Getting rid of extreme wealth: it’s the only way to avoid climate degradation | Georges monbiot
MMost of our dysfunctions are caused by bowing to the rich. How governments have allowed democracy to be eroded by lobbyists (including politicians with lucrative private interests); deregulation that allows businesses, oligarchs and landlords to put pressure on their workers and tenants, and then pass their costs onto society; the permissive environment for profits during the pandemic; the degradation of health, education and other public services by the constant trend towards privatization: all are symptoms of the same condition.
The same applies to the worst of our situations: the destruction of our life support systems. The very rich are claiming the lion’s share of the planetary space we all depend on. It is difficult to understand why we tolerate this attack on our common interests.
The richest 1% of the world’s population (those who earn more than $ 172,000 per year) produce 15% of the world’s carbon emissions: twice the combined impact of the poorest 50%. On average, they emit more than 70 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person each year, 30 times more than what we can each afford to emit if we do not want to exceed 1.5 ° C of global warming. While the emissions of the global middle classes are expected to decline sharply over the next decade, thanks to the general decarbonization of our economies, the amount produced by the richest will hardly decrease: in other words, they will be responsible for a even greater share of total CO2. Becoming good citizens of the world would mean reducing your carbon consumption by 97% on average.
Even if 90% of the population produced zero carbon, the projected emissions of the richest 10% (those earning more than $ 55,000) over the next nine years would use up almost the entire global budget. The disparity in environmental impact reflects the inequality of a nation. No wonder the prosperous people of rich nations are so eager to seek to blame it on China, or other people’s birth rates: it sometimes seems like they’ll try anything before they deal with it. their own impacts.
A recent analysis of the lifestyles of 20 billionaires found that each produced on average more than 8,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide: 3,500 times their fair share in a world committed to no heat above 1.5 ° C. The main causes are their jets and yachts. A superyacht alone, kept on constant watch, like the boats of some billionaires, generates around 7,000 tonnes of CO2 per year.
Bill Gates, who has positioned himself as a climate champion, does not own a yacht. Despite this, he has an estimated footprint 3,000 times larger than that of the Good Citizen of the World, largely because of his collection of airplanes and helicopters. He claims to “buy green aviation fuel”, but there is no such thing. Biofuels for jets, if widely deployed, would trigger an environmental catastrophe, as so much plant material is needed to propel a single flight. This means that crops or plantations must displace either food production or wild ecosystems. No other “green” aviation fuel is currently available.
Gates seeks to resolve such conflicts by buying carbon offsets. But all the opportunities available to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere are now needed to reduce the impact on humanity as a whole. Why should they be captured by those who want to go on living as emperors?
Frequent travelers often tell us that we should overlook the climate impacts of aviation because they are “only a few percent”. But the only reason they stay relatively low is because the flight is very concentrated. The airplane is responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions of the super-rich, which is why the richest 1% generate about half of the world’s aviation emissions. If everyone lived the way they do, aviation would be the greatest of all causes of climate degradation.
But their carbon greed knows no bounds: Some of the super-rich are now hoping to travel to space, meaning they would each produce as much carbon dioxide in 10 minutes as the average 30 humans emit in a year. The very rich claim to be creators of wealth. But ecologically, they do not create wealth. They take it from everyone.
Today, a lot of money buys everything: even access to meetings which should remedy these dysfunctions. In some ways, the Cop26 is the most exclusive of all the climate highs. Delegates from poor countries were thwarted by a cruel combination of Byzantine visa requirements, broken promises to make Covid vaccines available, and insane accommodation costs, thanks to the government’s failure to cap the local prices or to make rooms available. Even when delegates from the poorest countries can climb these walls, they often find themselves excluded from negotiation areas, and therefore unable to influence talks.
In contrast, more than 500 fossil fuel lobbyists gained access, more than the combined delegations from eight countries already ravaged by the climate crisis: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, Mozambique, Myanmar, Haiti, Puerto Rico. and the Bahamas. The authors are heard, the victims excluded.
There is an often cited axiom, the authorship of which is obscure: it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Part of the reason is that capitalism itself is hard to imagine. Most people find it difficult to define him, and his advocates have generally been successful in disguising his true nature. So let’s start by imagining something easier to understand: the end of concentrated wealth. Our survival depends on it.
I have come to believe that the most important of all environmental measures are wealth taxes. Preventing systemic environmental collapse means leading to the extinction of extreme wealth. It is not humanity as a whole that the planet cannot afford. He is the ultra-rich.