In a revelation that will surprise almost no one, the 2022 World Inequality Report found that one space flight emits more carbon dioxide than most of the world’s population will create in their entire lifetime.
While other parts of the report focus on labor, income and economic inequality, the researchers also included a statistic — spotted by folks on social media and highlighted by Gizmodo — that perfectly sums up the relationship between those who create greenhouse gases versus those who suffer most from them.
“Perhaps the most conspicuous illustration of extreme pollution associated with wealth inequality in recent years is the development of space travel,” the report states. “An 11-minute flight emits no fewer than 75 tonnes of carbon per passenger… About one billion individuals emit less than one tonne per person per year. Over their lifetime, this group of one billion individuals does not emit more than 75 tonnes of carbon per person.”
If you’re wondering which space flight the World Inequality Report is addressing, well, the team didn’t call anyone out by name. But Jeff Bezos’ much-publicized space flight back in July was about that length of time, as Gizmodo pointed out. Bezos, the Amazon founder currently wrapped up in Blue Origin’s space tourism junket, effectively puts out more carbon than most humans could create in their lifetime each time he sends up a rocket.
Bezos isn’t the only billionaire partaking in space tourism, of course. Japanese billionare Yusaku Maezawa is currently on a twelve-day space vacation aboard the International Space Station. The flight was planned by US-based Space Adventures. Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Group, also took himself to the edge of space.
You might be thinking of a fourth billionaire involved in space exploration not yet mentioned, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk hasn’t personally traveled to space with his company SpaceX. Of course, SpaceX has sent its own tourists to orbit, which presumably has an even higher carbon footprint than Bezos’ edge-of-space joyrides. In fact, it’s scheduled to launch Maezawa on yet another trip, this time around the Moon in a jaunt scheduled a few years from now.
The World Inequality Report argues that to hold the biggest greenhouse gas emitters responsible, we need to better track global emission numbers.
“Large inequalities in emissions suggest that climate policies should target wealthy polluters more,” the authors write. “So far, climate policies such as carbon taxes have often disproportionately impacted low and middle income groups.”
It’s the equivalent of being told to recycle your cardboard and pay for municipal recycling pickup, in other words — it’s a nice gesture, but no matter how hard you try, you’ll never offset a single Bezos space journey.
Similarly, climate change in the US is expected to affect poor people the most, and the UN has warned that climate change could even aggravate terrorism in countries where impoverished people must commit violent acts just to survive.
It sounds like if we want to have a habitable planet in the near future, in other words, we’re going to have to hold billionaires accountable for their excessive emissions in a real way.