The richest 10% of the global population accounted for 52% of the carbon emissions added to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015 – depleting by around a third the total amount of carbon that can be added if global heating is to be kept within the 1.5C° goal of the Paris Agreement. The richest 1% were responsible for 15% of emissions during this time – more than twice as much as the poorest half of humanity.
It’s important to remember that even though you aren’t part of the top 1%, you are still contributing to climate change more than the average human if you live in a developed country. To understand why the comparison in the article sucks, check out this fancy graph from this report.
Obviously poor people and people living in developing nations don’t pollute as much, and they’ll always pollute less than everyone else. Partially this is because their lifestyle doesn’t require pollution, and partially because they can’t afford polluting products. As we fight poverty, these people will get a richer, reach a higher standard of living, and start polluting (either by conventional means such as cars, using energy for heating/cooling or by consuming more electronics that demand huge amounts of energy to be produced). Focusing on the 1% is misguided (albeit deserved), because even if they’d have zero pollution the bulk of total climate change is still the average population in developed nations. As mentioned earlier, this part is going to grow significantly as poverty is reduced worldwide.
The take-away from this report shouldn’t be “The 1% pollutes a lot”, they definitely do, but the take-away should be that carbon emissions and wealth are intricately connected, and we need to fight pollution and overconsumption on all wealth levels if we want to fight climate change and still manage to increase standards of living worldwide.