As wealth soars so do emissions; it’s time to tax wealth.
It’s been another month and another year of record breaking levels of CO2 concentration in the Earth’s atmosphere. We’re all aware of the disastrous consequences increased emissions will have on planetary survival but we are less clear on who has the biggest responsibility when it comes to not only the production of these emissions but also mitigating the consequences. With increasing emissions showing no signs of slowing down, it’s time for the biggest emitters to step up – and pay up – to do their part in decreasing emissions whilst also combating global wealth inequality.
The often ignored inequality.
Global income inequality and global wealth inequality are widely discussed issues globally, highlighting the great injustices in society and act as motivators for many keen activists and philanthropists. Yet there is a less discussed inequality which is tightly connected to these two issues; carbon emission’s inequality, the richest in society are producing far greater levels of carbon emissions then the rest of society. Chapter 6 of the World Inequality Report shows us the damnning extent of this emission inequality, with the top 10% of global emitters producing close to 50% of all emissions, whilst the bottom 50% of society produces just 12%. A UN report places the top 1% of earners as producing close to 15% of all emissions. It must be noted that this unequal distribution of carbon emissions is not a Global North vs Global South issue, there remains great emission inequality between the wealth groups amongst all nations. The uncomfortable truth of the situation is that despite the wealthiest of societies being the ones producing the most emissions; pushing us further down the path of climate change, it is the poorest globally that are paying the greatest price. This IMF report and UN paper goes on to further report that the risks presented by increasing climate change disproportionately affects not only the poorest countries but the poorest populations; primarily due to economic activities dependent on a healthy climate, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries. With increasing destructive weather patterns associated with a declining climate, lower income countries specifically do not have the economic power and access to public resources to help those affected by losses associated with extreme weather events. A paradigm defined by Philip Alston as ‘Climate Apartheid’.
Who should take responsibility?
Leaving aside the mass emitting global corporations, it is clear that there exists a group of individuals who should be assigned a far greater responsibility when it comes to increasing global emissions. That being the wealthiest of society, those who are themselves at relatively little risk to the effects of climate change in comparison to the rest of the world. Yet there is an even smaller group that produces far greater levels of emissions than even the wealthy of society, and they produce these emissions with no repercussions. This group being the ultra wealthy, the 0.01% of the global population, the billionaires.
What about the Billionaires? We can’t forget the Billionaires.
Earth.org (a non-for-profit environmental organisation) expands on the world inequality report and highlights the astronomical impacts of the over glorified modern space race among the billionaires. The egotistical adventures of the world’s richest produce more carbon emissions than the bottom 1 billion inhabitants of the planet. A singular 11 minute space flight produces around 75 tonnes of CO2 per passenger (a conservative estimate), at an extortionate cost (the estimated cost of a seat Bezos Blue Origin is between $250,000 – $500,000). The pursuit of leisure trips into space is an unjustifiable transgression in the production of CO2 emissions, exclusively available to the mega rich, an unsustainable and completely avoidable trend.
It goes beyond just a trip to space. Roman Abramovich, ex owner of Chelsea Football Club and notorious Russian oligarch, produces close to 34000 tonnes of CO2 yearly due to the running and operation of his egregious yacht. Bill Gates, globally renowned philanthropist and do-gooder, produces close to 7500 tonnes of CO2 per year just from his frequent flights, one of the highest emission rates of the billionaires. The trend is obvious to see, the wealthiest in society are the greatest producers of CO2 emissions, despite their ability to mitigate the effects of their own actions. Mitigation can be achieved through not only the funding of new sustainable initiatives, but through the adoption of more sustainable practices which can certainly be afforded by these people. It’s clear current climate policies are currently not holding the wealthiest to account for their outrageous consumption habits, despite the clear and direct impact their actions have on lower and middle income groups.
Reliance on the goodwill of the wealthy is not enough.
So what can be done? We argue that we have now moved beyond the realm of philanthropic action as being a fair provider to meet the needs of sustainable transitions. The reliance on goodwill of the wealthy simply doesn’t stretch far enough when tackling such an overwhelming global issue. It also does nothing to address widening and damaging inequality where power and influence is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few very wealthy people. A new strategy must be implemented, a direct wealth tax on the richest in society would allow for governments to redistribute wealth in a registered and clear manner. Providing investments into a sustainable future for all, assisting in the creation of a more just and equitable society. Currently, the world’s dollar millionaires account for 1.1% of the global population and the combined wealth of all these individuals sits at an estimated $192 trillion according to Credit Suisse. A modest wealth tax of 1% on these millionaires could look to generate up to $2 trillion per year. As we have seen above these wealth holders are the greatest producers of carbon emissions, it makes sense that they should be the primary funder of sustainable transitions which are so desperately needed.
Collective group of wealth holders who advocate for politicians to implement wealth taxes
We here at Millionaires for Humanity represent a collective group of wealth holders, wealth holders who actively petition governments and global institutions to implement wealth taxes on themselves. Very counter-intuitive, almost crazy sounding at times, but we believe that progressive taxation on wealth will allow for us as a society to move beyond the philanthropy of others. Wealth taxes would allow for greater revenue generation and allow for the redistribution of wealth, putting the choice into the public as to which issue is considered the most pressing. The wealthy should be paying the appropriate amount for their own unsustainable levels of consumption, and the decision making behind the placement of funds should be made democratically amongst the people.
Note: This post reflects the views of Millionaires for Humanity as an organisation but does not necessarily represent the views of all the members of Millionaires for Humanity.