Guardian enviro-scribe/activist, George Monbiot, is calling for a war on wealth. It isn't wealth itself that vexes him but the environmental havoc it creates.
Some time ago I did a rough calculation of how humanity's footprint had grown during the 20th century. I factored in population growth, increased longevity and the massive upswing in per-capita GDP representing extraction, production, consumption and waste. In my inelegant calculations it was around a 30-fold increase. There are vastly more of us, living vastly longer and steadily consuming ever more energy and resources, creating more waste of all descriptions, far more than the Earth can handle. It was growth that would be more typical of a malignancy which, in a way, is what we've become.
Immense wealth translates automatically into immense environmental impacts, regardless of the intentions of those who possess it. The very wealthy, almost as a matter of definition, are committing ecocide.
A few weeks ago, I received a letter from a worker at a British private airport. “I see things that really shouldn’t be happening in 2019,” he wrote. Every day he sees Global 7000 jets, Gulfstream G650s and even Boeing 737s take off from the airport carrying a single passenger, mostly flying to Russia and the US. The private Boeing 737s, built to take 174 passengers, are filled at the airport with around 25,000 litres of fuel. That’s as much fossil energy as a small African town might use in a year.
Where are these single passengers going? Perhaps to visit one of their superhomes, constructed and run at vast environmental cost, or to take a trip on their superyacht, which might burn 500 litres of diesel an hour just ticking over, and which is built and furnished with rare materials extracted at the expense of beautiful places.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that when Google convened a meeting of the rich and famous at the Verdura resort in Sicily in July to discuss climate breakdown, its delegates arrived in 114 private jets and a fleet of megayachts, and drove around the island in supercars. Even when they mean well, the ultrarich cannot help trashing the living world.
...Perhaps the most radical thing we can now do is to limit our material aspirations. The assumption on which governments and economists operate is that everyone strives to maximise their wealth. If we succeed in this task, we inevitably demolish our life support systems. Were the poor to live like the rich, and the rich to live like the oligarchs, we would destroy everything. The continued pursuit of wealth in a world that has enough already (albeit very poorly distributed) is a formula for mass destitution.
A meaningful strike in defence of the living world is, in part, a strike against the desire to raise our incomes and accumulate wealth: a desire shaped, more than we are probably aware, by dominant social and economic narratives. I see myself as striking in support of a radical and disturbing concept: enough. Individually and collectively, it is time to decide what “enough” looks like, and how to know when we’ve achieved it.
There’s a name for this approach, coined by the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns: limitarianism. Robeyns argues that there should be an upper limit to the amount of income and wealth a person can amass. Just as we recognise a poverty line, below which no one should fall, we should recognise a riches line, above which no one should rise. This call for a levelling down is perhaps the most blasphemous idea in contemporary discourse.
...If everyone is to flourish, we cannot afford the rich. Nor can we afford our own aspirations, which the culture of wealth maximisation encourages.
The grim truth is that the rich are able to live as they do only because others are poor: there is neither the physical nor ecological space for everyone to pursue private luxury. Instead we should strive for private sufficiency, public luxury. Life on Earth depends on moderation.Monbiot's views will be seen as heretical by a large segment of the population. Even the ordinary aspire to wealth some day, a dream instilled in us by our consumer theology.
Think of it this way. We, mankind, are using the planet's resources at wildly unsustainable excess. Every year we exceed Earth's resource carrying capacity by a factor of 1.75. We need almost two planet Earths to satisfy our ever growing demands. At the same time as our demand grows, the planet's carrying capacity declines. This is a graphic depiction of our predicament.
The red line represents consumption. The dotted line is the Earth's ability to meet our needs. We are already past the point at which carrying capacity is degraded.
I can argue a couple of Monbiot's claims. I expect you might as well. That said, the path we are on bolsters his arguments.