Posts Tagged ‘Climate carbon and class’

The global rich and global climate change

July 7, 2021

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

The great economic historian Adam Tooze wrote an eye-opening article about how the global rich (the richest 10%) are the chief drivers of climate change.  What he should have noted is that, at least in the immediate future, they will suffer the least from living on a hotter planet.

Tooze noted that their consumption causes nearly half of the world’s carbon emissions, and the global middle class (the next 40%) cause nearly all the rest.  The global poor (the bottom 50%) are responsible for hardly any, yet they will be the hardest hit.

He said we need to think less about which nations are the chief cause of the problem, and more about the different economic classes.  Global warming has been affected even more by the super-rich (the top 1%) in the OPEC nations and in China than the super-rich in North America.

China accounts for half the increase in global emissions from 1990 to 2015.  One-sixth of the total global increase comes from China’s rich and one third from China’s middle class. 

The betterment of material living standards in China during that period is one of the world’s great positive achievements.  But it also, according to Tooze, is a big contributor to what may be the world’s greatest problem.

It is not just that the richest 10 percent consume so much.  They are the ones who make the investment decisions.  This is true not only of private investment decisions, but of government investment, to the extent that it is financed by borrowing.

Add to that the fact that the richest 10 percent are the dominant political class in most countries.

Adam Tooze did not spell out the implications of this, but they are important.

The richest 10 percent, along with the global middle class, will try to meet the challenge of global warming by investing in alternative technologies that will maintain their material standard of living.

The problem is that making windmills, solar panels or electric vehicles is energy-intensive and uses up non-renewable resources.  Probably there is a net benefit at some point; I’m not qualified to say. The point is, you have to burn a lot of fossil fuels to create the alternatives to fossil fuels. 

What the global rich, and the global middle class, are not considering, is austerity for themselves.  Nobody that I know of advocates giving up air travel, for example. 

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