World without Billionaires

It is simply unthinkable–a world without billionaires. In truth with every passing day their number is multiplying. A recent report from Oxfam entitled “Carbon Billionaires: The Investment Emissions of the World’s Richest People” points the finger at the wealthiest individuals for causing and continuing to fuel climate change through not only their individual carbon footprints but more importantly their investments in polluting industries. The study looks at the impact of 125 of the richest billionaires globally, whose carbon emissions equal those of France, or 67 million people, and shows that just the richest 10 of those individuals own more wealth than the poorest 40% of humanity. The average billionaire in the study is responsible for carbon emissions over one million times higher than the average person in the bottom 90% of humanity.

While their lavish lifestyles–yachts, private jets, mansions and other excessive material wealth—contribute to climate change, their investments account for 50% to 70% of their carbon footprint. Fourteen percent of these investments are in fossil fuels and other polluting industries, with only one of these 125 billionaires having investments in a renewable energy company. A disclaimer from Oxfam states that these figures are likely low estimates of the true carbon emissions of the wealthiest due to lack of independent verification.

But what is missing from this report is that the system of capitalism is the root cause. The very nature of capitalism–endless growth, maximisation of profits, competition over markets and resources, lack of centralised planning–has caused climate change. The insatiable need to endlessly produce products using the cheapest materials and most exploitative labour with complete disregard for the long-term implications has decimated ecosystems worldwide and spewed massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

Capitalism can never be environmentally sustainable, as it treats the living world as a commodity to be exploited until there are no more profits to be made. For instance, before colonisation, North America was a lush, bountiful landscape supporting an abundance of biodiversity due to the Indigenous peoples’ understanding and respect for the natural world. With the invasion of Europeans came capitalist market forces that drove entire species to near extinction for profit–beaver and otters were killed for their fur, bison slaughtered for their meat, bones and hide, and forests clear cut for lumber, cash crops and cattle grazing.

This drive for profits, largely to feed the markets of Europe, forever altered the ecosystems of this continent. The disruption of the inextricable balance between species that had evolved over millions of years to create the most optimal conditions for all life to thrive impacted how water cycled through the landscape and transformed once-lush ecosystems into deserts.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change continues to warn the people across the globe that the window is rapidly closing to maintain a habitable world with only a few years remaining for rapid emission reductions. It is too late for taxes and regulations. If people are to survive, the workers must take control of the economies and create a socialist system. A world without billionaires is the only path forward. The million dollar question is who will bell the cat?


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Vol 55, No. 30, Jan 22 - 28, 2023