Why is Greenpeace talking about taxing super rich?

Protester in Zambia holds a sign saying when is greed enough? Credit: Fight Inequality Alliance
Fight Inequality activist in Zambia. © Fight Inequality Alliance

Why is Greenpeace, an environmental organisation, talking about taxing the super rich? International Director Jennifer Morgan weighs in on global calls for governments to fight inequality and hold the world’s wealthiest accountable.

2021 witnessed worsening heat waves, floods, droughts, sea level rise, food shortages, conflict and more, all attributed to climate change. It is hitting everyone – things developing countries have been dealing with for years are now also hitting at intensity everywhere, perhaps bringing the reality of “now” to people and governments in developed countries as never before. This is where we are right now and it is not good. That is an understatement. It is – as the UN calls it: a code red for humanity.

2022 marks 50 years since The Limits to Growth was published. The book by a team of MIT researchers explained how the earth’s interlocking resources – the global system of nature in which we all live – probably cannot support present rates of economic and population growth much beyond the year 2100.

By no significant measure can we say that human society is more sustainable today than it was 50 years ago. Today, we have less wilderness, more plastic in the oceans, and more toxins in our soils. Deforestation averaged 10 million hectares per year between 2015 and 2020. This is equal to about 1 soccer pitch every 2 seconds. Environmental awareness has soared, for sure, but effective ecological action, or relevant social change, has faltered repeatedly while we witness spiralling inequality.

Why is Greenpeace, an environmental organisation, talking about taxing the rich? All of us in the Fight Inequality Alliance work on different topics that are essential to our collective well-being — climate, debt, gender equality, racial equality, to name just a few.

But in the end our fights are similar because the source of the problem is the same. Corporate rule at the expense of our collective well-being and planetary health.

A small number of super rich individuals, and the corporations they make their profit from, are destroying our democracies, limiting our access to public goods, and putting in danger the ability of our planet to sustain life in all its forms.

According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report for this year, 42 per cent of those who go to Davos say failure to act on climate change is one of the most severe problems over the next five to 10 years. That means 58 per cent do not see it as a long-term problem. And none of them appear to take personal responsibility for the inaction.

Greenpeace joins the other members of the Fight Inequality Alliance today because our causes are the same – ensuring that public and planetary well-being are prioritised over private wealth. And the solution is the same: tax the rich. End corporate greed. That is a first step to ensuring the most privileged of the world start living within planetary boundaries, rather than destroying it for everyone else.

The unequal impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on “the haves” versus the “have nots” is a mere dress rehearsal for how the climate crisis will interact with structural inequality.

Just as ending corporate greed could free the intellectual property on the publicly-funded People’s Vaccine and stop the pandemic, ending corporate greed is essential to channeling the resources of the super rich away from climate and environment destruction and into the solutions space. This would allow us to achieve the socially just climate transition faster and make the fossil fuel industry obsolete much sooner.

People everywhere are demanding that the richest stop investing in climate destruction and deforestation. We must ensure that they channel their resources towards climate and nature real solutions on our planet, rather than vanity projects like space exploration and superyachts. Taxing their excessive wealth is just one very necessary element to achieve that. And our governments must start acting to make this happen.

Other ways that we can start controlling corporate power and greed include:

Banning fossil fuel advertising and sponsorships, just like what happened with Big Tobacco. Because why should anyone get rich promoting what is killing our planet and harming our health?

Supporting Indigenous-led resistance to fossil fuel projects. Because it is clear that any wealth created by destroying others’ homes is illegitimate and unethical.

Accelerating the energy revolution, in which solar and wind are already the cheapest forms of new electricity in so much of the world. Because the revolution must put power in the hands of the people.

There are 183,000 individuals with wealth exceeding 50 million dollars globally, according to Oxfam research. This super-rich group makes up less than 0.002% – zero-point-zero-zero-two per cent! – of the world population. If we put them all in one place, they would be less prominent than the island nations of Samoa or Santa Lucia – island nations that are among the most at risk in the climate crisis, while having contributed the least to it. Yet because of their wealth, this small super rich group has a completely excessive impact on the world when it comes to finance and politics.

This is grotesque. Abhorrent. Wrong. And shows how the system is failing us.

And this is why we must tax the rich to help enable radical systems change. Our power lies in each other and the sheer number of us taking action – we are the movements of movements.

Not since the run up to the Paris Agreement, had I seen such activism and passion on the streets. While Glasgow didn’t deliver fully on the inside, on the outside – on the streets, on social media – people were more vocal than ever before, demanding change. This gives me deep hope in the face of our interconnected crises and together, we can change the system. We can have a greener, healthier, fairer world if we work together and tax the rich!

Taken from a speech by Jennifer Morgan, Director of Greenpeace International, at the Fight Inequality Alliance digital rally #TaxTheRich on 21 January 2022. Jennifer Morgan is one of LinkedIn’s #TopVoicesGreen

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