Bad news for people who want to point fingers, but good news for the rest of us:
A recent article in the Washington Post reports that the world’s richest one percent pollute more than the poorest two-thirds.
Billionaires are probably usually who we think of when we think of the 1%. Most of us probably think of ourselves as the middle class.
You and I may not be among the one percent here in the USA and similarly rich consumerist nations. But globally, many of us here are very much that very 1% that we so love to blame.
If you check out the comment section of that WaPo article, you’ll notice that a lot of people are missing this key point.
To find out where you stand globally in terms of income and wealth, do a search on “global income calculator” and “global wealth calculator”; you’ll find a — pardon the pun — wealth of info.
To be in the top 1% within the USA, income-wise, you’d need to be earning over 700K. The average income in the USA is just 57K (smartasset.com).
However, that 57K that’s only average in the United States puts you nearly in the 1% globally! And of course many of you are reading this blog make more than 57K. (According to this “How rich am I?” calculator, an income of 60K puts you in the top 1% globally. Even at 57K, you are still in the richest 1.1%.) (Figures are after-tax income.)
So in other words, lots of you who are reading this blog, reading the Washington Post, etc., fall into this category.
Why is this good news? Because there are so darn many of us! It’s the big fat middle of the bell curve! (I myself am actually in the underclass in terms of income, but for various reasons consider myself to be included in the privileged strata.)
Because there are so many of us, we add up to make a difference. It would be really bad news if we had to rely on the bajillionaires to suddenly embrace personal austerity for the planetary good. There aren’t very many of those people. And also, they don’t have as much incentive as we do.
Everyone likes to point at billionaires with their private jets. And of course, the politicians in their publicly funded jets just really need to stop jetsetting around the world to climate conferences and photo ops and such, and use Zoom a lot more.
However, rampant airline travel among what I call the “comfortably-off middle class,” mainly us white Boomers, casually jetsetting all over the planet, sometimes two and three and four flights a year, is way more of a problem. There’s just a lot more of it by sheer numbers. (Same goes for the car addiction.)
By the way, I’m not talking about just everyone in the comfortably-off middle class. As you know if you’ve been following my blog and book for a while, I focus my efforts on those of us who consider ourselves environmentalists.
People who aren’t particularly concerned about the environment are going to do whatever their income permits, and whatever a consumerist society that glorifies what my mother used to call “wretched excess” permits.
But those of us who are worried about the environment have extra responsibilities. Haven’t we leisure-traveled enough at our age? Let the young people, or those who’ve never traveled, have a chance.
And no, it doesn’t matter if the plane is powered by some special “less bad” fuel made out of fat and sugar. There’s no magic way for the upper-strata-middle-class masses to keep living a robber-baron lifestyle and still think we’re going to fix the damage we’ve caused to the planet.
I’ve written extensively about the problematic aspects of extreme consumerist tourism, and it doesn’t matter what kind of fuel we use to get there.
For as long as I can remember, the national sport of us environmentalists has been “othering.” Othering the fossil-fuel companies; othering China; othering the politicians of whatever party we don’t like. Blaming someone else other than looking at our own habits. The only habits we can change our our own. Let’s stop normalizing energy-gluttony.
One easy way to stop normalizing and glorifying energy-gluttony is to stop posting examples of it on social media. Easy-peasy — you don’t even have to change any of your personal habits. Post attractive examples of thrift and local living, and kindly refrain from posting pics of your sixth European vacation or cruise or whatever.
PS. Regarding the fat- and sugar- powered airplane, as well as other similar stories, I call this kind of stuff “Liberal Eco-Boomer Porn,” because it feeds our fantasies of being able to just continue our robber-baron lifestyles if we just “switch to renewables.” Nope.
(BTW, in Deep Adaptation and Degrowth circles, we call these kind of green fairy-tale stories “Hopium.”)
(If you’re new to this blog and/or new to the concept of EROI — energy return on investment — I recommend watching Michael Moore’s film Planet of the Humans, and Sid Smith’s talk “How to Enjoy the End of the World.” Both are available via various online streaming channels. The latter is available on YouTube.)
The good news is our robber-baron lifestyles aren’t all that great. Look at the default settings around us in the USA and the countries that have copied our ways to their detriment. All this distance, all this high-speed go-go-go, the incessant noise of mechanized equipment performing unnecessary tasks everywhere we look, all this vacant asphalt parking-lot ugliness, the hideous “landscaping” that only looks good from behind a car window, all this social isolation. Kids not even being able to walk to school or take the bus anymore, instead being individually each dropped off by a parent in a car. Yuck! How does anyone think this is OK? Is all of this really the life you would design? If it were, surely you wouldn’t be constantly flying to quaint old walkable European cities and villages, or laid-back Caribbean towns, for a “vacation.”
PPS. Speaking of airlines … While it was originally the automobile industry and oil barons who engineered the decline of what had been a robust passenger-rail system linking the whole continental USA, I believe that the airline industry, with lots of help from government and consumers, has kept it this way and made it worse. Maybe not on purpose but that has been the result.
On a note close to home, some airline recently got paid a bunch of money to set up operations at Daytona Beach airport. Gross! If we’re going to give money to airlines, we should be giving even more to train and bus service!!
PPPS. Speaking of flying, some more …
There are multiple reasons why I quit flying some years back. But if I needed another reason, this article in the New York Times would do it:
“Drunk and Asleep on the Job: Air Traffic Controllers Pushed to the Brink” https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/02/business/air-traffic-controllers-safety.html
“Air traffic controllers, who spend hours a day glued to monitors or scanning the skies with the lives of thousands of passengers at stake, are a last line of defense against crashes. The job comes with high stakes and intense pressure, even in the best of conditions.
“Yet the conditions for many controllers are far from ideal. A nationwide staffing shortage — caused by years of employee turnover and tight budgets, among other factors — has forced many controllers to work six-day weeks and 10-hour days.
“The result is a fatigued, distracted and demoralized work force that is increasingly prone to making mistakes …”