Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

The world’s wealthiest people and their corporations, left to their own devices, would for the most part rather not bear any sort of significant sacrifice.(Photo: Shutterstock)

The world’s wealthiest people and their corporations, left to their own devices, would for the most part rather not bear any sort of significant sacrifice. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Extreme Wealth Threatens Our Very Planet

Millions of years ago, life on Earth survived an existential climate crisis. But that Earth had a distinct advantage: no rich people.

Sam Pizzigati

 by OtherWords

We either keep fossil fuels in the ground, or we fry.

That’s the conclusion of another new blockbuster study on climate change, this one from the National Academy of Sciences. Our fossil-fuel industrial economy, the study details, has made for the fastest climate changes our Earth has ever seen.

Our fossil-fuel industrial economy, the study details, has made for the fastest climate changes our Earth has ever seen.

“If we think about the future in terms of the past, where we are going is uncharted territory for human society,” notes the study’s lead author, Kevin Burke from the University of Wisconsin.

“In the roughly 20 to 25 years I have been working in the field,” adds his colleague John Williams, “we have gone from expecting climate change to happen, to detecting the effects, and now we are seeing that it’s causing harm” — as measured in property damage and deaths, in intensified flooding and fires.

The last time climate on Earth saw nearly as drastic and rapid a climate shift, relates another new study, came some 252 million years ago, and that shift unfolded over the span of a few thousand years. That span of time saw the extinction of 96 percent of the Earth’s ocean species and almost as devastating a loss to terrestrial creatures.

Other scientific studies over this past year have made similarly alarming observations, and together all these analyses provided an apt backdrop for this past December’s United Nations climate change talks in Poland.

Climate change activists hoped these talks would stiffen the global resolve to seriously address climate change. But several nations had other ideas. The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all refused to officially “welcome” the recent dire findings of a blue-ribbon Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, essentially throwing a huge monkey-wrench into efforts to protect our Earth and ourselves.

What unites these four recalcitrant nations? One key characteristic stands out: The United States, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait all just happen to rate among the world’s most unequal nations.

Just a coincidence? Absolutely not, suggests a new analysis from the Civil Society Equity Review coalition, a worldwide initiative that counts in its ranks scores of groups committed to averting a climatic cataclysm.

Limiting future global temperature rises, this coalition notes, will require “disruptive shifts” and heighten public anxieties. People will tolerate these disruptions, but only if they believe that everyone is sharing in the sacrifice — the wealthy and powerful included.

The more unequal a wealthy society, the coalition explains, the greater the power of the rich—and the corporations they run—to ignore their debt to Mother Earth.

Environmental policy makers typically define the wealthy at the level of the nation state. They focus on the relationships between wealthy nations and developing nations still struggling to amass wealth. Wealthier nations, the conventional climate change consensus holds, have a responsibility to help poorer nations meet the environmental challenges ahead.

But the wealthy have the power to shirk those responsibilities — unless we expand our focus from inequality between nations to inequality within nations as well.

The more unequal a wealthy society, the coalition explains, the greater the power of the rich—and the corporations they run—to ignore their debt to Mother Earth.

And the economic inequality their wealth engenders, researchers add, has “much to do with the dark character of the current political moment,” referring to the growing xenophobia and racism that make serious environmental aid from developed to developing nations ever less likely.

The world’s wealthiest people and their corporations, left to their own devices, would for the most part rather not bear any sort of significant sacrifice. That’s all the more reason to address the inequality that bestows so much power upon them.

“Addressing climate change effectively and justly,” sums up Basav Sen, the climate policy director at the Institute for Policy Studies, “requires us to transform the unjust social and economic systems that gave us climate change in the first place.”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Mark Anniversary of 13th Amendment With Calls to 'Close the Slavery Loophole'

"Prison labor is slave labor. Pass the #AbolitionAmendment."

Jessica Corbett ·


Dems Urge DOJ Antitrust Probe Into $43 Billion Discovery-WarnerMedia Merger

"Giant corporations must not be allowed to stomp out competition, put up barriers to enter the market, and continue to exclude Latinos from the media industry."

Jessica Corbett ·


DOJ Lawsuit Challenging Texas Gerrymandering Met With Applause, Calls for Action in Congress

"While we are grateful for the involvement of the federal government, what we need to stop the five-decade cycle of having to take legal action every 10 years is for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Nobody Is Above the Law': Elizabeth Warren Applauds SEC Probe of Trump's Social Media Venture

"There may have been serious violations of securities laws during the proposed merger of Digital World Acquisition Corp. and Trump's media company," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

Kenny Stancil ·


'We Won't Stop Fighting,' Vow South African Activists After Judge OKs Shell Seismic Blasting at Sea

"We must do everything we can to undo the destructive colonial legacy of extractivism, until we live in a world where people and the planet come before the profits of toxic fossil fuel companies."

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo