Public Release: 7-Apr-2017
Money to burn: As the wealthy get wealthier, carbon emissions grow in US states
Boston College study the first to link income inequality and growth in carbon emissions at the state level
Across the U.S., state-level carbon emissions are higher in states where income is more highly concentrated among the wealthiest residents, according to a new study by two Boston College researchers.
On a global level, the connection between national wealth and carbon emissions has been well documented. The study, by sociologists Andrew Jorgenson and Juliet Schor, is the first to link income inequality and carbon emissions within and across the individual U.S. states.
The study found that state-level carbon emissions between 1997 and 2012 were positively associated with the income share of the top 10 percent of a state's population, according to the findings, published online and in the April edition of the journal Ecological Economics.
Spending power drives carbon-intensive consumerism. But so do the political clout and economic power of the wealthiest individuals, according to Jorgenson and Schor, whose analysis with co-author and BC graduate student Xiaorui Huang employed established economic models that assess the political and economic influence of individual wealth on society.
"First, income concentration leads to concentrated political power and the ability to prevent regulations on carbon emissions," said Schor, a professor of sociology. "Second, high income consumers are disproportionate carbon polluters."
"What we find here in the context of income inequality and carbon emissions is that it's about the concentration of income at the top of the distribution," said Jorgenson. "In our statistical models, where the Gini coefficient is non-significant, across the board the wealth of the top 10 percent is. That tells us that it really is about income concentration at the top end of the distribution."