A recent research study discovered that the richest 10 percent of people in the United States are causing 40 percent of the harmful pollution that traps heat in our air.
This study, led by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looked at how much pollution is linked to people’s income, spending habits, and saving practices. Unlike most studies that mainly focus on what people consume, like the cars they drive or the food they eat, this one examined how investments lead to pollution.
To do this, the researchers examined 30 years of data, which included nearly 3 billion money transfers among different parts of society. They followed how pollution and income moved through these financial transactions. Jared Starr, a sustainability scientist at UMass Amherst, led the team and they categorized emissions as either coming from the producers of goods or the suppliers of those goods.
For example, consider a dirty energy company that produces a small amount of pollution when extracting fuels from the Earth. This company, however, makes a huge profit by selling that fuel to another company, which burns it and adds to the planet’s warming.
The researchers then compared this pollution data with a database containing information about more than 5 million Americans, including details about their income and demographics. This database separated regular income, like wages, from income generated from investments.
Aside from revealing that the wealthiest 10 percent are responsible for 40 percent of pollution in the U.S., the study also showed that the richest 1 percent alone produces more pollution than the poorest 50 percent, as Jared Starr explained 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.”