We know that many of the world’s richest people flaunt their conspicuous consumption via private jets, expensive cars, mega-yachts and exclusive holidays. A recent viral Twitter exchange between Greta Thunberg and an attempted online troll showing off his high-end fleet exhibits some of the worst of these tendencies.
But researchers have put numbers to this imbalance, quantifying how the wealthy contribute a disproportionate share of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. And German news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW) highlighted some of this work, including that done by SEI Associate Scientist Anisha Nazareth.
Nazareth is a co-author of “The Carbon Inequality Era,” a 2020 report published jointly with Oxfam that studied carbon dioxide emissions by income group from 1990–2015.
“The top 1% use basically a similar amount (of carbon dioxide) to the bottom 50% of humanity – and so obviously that, just in terms of scale, is a ridiculous proportion of the carbon budget.”
— Anisha Nazareth
“The top 1% use basically a similar amount to the bottom 50% of humanity — and so obviously that, just in terms of scale, is a ridiculous proportion of the carbon budget,” she said.
The DW report focuses mostly on air travel, detailing some of the solutions that could curb excessive flights but also face fierce opposition, such as flight taxes and frequent flyer levies.
Furthermore, Nazareth points out, the wealthy can use their influence as spenders and their connections to decision makers to slow progress.
“A bigger problem is really the way they exert political influence through campaign donations — and influence in general on the lifestyles of everybody else,” she said.