News reports of the world’s worst polluters often point to a specific handful of countries at fault. However, the focus on sovereign states as the underlying cause of carbon emissions and climate change misses an important class-based dynamic at work, says Shelley Welton, Presidential Distinguished Professor of Law and Energy Policy and Penn Carey Law’s new resident climate and energy law authority. Welton also holds an affiliation with the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy.
Addressing the problem of luxury emissions, she believes, could be one key to igniting a larger cultural shift against excessive carbon emissions. Welton is in the midst of a project examining the moral and social underpinnings of possible new climate policy and the political economy of passing laws addressing luxury emissions, which include the use of private yachts and jets, along with the ownership of multiple homes and cars.
“The top 10% of emitters have emitted half the carbon of the past 30 years, and carbon footprints at the top are 100 times bigger,” Welton says. “There’s been a lot of chatter and analysis exposing these numbers, but much less discussion about what law and policy should do about it.”
She and her project partner are considering a proposal for a luxury emissions tax that would focus on grossly excessive personal carbon emissions as morally problematic, which they hope will resonate with growing concerns over inequality more broadly.
“We’re still working through this argument, but our hypothesis, at least, is that a clearer understanding of how carbon-intensive luxury consumption is a socially harmful lifestyle choice may make the body politic more willing to condemn behavior that otherwise they might view as ‘people having a right to spend their money how they want,’” Welton says. Additionally, targeting such a small population could potentially make a tax proposal more politically palatable than a broad-based carbon tax, which she said has been shown to have regressive effects.
Read more at Penn Carey Law Journal.