-top sales in the pub etc
Don’t happen too often but when they do, I might have £30, 40 or £50+ to hand over.
Why not eh, ‘think of the children’ (and their cancer charity)
A nice little lump like that gets *everyone* a bit of Kudos and as I said, nobody missed it.

Poignant because Climate Folks folks who do say “Think Of The Children” are blatantly obviously thinking entirely of themselves.

And, I am The Selfish Sod – I get as much coffee as I can drink for typically £1.25 a session plus a play on the interwebz, as right here & now in the Sweyn Forkbeard, where his son Knut got his feet wet.

Peta of Newark
Reply to  Peta of Newark
November 6, 2018 4:11 am

Just creates brain ache for the UNIVERSITAT ROVIRA I VIRGILI and the students not least. What would they make of that?

What is sweet in the original story is how they acknowledge, yet again without realising it, how plants (tree planting in their case) affects Climate.
We actually do have a Good Instinct within us all.

The ‘only’ haha Significant Problem is our addiction to sugar (cooked starch, refined sucrose fructose etc and also fermented sugars) which over-rides that instinct.
i.e. The use of chemical agents to provide Dopamine, something we do all need.

What is sad and wrong are all the side-effects of those chemicals = the demolition of our minds, bodies, the dirt where the chemicals are grown and ultimately of course, as the UNIVERSITAT ROVIRA I VIRGILI admits, The Climate.

November 6, 2018 4:22 am

The major reason the “wealthy” contributed a smaller proportion was the rules of the game: There were 10 rounds and the maximum that could be contributed was 4 euro per round; so the people with 60 euro could not contribute more than 67%.

I found the most interesting bit to be “In addition, more than half of the participants (N = 214, 66%) defended the idea of relative fairness (e.g. agreed with the statement “Contributions should be proportional to the initial capital so that players with more capital should contribute more to the pool”). In contrast, those who firmly agreed with proportionality in the unequal conditions contributed less than those who did not strongly support that (Z = -2.653, p < .05), especially when their initial endowment was high. For example, the participants with a starting capital of 60 € that adhered to “proportionate contributions” contributed an average of 2.6 € per round, whereas those with the same initial endowment who did not firmly claim that contributed 3.05 € per round.” That has definite real would correlation, those who talk most do least.

Steve O
November 6, 2018 4:40 am

20 Euros strikes me as an amount that can be described as, “Just take it, dude. It’s not enough to worry about.”

Bruce Cobb
November 6, 2018 5:33 am

Pure psychobabular nonsense. They are trying to climatesplain why the US, being a “rich” country is ducking out of its’ “climate obligations”, and came up with the “conclusion” that we simply need to be “educated” about how “unfair, greedy, and selfish” we are being. As if it it hasn’t already been pointed out to us, ad nauseum, and is as wrong as ever. But they need the guilt angle, because it’s basically all they have now. They know the “science” angle hasn’t worked, nor has the fear angle.

old construction worker
November 6, 2018 5:48 am

The wealthy set up charitable foundations. Some charitable foundations give more than others but one thing bothered me. I believe charitable foundations are required to give 10% of their money per year. the rest of the money is used for expenses and investing. If you follow the money some of the 10% finds its way into another charitable foundations which finds its way back to the first charitable foundations. It’s if you support my charitable foundations I’ll support yours.

November 6, 2018 6:28 am

The observed behavior is oddly enough pretty well-documented in other areas. s with almost ALL PSYCH “research” the conclusions are totally wonky and far exceed anything actually seen in the experiment itself — that fault is what the “crisis in psych” is all about.

It has nothing to do with “greed of rich people” as many readers have already pointed out — there were no rich people included in the study, just a bunch of students.

In our area, we have an annual Scouting for Food drive — in which Boy scouts and Cub Scouts distribute empty heavy-duty paper shopping bags, printed with a message asking for donations for the local food banks and relief efforts. Th4e next week, the Scouts go out and pick up the hopefully filled bags and take them to a distribution center for sorting, etc.

I have been part of this effort for almost 20 years and every year we are “re-surprised” to find that the people living in the poorest neighborhoods contribute far more and more generously than the folks in the obviously economically better off neighborhoods. In our area, this effort in ongoing this week — bags have been distributed and will be pick up the coming Saturday.

It is my feeling (yes, even I have feelings) that the poorer folks are closer to the problem and have more empathy for those in need of food — and are thankful to have a full pantry — whereas the wealthier folks don’t really have any experience with “running out of food” and can’t really imagine that some people don’t have enough food.

PS: This is in the United States — in the Dominican Republic where my wife and I served for ten years, the first order of business when visiting a family home was to distract the family so one of us could duck into the kitchen and see if there was any food at all. The worst situation was when we had been invited over for dinner to find a feast on the table — and to discover that the family had used their entire weeks food budget to feed us that one meal . . . heartbreaking.

November 6, 2018 6:52 am

Jesus told the story of the poor widow who contributed all she had to the poor in contrast to the rich hypocrite who made a big deal out of contributing a large amount out of his excess. Yet St. Peter had to write a letter after implementing the policy of sharing all wealth in common telling those who did not work they would not eat. The ideal vs human nature. Capitalism works because it is fuelled by human nature. Virtue signaling is a form of hypocrisy and was one of Jesus’ favorite targets. People seem to deal with adversity much better than success, in general. Perhaps that is why there are so many more poor folks than rich. Poverty is a form of a gift from above.

Joel Snider
November 6, 2018 1:06 pm

I love how they try to pass off their pitch that they can regulate the climate by substituting the word ‘mitigate’ – apparently a more palatable word – but in either case, they apparently believe they can get the results they want by micromanaging a single species’ fractional C02 output.

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