Will the Rich Ever Step Up? Through the NOW Lens: Climate Apartheid

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As the world becomes more conscious of our climate emergency, it is increasingly at risk of “climate apartheid”, where the rich pay to escape heat and hunger caused by the escalating climate crisis while the rest of the world suffers, a recent report from a U.N.’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, has said – you can read the full story in The Guardian.

NOW believes that this situation can only be resolved if the rich and the super rich step up and dig deep. That’s rich companies, rich governments and rich countries, of course, but also – and possibly mainly – rich individuals. As Oxfam found way back in 2015, it’s the world’s richest 10% that produce half of the world’s carbon emissions, while the poorest half contribute just 10%. Lessening general consumption, sorting out overpopulation or even taming trade in China isn’t the solution – rather, it’s the richest 10% of the planet who are directly responsible either through consumption or control for the majority of global emissions and broader environmental impacts.

Climate Refugees
Credit: UNICEF

Drill this down to wealthy individuals, and recent studies have shown that those who drive big cars, frequently fly business and first class or on private jets, have two or more homes and invariably live in “self-proclaimed climate progressive countries” are actually responsible for half of the total lifestyle consumption carbon emissions in the world, says climate scientist Prof Kevin Anderson – you can read the full story in The Irish Times here.

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Since the beginning of time, life has never been equal for those that have and those that have not. Life for the rich, specially the super rich, has always and will always be more privileged. Which is why the rich need to do the right thing and stand up for equality and the basic human rights of all those living on the planet today. But will they? Let’s face it, with exception of the Bill Gates and a few others, most of the rich and super rich do not seem to care enough about anything that does not touch them personally. Are we loosing a sense of our shared humanity? Read more about a new privatized African city that heralds climate apartheid here.

American congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently shook up environmental politics in the US by releasing a broad outline of a Green New Deal – a plan to make the US a carbon-neutral economy in the next ten years, while reducing both poverty and inequality. Welcomed by many as a radical and necessary step, president Trump responded in typical style by suggesting in a tweet that this would mean an end to all transport, travel, oil, gas and even cows – you can read the full story in the Global Policy Journal here.

Emissions by world population
Credit: Oxfam

In his report, Philip Alston criticized governments for doing little more than sending officials to conferences to make “sombre speeches,” even though scientists and climate activists have been ringing alarm bells since the 1970s.  “Thirty years of conventions appear to have done very little. From Toronto to Noordwijk to Rio to Kyoto to Paris, the language has been remarkably similar as States continue to kick the can down the road”. More from Huffington Post here.

We all need to push for a huge change in attitudes and behaviour – both within ourselves and within the rich – so that we all take responsibility for the carbon pollution of our chosen lifestyle. But rather than bang on about having less of everything, we need to target the rich to act. It’s been found that the top 770 million of super rich individuals produce 35 times the carbon emissions of someone in the bottom half, and 175 times the amount of someone in the poorest 10%. And they are spread unevenly around the world – some 40% live in the US, around 20% live in the EU and 10% in China.

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As Nicholas Beuret, Lecturer at the UK’s University of Essex, cleverly points out: ‘Given the problem is overwhelmingly (dare he say it) rich white men, we don’t do ourselves any favours by assigning blame to whole populations – be it humanity, Americans, or even the whole global north’. Instead, he says, rather than signing up for local protests, meat free Mondays or no more holidays, we’d be better off targeting the rich – or as he says, “eating the rich”, with reference to a saying attributed to Jean-Jacques Rousseau who said, ‘When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich.’ Now there’s food for thought.

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