What does money have to do with climate change?
May 21, 2024
Season 6 | Episode 7

What does money have to do with climate change?

A lot, actually!

Listener Frieda wrote in with a big question: What does money have to do with climate change? Luckily, Bridget and Ryan get help from a time traveler who takes them back to a time when some decisions about how we make things, how we run our economy and how we buy stuff were made. Turns out we’re feeling the ripple effects of those choices today. We’ll also hear from some real-life kids who have been looking for ways to slow and stop climate change in their communities.

Tips for grownups listening to “Million Bazillion” with kids

Money Talks

After you listen to the episode, here are some questions you can ask your kid listener to see how much they learned about the connection between money and climate change:

  1. What are some of the things causing climate change today that have to do with the way we make and buy things?
  2. What are some things that could be done to slow or reduce climate change?
  3. Have you experienced climate anger or anxiety? What are some ways to make yourself feel better?
  4. *Bonus* Not-So-Random Question: If you could travel to the future, what do you think would be used for money?

Tip Jars

For listeners who want to keep learning more, we’ve got ideas!

  • Our friends at “Brains On!” have explored similar questions about the warming of Earth. Check out this episode they did about how we fuel our cars.
  • If you want to learn more about the science behind climate change, check out this guide from NASA, which includes links to games, activities and videos. You can also download the guide as a printable PDF.
  • For those who want to take action to address climate change, check out this list of resources from Kids Against Climate Change. (That list also includes resources for teachers!)
  • In this episode, time traveler Dr. Crem Dembo mentions economies of scale, which refers to how business make stuff faster and cheaper. Check out this episode from “Million Bazillion” where we dive deeper into economies of scale and answer the question: Why are there so many of the same stores?
  • One of the teens we featured in this episode, Soraya, created a guide for goody bags (see below) as a way to help the environment.

Gimme Five

Thanks for listening to this episode! If your young listener has more questions about big topics and what they have to do with money, send them to us using this online form.

This episode is sponsored by Greenlight. For a limited time, try Level Up for free and get $10 when you sign up for Greenlight at greenlight.com/million.

Cold Open:



BRIDGET: Ahhh, nothing like a day playing in the snow! The wonder! The majesty!

RYAN: (SHIVERING) Yeah, s-s-so m-m-m-ajestic. Can we go inside now?

BRIDGET: We just stepped outside. You’re not cold already, are you? 

RYAN: (TEETH CHATTERING) A l-l-l-ittle b-b-b-b-b-it. 

BRIDGET: Maybe I’m just used to it. This is like room temp for me. Growing up here in Michigan, you know, we ate snow for breakfast!


BRIDGET: Mmmmm, this clump of snow might as well be warm-buttered waffles to me!

RYAN: Can we go inside now? 


BRIDGET: Not until we find out where that chainsaw noise is coming from! Let’s run to chainsaw noise!


RYAN: Yes, nothing b-b-bad ever happened running toward a chainsaw noise.

–Theme Music–


BRIDGET: (BREATHLESS) Hey, kids! Welcome to Million Bazillion. I’m Bridget!

RYAN: (BREATHLESS) And I’m Ryan! And We Help Dollars Make More Sense. 

BRIDGET: And, oh my gosh, I knew it! It’s ice sculptors!




BRIDGET: Look, they’re using chainsaws to sculpt ice renditions of the most magical winter icons! A polar bear made of ice! A pine tree made of ice! A pile of ice, made of ice! 

RYAN: Bah! I’ve just about had it up to here with this cold! Let’s take a question so we’ll have to go inside and answer it. Guys, excuse me, hold the chainsaws for a minute, we have to listen to a question for our podcast!



FRIEDA: “Hi, I’m Frieda. I am 9 years old and live in Bozeman, Montana. My question is: How does money have anything to do with climate change?”

BRIDGET: Ooh, intriguing question! Maybe Frieda’s heard about people talking about climate change in the news? Or on another show? Let’s first make sure we all know what climate change is. It’s also known as global warming, we’re talking about the the heating up of the earth’s temperature over a long period of time–

RYAN: (INTERRUPTING) Yeah, yeah. I could use a little climate change right now, I tell ya cause it’s a cold day. 

BRIDGET: No, it’s not like that. See, the temperatures we experience on any random day is weather but climate, what Frieda is asking about, that’s the average temperature over a period of time. Even though we still experience cold days here on planet earth, we know that right now, temperatures are rising faster than they ever have in the past, and scientists say it’s because of stuff we people are doing! Specifically because we’re putting something called greenhouse gasses into the air. They turn our atmosphere into a big heat trap, and that raises the average temperature on earth.  It’s causing big problems all over the world. Warmer and wilder oceans, bigger forest fires, terrible storms, droughts, and maybe way less snow in the future! 

RYAN: Oof, climate change seems be kind of scary, when we realize what it means for us and the planet. But yeah, I don’t see how it all relates back to money. Maybe we should pass on this question– 




TIME TRAVELER: Bridget! Ryan! 

BRIDGET: Whaaa? Where did you come from?

RYAN: Did you just materialize out of nowhere?!? Who are you?

TIME TRAVELER: (FRANTIC MAD SCIENTIST TYPE) My name is Dr. Crem Dembo! I’m a time traveler!… From the future! You’ve gotta come with me! I know the answer to your question: “what does money have to do with climate change?” And it’s critical that you share the answer on Million Bazillion! 

BRIDGET: Wow, I do want to know the answer!



TIME TRAVELER: Quickly, follow me into this time portal!

RYAN: Wait, pal, have you ever heard of “stranger danger”? I wouldn’t get into a car with someone I don’t know, let alone a glowing time portal. 

TIME TRAVEL: I knew you might say that. So I arranged to bring you both to this precise moment to convince yourselves. 


RYAN 2: [THROUGH FILTER] Hi, Ryan! It’s me, Ryan. 

RYAN: Me? What are you doing here?


BRIDGET: What? Who are you?

BRIDGET 2: [THROUGH FILTER] I’m you! From the future. Well like, ten minutes in the future. Or maybe longer? I don’t know, time travel is weird. But hey, you can trust Dr. Crem is a real time traveler. Have fun on this adventure! But whatever you do, don’t pet the-


RYAN: Wait, ok, so if we come with you, where would you take us? The future?

TIME TRAVELER: No! To understand what money has to do with climate change, first we must go… 


TIME TRAVELER:… into the past! But let’s hurry, the climate crisis is only growing more important by the second, so we shouldn’t delay answering Frieda’s question!


BRIDGET: Alright, we’re gonna get the answer to Frieda’s question when we return from this break. Here goes nothing!

RYAN: Hey, am I gonna need my mittens there? Or should I just leave them here–aaaaaaaaa!


–Asking Random Kids NOT SO Random Questions–

ANNOUNCER: And now it’s time for Asking Random Kids Not So Random Questions. Today’s question is: Have you ever bought anything you kinda wished you hadn’t?

RANDOM KIDS: “No, I’m a good shopper.” “No, because I think about what I buy.” “Well, lots because I spend money that I get, and then I don’t like it.” “Something that I wish I hadn’t bought was actually doing the claw machine.” I bought a doll that broke in an minute.” “I did buy something, and I was like, that’s not worth it.”

ANNOUNCER: That was Quinn in California. Max in New York City. Tula in Wisconsin. Veronika in Barcelona. And Stella and Sabin in Kansas. This has been Asking Random Kids Not So Random Questions.

Part 1:



RYAN: And we’re back! Today on Million Bazillion, we’re answering Frieda’s question: “What does money have to do with climate change?” and we’ve followed a time traveler into the past to find the answer. 

BRIDGET: Where are we… Or should I ask, when are we?


TIME TRAVELER: We’re at the end of the 1800s. It’s a moment of technological transition! Fossil fuels like oil and coal are suddenly a major source of energy for factories, trains and early automobiles!

RYAN: Wow, horses and cars on the same streets? What a crazy time!

BRIDGET: Awww hey horsey. Can I give you a little pet?

TIME TRAVELER: I wouldn’t do that!




BRIDGET: Oww, that horse bit me! I’m ok, though.

RYAN: So why exactly did you bring us here?


TIME TRAVELER: All this is because people figured out how to make things faster, and for less money, using machines! Things like fabric and toys and foodstuffs. See that grandmotherly woman over there?

RYAN: (QUICKLY) Yeah, great hat. 

BRIDGET: (QUICKLY) Very tall feathers. 

TIME TRAVELER: She’s lived through the great many changes of the Industrial Revolution from her childhood to now. When she was a girl, her family would have had to make a lot of what they needed to survive. 

GRANDMOTHERLY WOMAN: In my day, we spent a whole week on candle making! Now I just walk into the store and buy them whenever I need one! What a breeze! 

TIME TRAVELER: So suddenly, we’re maybe a little less careful about using things. This is also when advertising starts to really pick up in America. Once companies figured out how to make things faster, they had to figure out how to tell people to buy those things, like through advertising! 

MAN 1: What does that sign there say?

WOMAN 1: [SLOWLY] Coca-Cola?

MAN 1: And what exactly do we think that is?

WOMAN 1: I don’t know, but this says it’s delicious! Should we try it?

MAN 1: Well if the sign says it’s delicious, who are we to argue? It says so right on the sign!


MAN 1: (DRINKING GULP) Woo boy! This has got a special kick to it, don’t it?!

TIME TRAVELER: As advertising took off, we all started to think it was normal to always want the new and pretty thing. 

BRIDGET: Man, I could really go for a soda pop right now. 

TIME TRAVELER: But remember, the machines making this new life possible are powered by those fossils fuels like coal and oil and gas. All stuff that’s been pulled out of the ground, and then burned. 

BUSINESS MAN: Congratulations, everyone! We drilled another oil well! Nothing could possibly go wrong!

GROUP: Yay! Huzzah!

TIME TRAVELER: Except it turns out that when you start burning that stuff to make machines move, it puts bad stuff into the air. Stuff that starts to warm up the planet. Today we call it greenhouse gasses. They start to trap heat in the atmosphere and that starts to warm up our planet. 


TIME TRAVELER: Meanwhile, growing this oil business to grow the machine business is…well, very big business. Do you see that oil pump over there with the name “Standard Oil” on it? 

RYAN: Yeah.

TIME TRAVELER: Standard Oil was founded in 1870 and it was HUGE in creating the oil business as it is today, and the way we live life now. Today, it’s broken down into a bunch of companies whose names you probably recognize: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Marathon.

RYAN: Oh yeah, those are gas stations where I fill up my car and sometimes get a sandwich for dinner that gives me a tummy ache later.

BUSINESS MAN: (DISTANT) I know this crude oil looks crude now, but don’t worry, we’re gonna refine it into gasoline. Thanks fellas!

TIME TRAVELER: You see that business man over there with the mustache? That’s John D. Rockefeller. He founded Standard Oil and he is, by most definitions, the richest American who ever lived.  He made in today’s dollars, 410 billion dollars.

BRIDGET With that much money, I really thought he’d have a more impressive mustache.

RYAN: I have an idea! We should go up to Rockefeller and warn him that burning fossil fuels will put the planet at risk in a hundred years. Surely he’ll listen to us! 

TIME TRAVELER: (SARCASTIC) Uh yeah, I’m sure the world’s wealthiest man whose entire fortune depends on oil will give up on his entire business because a guy in mittens tells him to.

BRIDGET: But it’s not fair if he and his pals are gonna make a bunch of money doing this and they’ll be long gone by time we have to pay for it! Can’t we just go up and trip him or something, and alter the timeline of history to stop climate change?

TIME TRAVELER: No, that wouldn’t work either. There are tons of other companies out there who will make money by selling us stuff that creates greenhouse gasses!  Ever heard of Shell Oil, Texaco, BP? 

RYAN: BP? They sell oil? I thought they just spill it.


BRIDGET: So you’re saying, a bunch of decisions that people made, a way of life that started , really over a hundred and something years ago, that’s why we have climate change now?

TIME TRAVELER: Now you’re starting to get it! 

RYAN:  Okay, so where are we going next? The future?


TIME TRAVELER: Step into the portal to… a hundred years later… 1985. 

RYAN: Oo, can I bring back this cute lil’ butterfly with me as a souvenir? 

TIME TRAVELER: No! We don’t have time to explain the butterfly effect, but it’s a bad idea!

RYAN: Awwww, nuts!





RYAN: Where are we? This place looks kinda familiar.

TIME TRAVELER: We’re in 3rd grade class that you just might recognize. 

LITTLE RYAN: Hey, you guys wanna play Star Wars? Hey, you guys wanna play Ghostbusters? Hey hey hey, you guys wanna play Barbie?

RYAN: Wait a minute, that’s little me when I was 8 years old!  Wow, Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Barbie. I remember back when those things were popular. Those were the days!

BRIDGET: Wow, Ryan… you’ve really…  I was gonna say you’ve changed, but you’re actually basically the same. Even the bald spot!

RYAN: It’s a cowlick!


TEACHER: Morning class. 

CLASS: Morning, Mrs. Gilson.

TEACHER: So, today we’re going to talk about the three Rs of the environment. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Now the reason we’re talking about this is because we all know the earth could start to get warmer. This could have big consequences for you, and your children, and your children’s children! 

BRIDGET: So wait, we’ve known that our actions affect the planet, and taught about it in schools since at least the 1980s when Ryan was little and I wasn’t even born yet cause I’m so young. But since then, the planet’s only gotten hotter? 

TIME TRAVELER: Ooh, yes. By the 1980s, a hundred years later from where we just  were, humans were very much aware that climate change was happening. But we didn’t tackle the big things that could have stopped it in its tracks. 

TEACHER: Settle down, settle down. Now we’ll talk about some ways we can all be kinder to the earth! And then everything will be fine! Now pay attention to these critical life sessions:  Don’t leave the water running when you brush your teeth! If it’s yellow, let it mellow!! If you see litter, don’t let it sit-ter on the ground. 

LITTLE RYAN: That doesn’t really rhyme! 

TIME TRAVELER: There’s nothing wrong with regular people making earth-friendly choices in their everyday lives, but the problem was that we really needed to start making big changes to the way we lived. It required both individuals to change their habits and corporations and governments to help us be able to change our way of life. That didn’t happen. In fact, a lot of those corporations would like you to think that you’re entirely responsible through your little actions, but the emissions from big businesses like factories, and airlines, livestock production, or even fast fashion make the carbon footprint of any single person look tiny. 

BRIDGET: So we knew there was a problem, but we didn’t do what we needed to do to stop it. Ugh. 


RYAN: I think I’ve seen enough, let’s get out of here. I just gotta do one thing first. Hey, Little Ryan, invest in Apple! 

TIME TRAVELER: No! You’re not allowed to change the future like that! We’re leaving!



LITTLE RYAN: What did that guy say about apples?


Part 2:



BRIDGET: Ok, welcome back to Million Bazillion. Today, we’re answering Frieda’s question: “What does money have to do with climate change?” and we’ve been riding around in this time machine here with an actual time traveler to learn more. It turns out that how we buy and use stuff, and the way we make that stuff, hasn’t been great for the planet. We missed out on solving or stopping climate change in the past. And this problem seems a lot harder to solve than we’d hoped.  

TIME TRAVELER: Ah, before we go any farther, we gotta make a quick stop right at the moment I picked you two up.


TIME TRAVELER: You need to convince yourselves to come with me.

BRIDGET: Oh, ok.


RYAN 2: Hi, Ryan! It’s me, Ryan. 

RYAN: [THROUGH FILTER] Me? What are you doing here?

BRIDGET 2: Hi Bridget! 

BRIDGET: [THROUGH FILTER] What? Who are you?

BRIDGET 2: I’m you! From the future. Well like, ten minutes in the future. Or maybe longer? I don’t know, time travel is weird. But hey,  you can trust Dr. Crem is a real time traveler. Have fun on this adventure! But whatever you do, don’t pet the- 


BRIDGET:. -horse! Awww! I don’t think I heard me. My arm still hurts! Ok, so, what’s next?

RYAN: Yeah, are we going to the present to learn about how we’re actually going to stop climate change? Or to the future to figure out the winning solution? There’s a winning solution, right?

TIME TRAVELER:  Let’s look at the present, and some of the young people taking steps to change the world. Here, let me show you: 

CRISTIANO: Hi, my name is Cristiano. I’m from Bay Ridge Brooklyn. I started working with waste management in our school. So essentially what we do is we have compost bins in our lunchroom. And not all the stuff that gets thrown in there is compostable or food scrap. So we have to sort through that, and then we put it into our school’s earth tubs where we can process it and turn it into compost. So last year, we did somewhere around 10,000 pounds of food was diverted from landfills. The work isn’t that fun it but I don’t know, it makes me feel like I’m doing something good so it’s a nice feeling. Kind of just opened my mind to be more aware and conscious about my actions when it comes to the environment. You have control, you have power, to make a difference. 

RYAN: Oh, so sometimes an individual can be part of a bigger project, that does make a big difference. 

TIME TRAVELER: That’s right. And look, here’s another: 

SORAYA: My name is Soraya, and I’m from Los Angeles California. I’ve been a girl scout for five years since the first year of daisies. I’ve done a lot of climate projects. Like I made a video on a water leak detector. A lot of water gets wasted every year from water leaks, so I made a video on like how to set this water detector up. And I also made a video on goodie bags, things you can put in goodie bags that are more sustainable than plastics. Like magnets, jump ropes, lollypops, candy, stuff like that. When I was a little younger and still now, I would go to City Council meetings with my dad because they were fighting a new power plant that would be gas but it was near our house but we didn’t want it because they would be polluting the air and we should be focused on electric things now. Find something you’re inspired in, like something that troubles you, and make something good toward it, and you can change the world. 

BRIDGET: Wow. So these are real young people out there, who are taking climate change seriously. And coming up with some really awesome ideas. I bet there are more people out there working on great ideas too. Maybe, that’s even you, our listeners.

RYAN: Yeah, I mean, if individuals can work together to make change in their own neighborhoods and communities, then surely businesses can learn to do business in ways that cause less pollution, and governments can enforce rules to make sure those businesses can’t hurt us all by causing more climate change, and everything could all work out ok in the future. (CATCHES BREATH) Hey Crem, you live in the future, right?

TIME TRAVELER: Yes, 70 years in the future. In fact, the reason I chose today to visit you is because today’s the day I’m going to be born. In just a few hours. 

BRIDGET: You were born during the ice sculpture festival?? Lucky! And Happy birthday! 


RYAN: Y’know, you can probably get a free breakfast if you have your driver’s license.

TIME TRAVELER: No thanks, I’m good.

RYAN: So, does this all  work out? Do we stop or reverse climate change? Are we gonna be ok?

TIME TRAVELER: I… can’t show you the future. It wouldn’t help anything.

BRIDGET: Aw pleeeease, you have the button right there. Can’t you just take us 70 years into the future for a quick little peek?

RYAN: Yeah, we really want to see what happens! Are there flying cars? Is it cooler than anything we can imagine, like a perfect zootopia?

BRIDGET: Utopia.

RYAN: Really? 

BRIDGET: Yeah, Zootopia is a pun on Utopia. Anyway, pleeeeeeaase take us to the future! (RYAN JOINS) Pretty, pretty, pretty please! With sugar on top!

TIME TRAVELER: (DARKENS) Look, even if I showed you the future, nothing is written in stone. 


TIME TRAVELER: The fight to stop climate change is only beginning. The future as we know it depends on how people act starting today. I say to your listener Frieda, money will have a lot to do with it. Destroying our planet has made people a lot of money over the years, and now is the planet’s turn to take some back. Climate change is going to cost the world trillions of dollars over the coming decades. 

RYAN: I don’t.. get it.  If we all know the way we live is leading the planet to a bad place, why wouldn’t everyone work faster to change things- like those kids we just heard? Is it all so a few people can keep making money refining oil or whatever it is they make money doing? It just doesn’t make sense that we’d keep letting it happen.

TIME TRAVELER: It doesn’t. The good news is there may be money in saving the planet too. There are those who hope to make money off solutions, like electric cars and solar panels and gizmos that help cool down our atmosphere. I really hope they succeed. 

BRIDGET: (LIKE “DUH” OBVIOUS) Uhh, yeah. Me too.

TIME TRAVELER: But those solutions will require the cooperation of the entire world. No one person alone can correct the path of our planet, restoring forests that have been burnt down, freezing ocean water back into ice caps. We’ll all have to make changes in the way we live. But responsibility really lies with the grownups of the world, with government leaders we elect, with the businesses we support with our hard earned dollars, with the captains of those mighty industries, and the decisions they make. 

RYAN: And if they don’t step up to the plate, then what? It’s gonna be up to some little kid in the future to clean up after our mess? How’s that fair?

TIME TRAVELER: I’m afraid the planet doesn’t share our notions of “fair” and “unfair.” 


TIME TRAVELER: (BREATHES IN DEEP, WISTFUL) … Makes sense I was born on a day like this. I do love a snowy day. I don’t get them much where I’m from. 

BRIDGET: Then there must be something that gives you hope, right? Like, why else would you come find us? There must be something we can do. 

TIME TRAVELER: I know there are things you can do. But will you? 




–Theme Music-

RYAN: Alright, that’s it for this episode of Million Bazillion! Thanks for listening! Make sure to check out the tip sheet linked in the show notes if you want to learn more about the relationship between money and climate change!

BRIDGET: We’ll be back next week for our final episode of the season to answer this really question: Why is there so much gold at Fort Knox? And if you’ve got a money question you’d like us to answer … please send it to us through our website, marketplace.org/million. 

RYAN: And you can sign up for our newsletter at our website too, so you can be the first to get new episodes of Million Bazillion, straight to your inbox! 

BRIDGET: Million Bazillion is brought to you by Marketplace, from American Public Media. This episode was written and hosted by Ryan Perez, and (me) Bridget Bodnar. 

RYAN: This episode had some additional voicing from Sabri Ben-Achour, Amy Scott, Roman Levy-Bellón, Melody Perkins, Chris Julin and Drew Jostad. 

BRIDGET: Our editor is Jasmine Romero. Courtney Bergsieker is our producer. The senior producer is Marissa Cabrera. Thalia Menchaca is our intern. This episode was sound designed by Chris Julin with help from Bekah Wineman. And Mixed by Bekah Wineman 

RYAN: Our theme music was created by Wonderly. Bridget Bodnar is the Director of Podcasts at Marketplace. Francesca Levy is the Executive Director of Digital. Neal Scarbrough is the VP and General Manager.

BRIDGET: Million Bazillion is funded in part by the Sy Syms Foundation, partnering with organizations and people working for a better and more just future since 1985. And special thanks to The Ranzetta Family Charitable Fund and Next Gen Personal Finance for providing the start-up funding for this podcast, and continuing to support Marketplace in our work to make younger audiences smarter about the economy.

RYAN: If Million Bazillion is helping your family have important conversations about money, consider making a one-time donation today at marketplace.org/givemillion, and thanks for your support.

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