A recent study showed that the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans are responsible for 40 percent of harmful heat-trapping pollution released into our air.
The study, led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, examined quantities of pollution associated with people’s salaries, how they spend, and how many save the money they make.
While most environmental studies tend to focus more heavily on consumption, like what kind of cars we drive or what type of food we eat, etc., this one links investments with the pollution necessary to generate that investment income.
The study looked at 30 years’ worth of data using a database of nearly 3 billion financial transfers through several sectors of society and followed the flow of pollutants and income through these financial transactions. The team, led by Jared Starr, a sustainability scientist at UMass Amherst, could define emissions as either producer-based or supplier-based.
An example highlighting the difference could be a dirty energy company generating a relatively small amount of pollution while extracting fuels from the Earth. Yet the corporation would make a massive profit by supplying that same fuel to another company that will burn it and contribute to our planet’s overheating.
The study’s authors then cross-referenced this pollution data with a database of more than 5 million Americans containing detailed information about demographics and income. The database separated regular sources of income like wages and salaries from revenue generated through investments.
Besides finding that 40 percent of pollution is attributable to the richest 10 percent in the U.S., the study also found that the richest 1 percent of Americans alone is responsible for more pollution than the poorest 50 percent, as Starr summarized in an online video.
“This research gives us insight into the way that income and investments obscure emissions responsibility,” Starr said in a report by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, published by Phys.org. “For example, 15 days of income for a top 0.1 percent household generates as much carbon pollution as a lifetime of income for a household in the bottom 10 percent.”
Starr believes that income- and shareholder-based taxation for the super-rich is the best way to remedy the situation.
“In this way, we could really incentivize the Americans who are driving and profiting the most from climate change to decarbonize their industries and investments. It’s divestment through self-interest rather than altruism,” Starr said.
“Imagine how quickly corporate executives, board members, and large shareholders would decarbonize their industries if we made it in their financial interest to do so.”
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