A new study led by researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst has found that the wealthiest 10% of Americans are responsible for a staggering 40% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The study, which was recently published in the journal PLOS Climate, is the first to link income, especially income derived from financial investments, to the emissions used in generating that income.
The research team suggests that policymakers adopt taxation strategies focused on shareholders and the carbon intensity of investment incomes in order to meet the global goal of limiting temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Historically, environmental policies have focused on regulating consumption, but the researchers argue that this approach misses something important: carbon pollution generates income, but when that income is reinvested into stocks, rather than spent on necessities, it isn’t subject to a consumption-based carbon tax. Rather than focus on how emissions enable consumption, they argue that the focus should be on how emissions create income.
After analyzing 30 years of data, the researchers found that not only are the top 10% of earners in the United States responsible for 40% of the nation’s total greenhouse gas emissions, but that the top 1% alone account for 15-17% of the emissions. Emissions tended to peak in the 45-54 age group before declining.
The researchers highlight the need for an income and shareholder-based taxation strategy to incentivize climate action among high-income earners and industries, which could expedite decarbonization efforts and create tax revenue to support other climate initiatives.
Photo, posted June 29, 2015, courtesy of Pictures of Money (via Flickr).