Is there a relationship between carbon pollution and income? Do the wealthy pollute more? What does this mean for carbon policy? These are fair questions when we are asking everyone to change their consumption habits in order to fight climate change.
For starters let’s look at the largest contributor to consumer carbon emissions, automobiles. Wealthy Americans will often own two or more cars. They drive more and are not as worried about how much money they spend on gasoline. On the other hand, low-income Americans tend to drive less, and are much more careful on how they use fuel. The urban and suburban poor may not even own a car, and will likely rely more on alternative means of transportation such as bicycling, walking, and public transit.
The rich also fly more and take more out-of-state and out-of-country vacations. The top earners may even own a private jet. If you’re wealthy in the United States it’s also likely that you own a larger home. More square footage to your house means more space to heat in the winter and cool in summer.
It is not hard to see that the wealthy consume more and therefore contribute a greater amount of CO2 to the atmosphere. If those of greater means pollute more, is it not fair to ask them to sacrifice more for the sake of the planet and our future?
Some climate activists, and advocates of economic justice, have asked for a wealth tax. They believe that part of the revenue could be used to fight global climate change and lift some of the burden the poor will face because of it. But the amount of influence the rich in this country have over our politics makes such a proposal impossible and doesn’t address the fact that the rich will continue to pollute on a higher level.
To be fair, not every wealthy individual mindlessly emits a megaton of carbon dioxide. Some of the most notable of the upper class are fierce climate activists. On December 23, Leonardo DiCaprio, a Hollywood actor with a net worth of $220 million, spoke before the UN. He proclaimed that climate change is real and that the world must act to stop it.
Mr. DiCaprio is not the only celebrity to vocally state their support for the fight against climate change. Actress Cameron Diaz, singer Will.i.am, and, the richest of them all, Bill Gates, have all been active in the climate movement.
What if wealthy celebrities, such as those I’ve mentioned, showed off and bragged about how they use their wealth to reduce their carbon footprint. They could have tours of their homes in the style of MTV’s “Cribs”. The camera would follow them through their house as they show off their solar panels, their bamboo hardwood, their $100,000 Tesla electric car, etc…
There could also be campaigns where the wealthy compete for who can get their carbon emissions the lowest. They could brag about who gave more money to put solar panels on schools, as well as other carbon offsetting causes.
If we could make having a low carbon footprint just as much of a status symbol as owning a Gulfstream jet, the implications could go far beyond the wealthiest among us. Everyone at least once in their lifetime has dreamed of being rich and what that could mean for them. What if that also meant being able to do more to stop climate change?
-Guest Blogger Will Deacon