A compelling case for eating the rich to save the planet

Just kidding. Definitely don’t eat the rich.

He continues: “composting the rich will allow all the accumulated toxins (like heavy metals! do you know how much expensive seafood the rich eat? mercury up the kazoo!) to be diluted or removed. Then you can use the fertile soil to grow clean, healthy crops.”

The more you know!

So now we’ve gotten my clickbait title out of the way, let’s get real: we do indeed need to find a way to eradicate the rich if we have any hope of reining in our carbon emissions and limiting catastrophic damage to Earth.

The carbon emissions of the global elite

They’re a problem.

A 2015 Oxfam briefing put it succinctly:

The poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change – while the richest 10% of people in the world are responsible for around 50% of global emissions. (source)

And while it may be tempting to start pointing fingers at the growing elite in countries like China or Brazil who have begun displaying some conspicuous wealth, their richest citizens still have carbon footprints far smaller than wealthy OECD countries like the US, UK, and other high-income EU countries. Make no mistake: this is a very white problem.

On the other end of this, the lifestyle emissions of the poorest citizens in those emerging economies are significantly lower than the poorest in OECD countries. 

It’s difficult to pin down exact numbers for such an all-encompassing measurement, but the Oxfam report makes some guesses. The average emissions of a person in the poorest half of the global population? 1.57 tCO2.

While that’s hard for me to grasp exactly how much that is, when we begin to compare numbers, the divide is clear:

The average emissions of someone in the poorest 10% of the global population is 60 times less than that of someone in the richest 10%… the richest 1% may emit 30 times more than the poorest 50%, and 175 times more than the poorest 10%.

The TL;DR? The rich in emerging economies still have a smaller footprint than the elite in high-income countries. And even those in poverty within the US and EU have a significantly higher carbon footprint than those in true poverty, ie. those 783 million people – 10.7% of the global population – who still live on less than $1.90/day.

A compelling case for eating the rich to save the planet

Required reading: Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

Income inequality and climate change

As I explored in further detail in What’s the State of the Environment in 2019?, income inequality is not only our global, moral failing, but it’s also a massive driver of climate change. Nature exists in balance and we as a species are wildly out of balance.

All of us know – whether we’re ready to admit it or not – that our system benefits very few. And those very few rich, selfish parasites will continue to profit as climate change gets worse. (As they’re a bunch of old white men, I’m guessing they’re planning to die before the system collapses.)

Not only those who area already rich benefit from an unequal economy, their wealth is also deeply entrenched in the systems that perpetuate climate change. The Oxfam report found:

Between the Copenhagen and Paris climate conferences, the number of billionaires on the Forbes list with interests in fossil fuel activities has risen from 54 in 2010 to 88 in 2015, while the size of their combined personal fortunes has expanded by around 50% from over $200bn to more than $300bn.

Not to mention Jeff Bezos (#1 richest man in 2019 – Amazon) who profits from increased, consumption of shitty, fleeting products, Amancio Ortega (#6 richest – Zara) who profits from factory/slave-labor fast fashion trends, and the many others who profit from unfettered capitalist consumption.

Why fight climate change if you have a stake in most of its drivers?

So what’s the answer?

I mean, besides eating them?

progressive carbon taxes

Basically, tax the rich and the companies they profit from for shooting carbon into our atmosphere.

There are different ways to approach carbon taxes. One popular concept is a cap-and-trade system, which basically sets a top limit of pollution for a country and polluters receive permits for their pollution. (As a very crude example, the US would set a limit of 1,000 tons of CO2. Each of its 10 companies would get permits to create 100 tons of carbon.) Those permits can be bought and sold between companies so those who pollute less, profit.

Studies show that $15-25 per ton of carbon is enough incentive to begin a substantial emissions reduction. 

A big part of any carbon tax, though, is to ensure low-income households are taken care of if energy prices rise. (In theory, the math works out in a positive way!) So don’t worry – most plans implement an income-based plan so that the average person either gets refunds or credits.

Want more info on legislation happening in the US? Check out the Citizens’ Climate Lobby!

A compelling case for eating the rich to save the planet

Higher taxation on air travel

A UK group called A Free Ride found that just 15% of fliers take over 70% of all the flights. And while they’re looking at UK data, the point stands: very few (RICH) people are responsible for most of the carbon emissions associated with flying. Why are we letting a wealthy few get away with poisoning our air?

And why so-called “environmental leaders” allowed to abuse the system with impunity? How do you feel about 1500 private jets being taken to a climate talk in Davos? Are men and women who feel entitled to fly private really the people you want making decisions for you?

For context:

The total carbon emissions from the Davos jet set is nearly impossible to calculate without detailed travel itineraries, but it’s likely well more than 1,500 tons of carbon. The EPA estimates that 1,500 metric tons of carbon could power 318 vehicles for a full year, or one car driving a distance of more than three million miles. Its equivalent to burning more than 1.6 million pounds of coal, 160,000 gallons of gasoline, or 3,500 barrels of crude oil. (source)

How do we solve it? Put taxes on flying by creating a progressive tax the more and more you fly; something like a “first ride free” then you start to pay. I’m also very comfortable with some astronomic fees if you fly private. (Or again, just eating anyone who purchases/rents a private jet to negate the issue.)

A Free Ride has more information about the idea of a flying tax.

mass disruption of wealthy people’s activity

Because we all know the only way things will really ever change is by totally disrupting business as usual. Extinction Rebellion is a movement encouraging just this sort of disruption – and sharing the astonishing fact that history shows that only 3.5% of a population needs to be actively protesting to overthrow a system! Totally do-able!

While it’s all well and good to lobby and play along, true liberation comes through subversion.

Just saying.

And, you know, if all else fails: eat the rich first when the time inevitably comes. I mean – no. Wait. Compost them to allow the seeds of the revolution to flourish.