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Menopausal Mother Nature

News about Climate Change and our Planet


Guest Opinion: Class and climate change: A wealth tax would justifiably target carbon-indulgent Boulder – Boulder Daily Camera

By Tom Mayer

Informed people know a lot about climate change. They are probably familiar with national differences in greenhouse gas emissions. They may know that North America is responsible for 27%, Europe is responsible for 22%, and China is responsible for 11% of the total carbon emissions between 1850 and 2020. Informed people may also know something about national differences in current per-capita carbon emissions. They may know that current per capita carbon emissions in North America are 3.2 times the global average, in Europe 1.5 times the global average, and in China 1.3 times the global average. Informed people may even know that current per-capita carbon emissions in North America are about 19 times the per-capita level required to keep the global climate within 1.5° centigrade of preindustrial climate levels.

But informed are probably far less aware of the vital relationship between class and climate change. This is unfortunate because understanding the connection between class and climate change casts radical new light on the anthropogenic causes of global warming and on plausible strategies for keeping it in check. The World Inequality Lab has recently released its 2022 World Inequality Report (  This Report uses environmental input-output tables to produce the first reliable estimates of individual carbon emissions in most of the world. These individual estimates enable the authors to define what amounts to emissions class and which is analogous to economic class.  Emissions class is correlated with but not identical to economic class.  The Report goes on to reveal a critical relationship between emissions class and climate change in every major region of the globe.

It turns out that carbon emission inequality within countries (i.e. emissions class) is more important than emission differences between countries in explaining global emissions inequality.  In 2019, emission inequality within countries explained 63% of global emission inequality, while national emission differences explained only 37%. Per capita emissions among the global upper 10% of carbon emitters (the emissions upper class) were 19 times greater than per capita emissions among global lower 50% (the emissions lower class).  The emissions behavior of the global upper 1% (the emissions elite) was even more extreme.  Per capita emissions among the emissions elite were 88 times greater than lower class per capita emissions. Indeed, the miniscule global emissions elite emitted more carbon than the entire global emissions lower class.

Emissions inequality within the United States is slightly less severe.  Per capita emissions among the U.S. emissions upper class (top 10% of U.S. carbon emitters) were merely 8 times greater than per capita emissions for the U.S. emissions lower class.  However, per capita emissions in North America are over twice as high as per capita emissions in any other major region of the world.

The existence of emissions class inequality may render the task of keeping global warming in check less daunting.  A small fraction of the world’s population are the main contributors to carbon emissions and hence to anthropogenic global warming.  In every region of the world, the per capita emissions of the emissions lower class are already below the 2030 targets set by Paris Climate Agreement.  In fact, they are already close to or below the emissions levels required to keep global climate within 2° centigrade of preindustrial levels.  Almost all reduction efforts must be made by the upper half of carbon emitters and particularly by the upper 10% (the global emissions upper class).

The 2022 World Inequality Report proposes a variety of methods for coping with global warming.  But its principal proposal is a rigorously enforced and steeply progressive annual global wealth tax to fund what amounts to a global Green New Deal.  The proposed wealth tax would impact only 2% of the world’s population.  The authors suggest progressive marginal wealth tax rates starting with a one percent tax on wealth between one and ten million dollars and going up from there.  Wealth below one million dollars would not be taxed.

According to the Report, a person is responsible not merely for carbon emissions associated with his or her direct consumption, but also for the emission consequences of what that person owns.  A wealth tax like that proposed by the authors of the Report would transform wealthy (by global standards) and carbon indulgent Boulder, Colorado.  It would curtail the construction of mega-mansions, compel sharing of many large homes, and favor public over private transportation.  It would also constrict air travel, possession of SUVs, not to mention private airplanes and yachts.  Such a wealth tax would surely be a hardship for a considerable number of Boulder residents.  But from a global perspective, the wealth tax would constitute partial repayment of the profound environmental debt our extravagant community owes to planet Earth.

Written by Tom Mayer on behalf of and with the assistance of the Economics Collective of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.


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