As longer term readers will be aware, the original title of this blog was Make Wealth History. I chose the name to highlight the fact that a fair and sustainable world is impossible if all the attention is on lifting the poorest out of poverty. There isn’t the ecological space for everyone on earth to enjoy a Western consumer lifestyle. Those in the richest countries have to shrink their consumption in order to make room.
The role of the richest in environmental destruction has rarely been presented as graphically as it is in Oxfam’s latest report. Confronting Carbon Inequality investigates the last 25 years of accumulating carbon emissions and maps it onto income brackets.
The headline finding is that the top 1% are responsible for double the emissions of the poorest 50% of humanity. The climate was not destroyed to lift people out of poverty, or because people in Africa had too many babies. It was destroyed so that the world’s richest could fly more and drive bigger cars.
This is why it is vital to understand climate change as a justice issue.
Since the majority of that poorest 50% are people of colour, and the majority of that 1% are white, it has to be understood as a matter of race as well.
Graphs like this make a mockery of the idea that responsibility for solving the climate crisis lies predominantly with developing countries. Middle income countries make up 40% of the world’s population, and 41% of the cumulative emissions. While there is an obvious need for those countries to peak and reduce their emissions, their share of the overall total is proportional. The wealthiest 10%, on the other hand, have 52% of the total.
For my generation, climate change is the front line of global justice. This is the civil rights movement, Apartheid, the struggle to end slavery. It is on this question that future generations will judge us.