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Profitability, Inequality and Climate Change
climate change, economic growth, profitability, capitalist exploitation
Climate change is the most serious challenge of the 21st century. Scientists tells us that the risks associated with climate change are on course to intensify. This will result in enormous strain on human societies from the spread of diseases, human displacement, massive biodiversity loss, political conflict over resources, and higher mortality rates from extreme temperatures. Given these stakes, it is highly important to know why we emit so many greenhouse gases that warm the earth’s atmosphere. The most authoritative body on the topic, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), says with “high confidence” that economic growth is one of the leading culprits for generating emissions. This is because constant growth requires a constant use of natural resources like fossil fuels at increasingly higher rates over time. Economic growth, however, is a complex process. The standard measure of it, gross domestic product (GDP), is helpful to gauge it, but it leaves out important sociological questions. It doesn’t tell us, for example, how growth is generated, who benefits from it, and how powerful individuals control the way things are produced. Getting specific is important because the contributions to climate change are very uneven. In fact, households in the top 10% of the world’s income distribution contribute to almost half of all carbon emissions. I studied how drivers of growth contribute to climate change. Specifically, I examined if the rate of profitability is associated with greenhouse gases in high-income countries – a group, along with China, that contributes to the lion’s share of emissions.