Carbon Inequality and Class

We can’t ignore class when tackling the climate emergency

Carbon Inequality

This cross-section between pollution and class has come to be known as carbon inequality. Carbon inequality describes the relationship between inequality in a society, and the propensity to pollute my members within that society. And broadly, wealthier members of society produce more pollution than poorer members. For example, a 2015 Oxfam report found the poorest 10% of the world’s population were reasonable for around 10% of the world’s emissions; the top 10% were reasonable for around 50%. A similar tendency has been found in China, the U.S., and across the OECD.

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Source: Oxfam (2015), https://www-cdn.oxfam.org/s3fs-public/file_attachments/mb-extreme-carbon-inequality-021215-en.pdf

Making Policy in Silos

A class understanding of pollution is vital if we want to produce policies that tackle emissions theoretically and in practice. For example, the global construction sector contributed around 23% to global carbon emissions in 2009 (according to Huang et al., 2018, who caveat this figure by acknowledging this includes fuel emissions during the transportation of materials, which is debatably ascribable to the logistics sector, rather than construction). Included in this figure is housing construction. In the UK, government policy to tackle high house prices and rising homelessness is to build more houses, sometimes on greenbelt land. This is to say, to respond to a class problem of housing access with an environmentally damaging solution of building more homes, despite there being more than enough vacant properties in the UK to house everyone. The same is true across Europe and America.

Written by

Behavioural Science Fellow at the LSE. Personal Blog. twitter.com/stuart_mmills

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