Personal consumption matters, especially for the very rich

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was interviewed in the first edition of Cipher, the newsletter that climate reporter Amy Harder produces for Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy, described earlier by Michael D’Estries in Treehugger.

In the last minute of the video, Harder and Granholm discuss my favorite subject: carbon footprints. Maintenance:

“I think focusing only on individual responsibility is what the big polluters would want us to do. This is not the answer. The answer is that we need to put in place political and systemic changes. Politics is how you get systemic change, .. Me, individually eating less meat is not going to do anything. And boy, wouldn’t they like us all to be distracted by our individual recycling plans. This is not what we need. We need a big change, and this big change is happening with politics. So if anyone wants to do something on an individual level, vote.

Yes, again, it is all the “big polluters” who are responsible, not individuals. Harder writes that “although Granholm did not clarify who she meant by ‘big polluters’, she is probably implying the fossil fuel industry and goes on to link to a Mashable article that I complained about before, most recently in “No, the term carbon footprint is not a sham.”

Of course, Granholm is right that system change is critically important, as is voting. But so does individual responsibility, and even his diet. As I note in my recent book on the subject, “I vote every four years, but I eat three times a day”.

Coincidentally, on September 30, a new study was published in the Nature Briefing titled “The Role of People of High Socioeconomic Status in Locking Down or Reducing Energy-Related Greenhouse Gas Emissions Rapidly.” He concludes that the emissions are not due to the big polluters, but that “people of high socio-economic status disproportionately affect energy-related greenhouse gas emissions directly through their consumption and indirectly through their consumption. financial and social resources ”.

The study, led by Kristian Nielsen of the University of Cambridge, focused on individuals and families with high socioeconomic status (SES) “because they generated so many problems of fossil fuel dependence that affect the rest of humanity “. The study examines their power and influence and suggests that they might actually “help shape the choices available to themselves and to others.” But first, the study looks at their so-called carbon footprints.

The high SES starts with the top 1% earners in the world, who they believe are those who earn more than $ 109,000 per year. This demographic group is responsible for 15% of the world’s carbon emissions.

Then they look at the top 0.1%.

“Accurate analyzes of emissions from the top 0.1% are rare due to their under-representation in national and global analyzes, in part because they are notoriously difficult to recruit for survey-based research. However, many very wealthy people with assets over US $ 50 million have an unusually large climate footprint through consumption, including owning multiple homes and using private jets. ”

The study notes that the impacts of climate change are disproportionate: “People with high SES emit the most GHGs, but tend to be the least vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change, while people with low SES are generally the most vulnerable. more vulnerable ”.

The study authors note that air travel emissions increase rapidly with income and are the largest source of GHG emissions for high-emitting individuals. that “these emissions come mainly from people with high SES, with 50% of GHG emissions from air travel coming from only 1% of the world population”

Housing emissions are also correlated with income. The study states: “In Europe, nearly 11% of GHG emissions from homes come from the top 1% emitting, whose emissions are attributable to owning and occupying larger homes, multiple residences and more. household items with high energy consumption such as central air conditioning. conditioning.”

The study also reveals: “Investments in stocks, bonds, businesses and real estate are made disproportionately by those in the top 1% of income and wealth. In fact, they own these big polluters and have shares in these fossil fuel companies. The authors write that “by shifting investments to low-emission companies and mutual funds, people with high SES can push companies to reduce their GHG emissions and thus lead to structural changes. Conversely, investments that promote continued use of fossil fuels will delay emission reductions.

Indeed, the study is positive about the role that people with high SES can play due to their influence. “People with high SES have resulted in increased emissions in the past, but can also help mitigate through their role as role models within their social networks and for those who aspire to their status level.” The examples are the main drivers of electric cars: these are the people lining up for the electric Lucids and Rolls-Royce that we eye on Treehugger.

They can also change investment policies and promote new technologies, which Gates’ Breakthrough Energy does. But as the study concludes, “We stress that people with high SES are disproportionately responsible for climate change and its harms.”

So basically going back to the secretary and her suggestion that individual responsibility is irrelevant, it turns out that a certain subset of individuals, the 1%, are actually responsible for 15%. global emissions, and their emissions are indeed relevant. Half of that comes from the 0.1%.

The board of directors and investors of Breakthrough Energy, which produces the Cipher newsletter, have an individual responsibility that is particularly relevant. They all have an ultra-high ESS: it’s made up of people like Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries, a multinational with interests in oil, natural gas, and petrochemicals. And that’s only just getting started at A. There’s Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, Gates, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, some Waltons and others. They are not only massive emitters of carbon by their own consumption, but they own the companies that fuel that consumption for everyone.

I’m not going to fall into the trap of saying they shouldn’t be flying private jets or having multiple homes; I read Sami Grover’s book “We Are All Climate Hypocrites Now”. These are the advantages of being in the .001%.

But this shows once again that it is not the producers, the “big polluters” who are at the origin of carbon emissions. These are the big consumers, the richest 10% who emit half of greenhouse gases, the richest 1% who emit 15%. If there was a policy that Energy Secretary Granholm could promote to achieve real systemic change and a reduction in carbon emissions, it would be a big progressive carbon tax.

About Larry Noble

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