By Jonathan Diebold
From luxury yachts and private jets, to trips to space that can release 2-300 tonnes of carbon into the upper atmosphere in a single go, it’s no secret that the super wealthy are also super polluters. A recent Oxfam report put this into stark relief when it announced that the richest 1% account for more carbon emissions than the poorest two-thirds of the global population. It would take an average person 1,500 years to account for the same number of carbon emissions as the billionaires of this world do today.
The report cites one study examining the consumption emissions of 20 billionaires. It found that each produced an average of over 8,000 tonnes of CO2 a year. Meanwhile, another study of 125 billionaires found that this figure balloons to 3 million tonnes when looking at emissions through all their various investments. This makes the emissions of the richest 10% look paltry by comparison, at 24 tonnes per annum on average. The average emissions for a person in Ireland is about half this.
Poor pay for wealthy opulence
However, it is the poorest two-thirds of the world’s people, overwhelmingly living in the neo-colonial world, who will feel the real impact of this. Those with less secure housing, little or no savings, living without social safety nets, are especially impacted by the dangers of higher temperatures and extreme weather events. The US Environmental Protection Agency calculates that every million tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere causes 226 excess deaths. With this formula, we can see that the emissions of the richest 1% are enough to kill 1.3 million people every year!
It’s not just the existence of billionaires which is the problem, although their arrogance and hyper indulgence certainly do add to the problem. It is the whole economic system that allows for wealth to be massively concentrated in a tiny section of society, and prioritises profits over the very lives of workers and poor people, to the detriment of the planet we all live on.
Climate and capitalism
As Socialist Party TD Mick Barry said of the report on Virgin Media’s Tonight Show: “it raises the question as to whether there is a future for the human race. If you allow the world to be dominated by 150 or 200 large corporations responsible for more than 70% of carbon emissions, and whether you allow a billionaire class and a super wealthy elite within a capitalist society. I’m quite serious about putting on the table that part of the debate has to be: do we need to end capitalism on an international basis? These are issues that will be posed in the next ten, 15 or 20 years – if half of what is in that Oxfam report is to be believed.”