I won’t lie, crazy statistics make for great headlines. Oxfam’s report on ‘an economy for the 99%’ found that 8 men, controlled the same amount of wealth as half of the world’s population and the statistic zipped around social media for weeks. Debates were sparked on growing income inequality with Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International saying ‘It is obscene for so much wealth to be held in the hands of so few when 1 in 10 people survive on less than $2 a day. Inequality is trapping hundreds of millions in poverty; it is fracturing our societies and undermining democracy.’ The liberal youth talked about the income disparity between men and women, rich and poor, white and black (to put it crudely).
And we based all of the above on our idea of justice.
Public anger with inequality has become the essence of some of the major political shifts in recent months. It underpinned Donald Trump’s election, rising xenophobia, the Brexit vote, and narratives about the fire at Grenfell Tower. And those are just the ones that made the headlines. This idea of ‘justice’ speaks to a sense of fairness. That for women, the same work should earn the same pay. That Hussein, Tyrone, and, Jake, should all have the same shot at a jobber university place if they are equally qualified. That we all supposedly have a right to life, and the right to live it as we choose.
We have a right to eat, to sleep, and to procreate in safety and security. We have a right to an education, a job, and a dignified lifestyle. We are free to go about our daily lives as we see fit so long as we do not prevent anyone else from doing so. So let’s talk about the freedom to pollute.
The 2017 Carbon Majors Report found that 100 companies were responsible for 71% of fossil fuel emissions. Unsurprisingly, the largest culprits were members of the fossil fuel industry from the Global North(ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, and Chevron to name and shame a few). This represents one of the largest encroachments on civil liberties that is recordable.
According to the Climate Risk Index, the bottom 46% of countries, that is the most vulnerable, are all in the Global South. Those countries also happen to represent more than 54% of the world’s population. Furthermore, of the 20 countries who emit the most CO2 per capita, 16 are the Global North. The exceptions (India, China, Russia, and Indonesia) spend much of their GHG budget on producing goods which are destined for the Global North. So whilst the Global North has to a great extent, outsourced its emissions, the residents of the Global North still consume goods with a high GHG price tag. The freedom to emit, seems to only be valid for those with the security of a climate resilient future.
The South Pacific is one of the most climate vulnerable regions but only contributes to 0.03% of GHG emissions. Sub-saharan Africa, home to one seventh of the world’s population contributes only 3.8% of GHG emissions. The patterns would suggest, that those least responsible for climate change, are also those most threatened by it.
Not only do we need to think about the lack of control our governments seem to have on this ever ballooning industry, but also about how, as individuals, our consumption habits, are denying others their basic human rights. Kind of like second-hand smoking, but on a global scale.