Jonesing on Carbon

Yves here. It may not be obvious to readers, but even by the standards of rich person largesse, a Boeing 747 as a private jet is really vile. Note that the pictured 747-8 is the biggest 747 Boeing ever made. I had a friend who was a very successful investor and for matters of personal prurient interest as well as being able to banter with prospects much wealthier than he was, kept current on prices for trinkets. It was many many years ago, but then 747s were for sale at $1 million, which seemed implausibly cheap for such a huge plane. The reason was they were fuel hogs. The running costs were enormous, even in an era of cheaper energy and little worry about carbon footprints.

By Thomas Neuburger. Originally published at God’s Spies

Luxury Boeing 747-8 Widebody Private Jet – Forward Dining. Image credit: Greenpoint Technologies

Luxury Boeing 747-8 Widebody Private Jet – Forward Lounge. Image credit: Greenpoint Technologies

And appetite, an universal wolf …
Must make perforce an universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

— William Shakespeare

It’s not about envy; it’s about control.
—Yours truly

We’ve been writing about climate lately — see here for a list of recent climate offerings — and pretty much covered the ground as it lays before us in 2023.

There’s more to be said, of course, like the recent and scary increase in atmospheric methane, but all that’s left to complete the list above is to identify the leading users of carbon-based fuel, since it’s them we need to stop first of all.

The Leading Users of Global Fossil Fuel

The news: The greatest users of carbon aren’t the middle classes of various countries, including the United States, though their use is still excessive. The greatest users aren’t the struggling poor or the rising workers of developing nations like India and China.

The greatest users by far are the very rich, the top 10% and especially 1%, wherever they’re found. Mostly they’re found in the West.

Some data:

  • “[T]he richest 0.1% of the world’s population emitted 10 times more than all the rest of the richest 10% combined, exceeding a total footprint of 200 tonnes of CO2 per capita annually. Within this 0.1% are the billionaires and multimillionaires whose emissions-intensive super-yachts, private jets, and mansions have attracted the attention of climate activists.”
  • “Globally, the top 10% of emitters were responsible for almost half of global energy-related CO2 emissions in 2021, compared with a mere 0.2% for the bottom 10%.”
  • “Around 85% of [the top 10% of emitters] live in advanced economies – including Australia, Canada, the European Union, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, United States, and United Kingdom – and also in China.”
  • “In 2021, the average North American emitted 11 times more energy-related CO2 than the average African.”

Regarding the top 10% of global wealth, here’s a chart of per-capita energy use by income groups in four heavy-use regions, US, EU, China and India:

Regarding the richest 1%, consider this from Oxfam about the increase in carbon emissions:

Annual emissions grew by 60 percent between 1990 and 2015. The richest 5 percent were responsible for over a third (37 percent) of this growth. The total increase in emissions of the richest one percent was three times more than that of the poorest 50 percent. [emphasis added]

The super-rich are hands down the gas-guzzler kings of burning through the remaining carbon budget:

The richest 1% (c.63 million people) alone were responsible for 15% of cumulative emissions [since 1990], and 9% of the carbon budget – twice as much as the poorest half of the world’s population.

If it wasn’t clear before, we have a super-rich problem.

It’s Not About Envy; It’s About Control

The wealthy, of course, will cast this story — that the rich are responsible for half the world’s fossil fuel use — as a tale of envy, ours of their wealth. But that’s a distraction. I would cast this story as a tale of control — taking back rule of the world from those destroying it, including, sadly, themselves.

With apologies to the author for a slight modification:

And appetite, a universal wolf, must make perforce a universal prey, and last eat up himself.

The very rich, the wolves, won’t save themselves. Why would we trust them to care about any of us? Clearly, we have to take control ourselves, be our own Jesus (in this metaphor) and lead ourselves, the lambs, from the infinite appetite of those we gave power to.

That sounds like work, taking control, and it is.

But what’s the alternative? Watch “the game” till there’s no more game to watch? Stream Netflix till their servers all go down? See your children bake and their hatred rise?

Or take this day and act? Your call, humanity. How else do we stop this death machine ruling class? If you see an alternative, say so.

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  1. digi_owl

    A borderline non sequitor, but reading this reminded me of a game i used to play on my Amiga 500 called Nuclear War. It involved the player against 4 computer opponents, picked from a number of caricatures of “world leaders” from the 60s-80s.

    If one the computer players won, they would be seen jumping up and down in a yellow hazmat suit, shouting “I WON I WON”, while surrounded by a blasted to bits hellscape.

    That image is what flashed before me while reading the above article, as i can fully envision these raging sociopaths congratulate themselves as the “winner” while the world burns around them.

  2. Barnes

    Well, according to Germanys business weekly “Wirtschaftswoche” as of yesterdays online edition, it takes only one argument to dismiss notions of a luxury-is-vile attitude: incentives…
    According to their world view humans simply aren’t motivated to work, if not for the right to have luxury items.
    This is their sole reason to defend the luxury sectors especially as drivers of economic development.

    It needs to get worse before it gets better but my take is that more equality (not equity) among all humans, among humans and their living environment, as well as strict rules to limit resource consumption per capita without exceptions will be key.

    1. Petter

      Sounds like Wirtschaftswoche is preaching to the choir.
      How to achieve more equality- Thomas Pikkety has some ideas but according our Prime Minister here in Norway, Pikkety is out of touch with reality.
      Our Prime Minister – inherited money, which he has stated he feels is almost a moral obligation to administer for his descendants.
      No inheritance tax in Norway – abolished in 2014. Abolished, according to our Prime Minister because the way it was written was unfair for average citizens and was full of loopholes? OK, so why not tighten it up with new inheritance tax? Never happened.
      All good – except the prime Minister is head of the Labor Party – the party of workers and average people – not the class with significant inherited money. The party whose party motto in the last national election was “now it’s average people’s turn.”
      Pikkey has not much positive to say about the Prime Minister (and neither do I.)

      1. Barnes

        Indeed they are preaching to the choir, which is their target audience of business leaders, politicians and generally wealthy people.
        What strikes me is the chutzpa with which they dismiss other motives of human motivation. It’s obviously the case that money is a very important driver but not the only one.
        Besides the fact that it’s the silly season, it shows that they simply don’t take their readers seriously.

        As for Piketty:
        Many scientists and “regular folk” have ideas for change. Alas they have no power.
        The very least a sufficiently stringent inheritance tax could do, is to break vicious cycles of dynasty building and arguably inefficient allocation of resources. Maybe we will witness a first in history moment with substantial moves to counter clearly self only serving societal systems but I won’t hold my breath.

        1. Petter

          You need money so you don’t have to think about money – Arkady Strugatsky

          I don’t have much hope either but know it doesn’t work to “ask,” you have to force, through law. In the case of private jets – no more – in fact not only no more private jets – no more flying. No trains or cars either – it’s stagecoaches for you!!!

      2. digi_owl

        Yeah the party has not been about workers since maybe the 80s.

        But they still try to curry favor at shipyards and like, while only talking to unit bosses etc. Because anyone below that is likely to be from eastern Europe, working under some sub-contractor or other.

  3. Mikerw0

    “Do as I say, not as I do.”

    So long as the uber elites pursue the lifestyle described, which they will, nothing meaningful will happen. Just moving around Westchester County, NY, and Fairfield County, CT, all one sees is ever larger homes being constructed, multiple large SUVs in driveways, and increasingly everyone owning large pickup trucks too. Westchester Airport is jammed with corporate jets.

    Oh, the humanity.


    Nothing will change. Apathy and escapism will continue to accelerate, in tandem with charts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

    Decade by decade material conditions will deteriorate just slow enough for most to not notice (in the collective West). They will be too scared or stupid to know any better. People will be driving Chevy Suburbans through burned-out and flooded towns on their way to work.

    I’m enjoying this blog while I can. It will be amusing to reflect in the future on “the Internet” and Yves’ charming writing while I work a meager field like it’s the end of Threads

  5. Ignacio

    Hat tip for Henry Moon Pie, who linked in the comments to an article showing the data analyzed here by Neuburger. I wouldn’t have mentioned envy, it is indeed a distraction. The problem here is these people live like a different species who are natural owners of the planet by selection. They consider what they do inconsequential for climate change and lucky we are they rule the world. The populace at large has to cope with our own major crimes (may be mere existence is kind of a crime) while at the same time being grateful for the privilege of sharing the same planet with the magnificent figures of the 0,1%, the 1% and their acolytes of the 10% (possibly the true jealous within this trope filled with envy). Yes action by our part would be needed cause they will never admit any wrongdoing.

    1. Henry Moon Pie

      Thanks, Ignacio. I’m always pleased to see important information spread through citizenry. Our hosts are engaged in that effort daily with great effect. We commenters add what we can. And I’ll return the hat tip for all I’ve learned from you about Covid and related matters.

    2. Alice X

      >The problem here is these people live like a different species who are natural owners of the planet by selection.

      Not only do they live like a different species, but I suspect they believe they are a different species.

      Maybe they think we muppets are an invasive species to be eradicated.

  6. Judith

    Hanscom Field is a small public airport, adjacent to the Hanscom Air Force base and located about an hour’s ride from Logan airport and Boston. As such, it is a useful alternative for powerful people visiting Harvard and MIT and all the tech companies, such as Google, Microsoft, Pfizer, and Moderna, that have a presence in Cambridge. The Celtics and the Red Sox also use the airport.
    The expansion of the airport to make more hangar space for private jets has been proposed and many organizations have joined to protest this expansion.

  7. Carolinian

    a tale of control

    Of course it’s about control and the money itself is about control and their deathly fear of losing control is why we have the politics that we have.

    So good luck with talking them into changing their ways.

    We have an old downtown airport as well as an international airline airport shared with a nearby city. A few years back the federal government spent millions (30 million I was told) lengthening the runway of that downtown airport to make it even more accessible to business jets. Since I live under the approach pattern I see them flying over almost daily and now some are the size of commuter airliners. No sign of 747s so far although BMW does have cargo versions bringing in parts to that other, bigger airport.

    Taking away their kerosene guzzling toys might not be like cutting Samson’s hair but it would provide some needed symbolism that we are serious about climate change. Just to repeat: good luck with that.

    1. NotThePilot

      I don’t normally even listen to podcasts, but I remember listening to the one where Yasha and his wife, Evgenia, mentioned this. I think it was a memorial episode after Mike Davis died that included an interview with him.

      And it’s totally true.

      1. Petter

        The Russians is about the only podcast I listen to regularly now. Yasha and Evgenia are so refreshing, for lack of a better word.

  8. Joe Well

    Wouldn’t having a big jet just limit your choice of airports?

    Also, if you turn your nose up at taking the bus (this includes people who idealize new trains which at this point are not going to make a dent in our transportation woes within the necessary timeframe), you’re different by degree, not kind. Our only carbon-realistic option for mass mobility at this point is based on buses.

  9. Revenant

    The data don’t add up.

    “[T]he richest 0.1% of the world’s population emitted 10 times more than all the rest of the richest 10% combined, exceeding a total footprint of 200 tonnes of CO2 per capita annually. Within this 0.1% are the billionaires and multimillionaires whose emissions-intensive super-yachts, private jets, and mansions have attracted the attention of climate activists.”

    This is a very striking claim and one that, if true, has an obvious policy corollary in taxing/controlling/banning private jet travel, super yachts etc. and conspicuous consumption generally.

    However, the chart “Figure 1: share of cumulative energy emissions 1990-2015 …” shows only 15% accruing to the 1% and 37% to the rest of the 10%. Whereas if the 0.1% are responsible for 10x the emissions of the rest of the richest 10%, we should see >47.2% accruing to the 1% (which includes that 0.1%) and <4.72% to the rest of the 10%. Now, the figure is cumulative emissions but unless the relative annual emissions have changed drastically and implausibly in the period, the claim about the 0.1% vs 10%'s emissions are not supported by the chart.

    So what is it? Are the 0.1% generating some, perhaps substantial, part of 15% as per the chart? Or are they generating close to 50%? Even the former is disproportionate but the latter is Ancien Régime territory….

    My hunch is that the claim misdescribes the data and the 0.1% use 10x more *proportionally* than the rest of the 1%, that is to say that of the 15% of cumulative emissions by the 1%, 8% is emitted by the 0.1% and 7% is emitted by the rest of the 1% (which is itself twice the rate of emission of the rest of the 10%).

    I hope the author can clarify if he is reading…?

    1. Paul

      I’d also like to know where corporations, institutions, the military & c. fit into this story.

    2. Matouks

      Did you check to see if anyone raised this at ‘God’s Spies’? Let us know if there is clarification there. Thnx

  10. Ben

    As an engineer I find it useful the look at the end state position. For instance I was designing an underground water bulkhead and the end state would be a flood to surface. In this case I designed the strength of the bulkhead to cope with a water pressure at the surface

    So what is the end state for neo-liberalism?

    It would be one man owning all the money and wealth in the world. (It would be a man of course)
    He would not want any children, they would be competition.
    The big problem is his slaves he needs them but are a risk.

    Any iIdea’s to flesh out the end state?

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