2021-11-26 03:56:51 GMT2021-11-26 11:56:51(Beijing Time) Sina English


The world's wealthiest people make a huge contribution to climate change through carbon-hungry activities. How can we reduce emissions from the rich?

In 2018, Stefan Gössling and his team spent months scouring the social media profiles of some of the richest celebrities, from Paris Hilton to Oprah Winfrey. The tourism professor from Linnaeus University in Sweden was looking for evidence of how much they were flying.

瑞典林奈大学的旅游教授格斯令(Stefan Gössling )和他所领导的研究小组2018年用了几个月时间搜索美国名媛帕丽斯·希尔顿(Paris Hilton)和媒体名人奥普拉(Operah Winfrey)等全球最富有名人在他们社交媒体上的资料,寻找他们乘搭飞机次数的证据。

The answer was a lot. Bill Gates, one of the world's most high-profile environmental advocates, took 59 flights in 2017, according to Gössling's calculations, covering a distance of around 343,500km (213,000 miles) – more than eight times around the world – generating more than 1,600 tonnes of greenhouse gases (that's equivalent to the average yearly emissions of 105 Americans).


The last few decades have shone a spotlight on global inequality. From the 2008 financial crisis, to the pandemic and the increasingly severe impacts of climate change – disruptive events tend to hit the poorest first and hardest.


But in debates about how to solve inequality, over-consumption is often overlooked. "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 outsized carbon footprints of society's richest entrench inequality and threaten the world's ability to stave off catastrophic climate change.

不过在如何解决“碳排放不平等”的争议方面,人们通常会忽略富裕者的超高碳消费这一点。位于德国柏林的地球暖化问题研究智库——气候暖化问题研究所(Hot or Cool Institute)的负责人阿肯吉(Lewis Akenji)表示:“你每排放一个单位的碳,就意味着必须有人失去(一点东西)”。而结果是,社会上最富有的人产生的巨大碳足迹强化了贫富差距,威胁着全球抵御灾难性气候变化的能力。

Who is the 1%?


When we think of "the rich", we might think of millionaires and billionaires with private jets and multiple mansions.


But an income of $38,000 (£27,500) is enough to put someone in the world's richest 10%, and $109,000 (£79,000) puts them in the top 1%.

但实际只要年收入达到 $3.8万美元已属于全球 10%的最富有者,达到$10.9万美元则进入顶端 1%的最富圈子。

The statistics are startling. The world's wealthiest 10% were responsible for around half of global emissions in 2015, according to a 2020 report from Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute. The top 1% were responsible for 15% of emissions, nearly twice as much as the world's poorest 50%, who were responsible for just 7% and will feel the brunt of climate impacts despite bearing the least responsibility for causing them.


As the rich race through the remaining "carbon budget" – the amount of greenhouse gas it's possible to emit without pushing the world beyond 1.5C of warming by the end of the century – they "aren't making the space for the bottom 50% of the population to grow their emissions to the point where they're actually getting their needs met", says Emily Ghosh, a staff scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute.

斯德哥尔摩环境研究所的科学家艾米丽·高希(Emily Ghosh)说,全球富裕人口争抢剩余的“碳排放量配额”,即为达到本世纪末全球气候升温不超过摄氏1.5度可允许排放的温室气体量上限,但却“未给全球最穷50%人口留下可让他们满足民生所需的排放量空间”。

Dario Kenner, the author of Carbon Inequality: The Role of the Richest in Climate Change, coined the term "polluter elite" to describe the wealthiest in society who invest extensively in fossil fuels, as well as having a strong climate impact from their high-carbon lifestyles. But while the polluter elite have a disproportionate impact, the world's wealthiest encompasses a much broader swathe of the population.

《碳排放不平等:地球最富有者在气候变化中的角色》(Carbon Inequality: the Role of the Richest in Climate Change)一书的作者肯纳(Dario Kenner)发明了“污染精英”(polluter elite)这个词,用来指大量投资化石燃料,或高碳生活方式对气候产生巨大影响的最富有社会阶层。但是,虽然污染精英人数很少,对气候的影响却很大,不过所谓世界上最富有者的涵盖面比我们所想的要大很多。

As things stand, most people in wealthy countries are consuming in ways that are accelerating climate catastrophe. When you take into account the emissions from imported goods, the average person in the UK emits 8.5 tonnes of carbon a year according to the Hot or Cool Institute, a figure that rises to 14.2 tonnes in Canada, the country with highest emissions among those the institute surveyed. In order to stay within 1.5C of warming, these figures need to come down dramatically to 0.7 tonnes per person by 2050.


Personal consumption is a thorny topic to address. It can quickly spiral into a well-worn debate about whether tackling climate change hinges on individual actions or systemic changes from governments and corporations.


"This is a false dichotomy," says Akenji. "Lifestyles don't exist in a vacuum, lifestyles are shaped by context." People live their lives within the mostly unsustainable political and economic systems that exist. But, without addressing the lifestyles of the wealthiest and most polluting in our societies, and the power they hold, we won't be able to address climate change.

阿肯吉说,“这是一种非此即彼的错误认识。个人生活方式不是存在于真空中,而是被社会所左右”。 人类现在赖以生活的既有政治和经济体制几乎是不可持续的。要是不正视社会中最富有、产生污染最严重的这部份人的生活方式及其所拥有的权力,就无法从根本上解决气候变化问题。

"Wealthy people set the tone on consumption to which everybody aspires. That's where the toxic effects are," says Halina Szejnwald Brown, professor emerita of environmental science and policy at Clark University in the US.

美国克拉克大学(Clark University)环境科学与政策名誉教授布朗(Halina Szejnwald Brown)表示,富人的消费模式引起人人仿效,这就是毒性影响之所在。"

Take aviation. "As soon as you fly, you belong to a global elite," says Gössling. More than 90% of people have never flown and just 1% of the world's population is responsible for 50% of emissions from flying. From the business elite crisscrossing the globe to the celebrities who have made travel part of their personal brands, their behaviour has helped make a high carbon lifestyle aspirational and desirable, says Gössling.


The SUVs that ferry around presidents, business leaders and celebrities – and increasingly middle class families in cities – have also become a status symbol despite their environmental impact. Making up 42% of global car sales in 2019, SUVs were the only sector to see emissions rise in 2020. The increase in people buying SUVs last year effectively cancelled out the climate gains of electric cars.


Bigger homes are another consumption hotspot. "Housing choices signify prestige and social status," writes Kimberly Nicholas, a sustainability scientist at Lund University, and her co-authors in a recent study on the role of wealthy people in driving climate change. In Europe, nearly 11% of emissions from housing came from the top 1% of emitters who own large – and often multiple – homes.

豪宅巨室是另一项热门的豪华消费。针对富人在气候变化所起作用,瑞典隆德大学(Lund University)可持续发展科学家尼古拉斯(Kimberly Nicholas )最近做了一项研究,她同合著者在研究报告中指出,“住宅的选择彰显一个人的名望和社会地位。”在欧洲,近11%的住房碳排放来自于拥有大型(通常是多套)豪宅的1%的顶端富豪。

The last few years, however, have seen social norms start to shift. In Sweden, Thunberg's activism helped inspire flygskam (the Swedish word for "flight shame"), a concept which led people to question how much they should be flying. The movement was linked to a 4% drop in the number of people flying from Sweden's airports in 2018 – a rare fall at a time when global passenger numbers were increasing.


Covid-19, which dramatically curtailed business travel, proved that video calls can replace in-person meetings. A Bloomberg survey found 84% of businesses plan to spend less on work travel post-pandemic.


But these changes are too gradual for the emergency we are in, says Kenner: "We're going past climate tipping points and species are going extinct." The issue is about speed, and for that government action is necessary, he says.


For example, proceeds from a frequent flyer tax could be invested into a cheaper or even free public transport system, and money from a "mansion tax" could be put towards insulating houses, bringing down levels of fuel poverty. The problem, though, is if the richest can simply absorb these costs and continue as before.


Another policy idea that's gaining popularity is "choice editing", where governments restrict carbon-intensive products – like private jets or mega yachts – from coming to market in the first place. The idea is low-carbon options, many of which already exist, will fill the gap.


Choice editing may sound radical but it's not new, says Akenji. The UK government, for example, uses choice editing on public safety grounds to ban the sale of guns or cars with no seatbelts. "Undoing unsustainable behaviours is a whole lot harder than preventing unsustainable products from coming to market in the first place," concluded an April report on behaviour change co-authored by Newell.


But even as time runs out for tackling climate change, many governments baulk at behaviour-change policies fearing they will be politically toxic to voters and unpalatable to the rich. The control that the wealthiest have over governments through lobbying and hefty donations gives them huge influence to dilute climate action and shape the choices available for everyone, says Kenner. "There's this other future, this alternative future, which is being denied on a daily basis," he says.


For all the policies that target the behaviour of consumers, ultimately, it's very hard to bring down emissions if the infrastructure isn't there for people to live low-carbon lives. "There's a lot that needs to go into building a more sustainable society and it's beyond just reducing private jets and luxury yachts," says Ghosh.


Some governments are making big changes. The Welsh government has suspended investment in new road building to meet emissions targets, the Netherlands has proposed cutting livestock numbers by 30% to reduce pollution and councils in UK cities such as Norwich and Exeter have started building energy-efficient social housing.


Others have targeted the role of advertising in driving unsustainable consumption. "People try to stake out their place in society by distinguishing themselves from those that are below them," says Brown, and advertising "builds its entire industry on this insecurity." In 2021, Amsterdam banned adverts for emissions-intensive products including SUVs and cheap short-haul flights, following in the footsteps of cities such as São Paulo and Chennai, which have banned or strictly limited billboard advertising.


"But this is really not enough," says Akenji. The pace is glacial and the world is running out of time. Governments need to overhaul infrastructure, he says, putting sustainability at the heart of policy. That means creating fast, extensive and affordable public transport networks; decarbonising electricity; building denser, well-insulated housing; banning the use of gas-powered cars; and considering measures such as a four-day working week.


Governments and the wealthy, with their outsized role in influencing social norms, can also help to change the narrative that climate action is all about loss of personal freedom and quality of life. "The sad thing about this is that things that have been shown to be more sustainable for the environment are almost always better for our own wellbeing and social cohesion," says Akenji.


"No one gets up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to wreck the environment'," says Akenji. People consume for many reasons: to meet their needs, to show affection, to feel good or because they feel pressured into it by advertising or social expectations.


Very few people ever really question their consumption, says Brown. "These are pretty deep questions: 'Who am I and what do I need for a good life?' I mean, how many people want to sit down and actually ask that question?"

布朗说,很少有人会对自己的消费模式认真思考,予以质疑。“我是谁?”“我需要什么才能过上美好的生活?” 这些都是非常深奥的问题。多数人可能不会扪心自问。

Individual actions won't be enough to tackle climate change, says Akenji, and guilt and shame won't help. But choices and actions do matter. "I think we should all become political activists in one way or another," he says. "What we're going to do is very deliberately and decisively go after our governments and ask them to live up to their commitments."


Add Comment