The top 10% of the wealthiest Americans churn out 40% of the nation’s climate- warming emissions, says a new study, and yet most current climate-change policy wants to unduly punish poorer residents. That study, published this week and led by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, looked harder at investment-generated wealth and its link to carbon-intensive industries, so, for instance, investment in fossil fuels like oil
and natural gas
other heavy industries with a sizable carbon footprint and financial sources for these industries. The results are the basis for the researchers’ suggestion that more effective climate policy would target such investments and not punish point-of-purchase consumption of goods such as food, gasoline
and technology, which tend to hurt lower-income groups more than their higher-earning counterparts.
The authors suggest that policymakers adopt taxes focused on shareholders and the carbon intensity of investment incomes in order to equitably meet the goal of keeping the global temperature to 1.5 Celsius of warming. And because the bulk of income among the wealthiest comes from their investments, researchers say the data suggests governments should shift away from “regressive” taxes on the carbon-intensity of what people buy and and tax climate-polluting investments instead. These regressive taxes “disproportionately punish the poor while having little impact on the extremely wealthy, who tend to save and invest a large share of their income,” said Jared Starr, a sustainability scientist at UMass Amherst and the lead author of the study. “Consumption-based approaches miss 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. What happens when we focus on how emissions create income, rather than how they enable consumption? …