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Carbon Emissions: The Polluting Rich and Their Surreal Denial of Climate Change

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In the race of eliminating carbon emissions, the wealthy and super-rich seem to be doing tonnes. But what goes behind the curtain is wide-ranging hypocrisy and damage. 

A recent report by the non-profit organization Oxfam has revealed that the investment of the world’s 125 richest billionaires in polluting industries surrenders a standard average of three billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. These horrifying CO2 levels equate to more than a million times for people in the bottom 90% of the world population.

The world’s 125 billionaires have a tie-up of $2.4 trillion in 183 countries. Furthermore, they together fund 393 million tones of CO2e per year which is parallel to the annual carbon emissions of the 67 million people in France. 

Global Carbon Emissions Are Rising Again after 3 Flat Years - Scientific American

Their investment in polluting industries like fossil fuels and cement doubled the average for the Standard and Poor groups of 500 companies. 

The report by Oxfam titled Carbon Billionaires: The investment emissions of the world’s richest people also states that each of these super-rich individuals would have to travel the world almost 16 million times to generate the same amount of carbon emissions; it would take 1.8 million cows to emit the identical levels of CO2; almost 4 million people would have to go vegan to counterbalance the emissions of each of these billionaires. 

The major and growing responsibility of wealthy people for overall emissions is rarely discussed or considered in climate policymaking. This has to change. These billionaire investors at the top of the corporate pyramid have a huge responsibility for driving climate breakdown. They have escaped accountability for too long,” said Amitabh Behar, CEO of Oxfam India.

The report also states that the cover of ‘net zero’ taken by most of the rich is unreliable and that the wealthy need to take responsibility for the damage they do to the planet daily. If not for short-term measures to disrupt this heinous pattern, the cause of climate action could be completely wrecked. 

Join the community of #ClimateChangers | Oxfam International

A similar study conducted by Stefan Gössling in 2016 monitored the carbon footprints of the world’s affluent by emphasizing travel by airplanes.

Surprisingly, Bill Gates, one of the leading advocates for climate action traveled a distance of 343,500 Km which is equivalent to going more than 8 times around the world. Subsequently, a total of 1600 tonnes of greenhouse gases were emitted, equal to the average yearly emissions of 105 Americans. 

The study also argues that a disruption in climate events affects the poor the most. 

 “Each unit you overshoot means someone has to give [something] up,” says Lewis Akenji, managing director of Hot or Cool Institute, a Berlin-based think tank.  

As a result, the bottom 50% of the population is not getting the opportunity to grow their emissions to the point that it meets their survival needs. 

Richest 10% are causing climate change, study finds | World Economic Forum

Source: Oxfam

In 2016, more than 90% of the world’s population had never flown indicating that only 1% of humanity was responsible for more than 50% of carbon emissions in the world, just by flying.

To deal with the issue once and for all, Oxfam suggests a higher tax on investments in polluting industries. 

“They can’t be allowed to hide or greenwash. We need governments to tackle this urgently by publishing emission figures for the richest people, regulating investors and corporates to slash carbon emissions, and taxing wealth and polluting investments,” said Nafkote Dabi, Climate Change Lead at Oxfam International.

A higher wealth tax is likely to generate around US$ 1.4 trillion a year, which could then help developing countries transition to renewable energy. 

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