In two of my podcasts, it has come up that the richer you are, the more energy you consume. It so happens that the wealthiest tenth of people consumer 20 times more energy than the bottom ten wealthiest people.
The rich against the rich pose big numbers but the rich against the poor show staggering gaps between energy consumption. The top tenth of richest people consume 187 times more fuel than the poorest tenth. – A study says.
This is backed up due to the fact that the poorer you are, the less likely you are to own a vehicle, inclining you to take public transport. The study found that the richer you become, the more energy you will use. This was replicated across 86 countries.
Researchers combined European Union and World Bank data to calculate how different categories of income groups spend their money.
In transport, the study found that people in the richest tenth of consumers use more than half the energy. This reflects previous research showing that 15% of UK travellers take 70% of all flights.
However, the ultra-rich fly the furthest by far. While 57% of the UK population doesn’t fly at all.
The study also highlighted that energy for cooking and heating is more equitably consumed, but even still, the 10% of rich consumers used one third of the total. This probably reflects the size of their homes compared to the working class.
Leader of the project at the University of Leeds, Professor Julia Steinberger, asked “How can we change the vastly unequal distribution of energy to provide a decent life for everyone while protecting the climate and ecosystems?”
Transport demand could be reduced through better public transport along with higher taxes on bigger vehicles and frequent flyer levies for people who take a large slice of the global flying.
However, another alternative is to introduce electric vehicles on a greater scale or produce them more quickly. Although, previous studies suggest the demand for driving must be reduced in order to reduce the strain on limited resources and the electricity production and distribution.
The study also examined the energy consumption of one nation against another in relativity. It shows that a fifth of UK citizens are in the top 5% of word wide energy consumers, along with 40% of German citizens and Luxembourg’s entire population.
Surprisingly, only 2% of China’s population are in the top global 5% of users. Also, only 0.2% of people in India are. Although, these low numbers could represent the density of their populations.
FACT: The poorest fifth of Britons consumes over 5x the amount of energy as the bottom billion in India.
The research holds a possibility to ignite future UN climate negotiations, where the issue of equity is always somewhat contentious. More so, in the USA, libertarian politicians typically portray climate change as a harbinger of global socialism.
Living life as normal?
But Professor Kevin Anderson, from the Tyndall Centre in Manchester, who was not involved in the study, told BBC News: “This study tells relatively wealthy people like us what we don’t want to hear.
“The climate issue is framed by us high emitters – the politicians, business people, journalists, academics. When we say there’s no appetite for higher taxes on flying, we mean WE don’t want to fly less
“The same is true about our cars and the size our homes. We have convinced ourselves that our lives are normal, yet the numbers tell a very different story,” he said.
The study says transport energy alone could increase 31% by 2050. “If transport continues to rely on fossil fuels, this increase would be disastrous for the climate,” the report says.
It suggests different remedies for different types of energy use. So, flying and driving big cars could face higher taxes, while energy from homes could be reduced by a housing retrofit.
The authors note that the recent Budget declined to increase fuel duty and promised 4,000 miles of new roads. It did not mention home insulation.
The Treasury was contacted to discuss the taxation issues raised in the research, but declined to comment.
Credit: Roger Harrabin – BBC environment analyst – BBC News