America’s jet-setting elites attending climate galas appear to be responsible for 40 percent of the carbon emissions that fuel climate change, despite their calls for climate activism.
In fact, just 15 days of income for a household in the top 0.1 percent—those earning more than $3.2 million per year—creates as much carbon pollution as a lifetime of income earned by a household in the bottom 10 percent, those who earn $15,700 or less per year, according to a new study.
The findings follow years of criticism leveled at wealthy climate activists and celebrity environmentalists, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, director Steven Spielberg, A-list actor Leonardo DiCaprio and many others, for their huge carbon footprints.
Last summer, pop icon Taylor Swift was named the ‘most CO2 polluting celebrity of the year’ following a study that found the musician had taken 170 private jet flights between the months of January and July 2022 alone.
Bill Gates boards a private jet at the Gillette-Campbell County Airport in Gillette, Wyoming in 2010. Gates has been accused of hypocrisy after bidding to buy the world’s largest private jet operator just a month before publish a book preaching about climate change.
The new study, led by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that the richest Americans, whose incomes put them in the top 10% of earners, have driven climate change largely because of their passive investments in stocks. of fossil fuels.
The study authors, led by a team at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, recommend implementing a new ‘shareholder-based carbon tax’ targeting fossil fuel investments by the wealthy as a solution to climate hypocrisy.
“This research gives us insight into how revenue and investment obscure emissions responsibility,” said the study’s lead author. Jared Starra sustainability scientist in the UMass Amherst Department of Environmental Conservation.
Previous models of how to curb carbon, Starr noted, tended to focus on “carbon tax” initiatives that target personal consumption, which can unfairly penalize blue-collar workers like truckers who must burn gasoline for a living.
“Consumption-based approaches to limiting greenhouse gas emissions are regressive,” Starr said. “They disproportionately punish the poor and have little impact on the extremely wealthy, who tend to save and invest a large part of their income.”
Working in collaboration with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Starr’s UMass team gathered 30 years of data, including more than 2.8 billion financial transfers between industries obtained from the Eora MRIO database.
That data helped Starr and his team differentiate between two categories of greenhouse gas emissions that might be tied to passive investment income.
The first they called “supplier-based emissions,” meaning emissions that result from fossil fuel companies themselves and the profits they generate for their investors through the sale of oil, natural gas, and other hydrocarbon fuels.
The second they called “producer-based emissions,” that is, emissions tied directly to the operation of a publicly traded shareholder-owned company, such as a coal-fired power plant.
Starr’s group was then able to compare that industry financial data with a second database, that of the University of Minnesota. Integrated Microdata Series for Public Use (IPUMS)which houses demographic and income information for more than 5 million US citizens.
The IPUMS data helped determine how many Americans were making money from wages and salaries compared to investment income, and the mixed demographics who made money from both.
“An income-based lens helps us zero in on exactly who is benefiting most from climate-changing carbon pollution and design policies to change their behavior,” according to Starr, who published the new study in PLOS Weather Thursday.
Private jets lined up at an airfield in Sun Valley, Idaho, in July 2021, where climate change talks were held during Sun Valley’s annual conference, dubbed “Billionaire Summer Camp.”
The authors hope their findings will divert some of the attention away from environmental politics away from micromanaging ordinary people’s consumption habits, such as pushing to replace red meat with plant-based protein or incentivizing upgrades to potentially overpriced electric vehicles.
“Consumption-based approaches miss something important,” Starr said, “carbon pollution generates income, but when that income is reinvested in stock, rather than spent on necessities, it’s not subject to a tax on income.” consumption-based carbon.
A carbon tax policy focused on those who profit from carbon emissions, through their actions in fossil fuels or other energy-intensive industries, would not only be fairer, but could be more likely to reduce global temperatures. .
And it could also help finance government efforts needed to tackle climate change, the researchers argue.
“Imagine how quickly corporate executives, board members and big shareholders would decarbonize their industries if we did it in their financial interest,” Starr said.
“The tax revenues obtained could help the nation invest substantially in decarbonization efforts.”