When you talk about the climate crisis, sooner or later someone is going to say that population is the issue and fret about the sheer number of humans now living on Earth. But population per se is not the problem, because the farmer in Bangladesh or the street vendor in Brazil doesn’t have nearly the impact of the venture capitalist in California or the petroleum oligarchs of Russia and the Middle East. The richest 1% of humanity is responsible for more carbon emissions than the poorest 66%. The rich are bad for the Earth, and the richer they are the bigger their adverse impact (including the impact of money invested in banks, and stocks financing fossil fuels and other forms of climate destruction).In other words, we are not all the same size. Billionaires loom large over our politics and environment in ways that are hard to understand without taking on the shocking scale of their wealth. That impact, both through their climate emissions and their manipulations of politics and public life means they are not at all like the rest of humanity. They are behemoths, and they mostly use their outsize power in ugly ways – both in how much they consume and how much they influence the world’s climate response.Let me put it this way: If you made $10,000 a week – a princely sum by the standards of most people – you would have to work every week from the year of Jesus’s birth until this week to earn over a billion dollars.
To earn as much as Elon Musk’s net worth at that rate – currently $180bn, according to Forbes – you’d have to work every week for more than a third of a million years – that is, since before Homo sapiens first emerged in Africa (emphasis added).