We’ve argued before on this blog that taxing wealth is a defensible approach to raising revenue for vital climate change adaptation. It’s also a potential source of capital to finance investment in the low-carbon economy.
The city of Leipzig has been playing host to the International Transport Forum’s annual summit whose background paper this year focuses on the challenge of meeting the travel needs of a future world population of 9 billion.
This graphic showing the distribution across different income groups of vehicle use in the US caught the eye of a colleague to whom I sent the paper:
First, that car travel grows as incomes increase (music to the ears of those that have pilloried us for our pieces on growth and climate change). But the paper goes on to explain:
‘…if average income growth is distributed very unevenly, with high growth at the high end and limited, zero or negative growth at the low end, then average income growth does not lead to more travel as the growth accrues only or mainly to those income classes that have already reached the saturation point.’
However, the aggregate picture (told in the figure that is shown before this one in the paper) misses a very important story. In the top three income brackets, total car use has increased in the past decade – almost doubled in the case of those who earn more than $100,000 – whereas in all other income brackets bar the very lowest, car use has decreased.
Before the anti-growthers revisit the comment box below, this isn’t a growth story per se. In fact the suggestion is that there’s a saturation point for people on middle incomes (I’ve written about the peak car phenomenon elsewhere). However, it does show that the rich (of whom there are now a lot more hence in average terms the picture looks better) are consumers of a disproportionately high number of vehicle miles – to a quite staggering extent.
While perhaps a growing number of people can feasibly travel on public transport, car journeys are likely to remain a still relatively high if apparently declining part of this picture. So perhaps those on the right-hand-side of the chart above should be the ones who pay to decarbonise travel for those on the left-hand-side. In national climate policy hitherto, such as cap and trade and carbon tax, the transaction tends on the whole to happen in reverse.