The Carbon Footprint of the Mega-Rich

Updated on February 19, 2020
Rupert Taylor profile image

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

What is the carbon footprint of the world's wealthiest one percent?
What is the carbon footprint of the world's wealthiest one percent? | Source

National governments have been prompted, many of them reluctantly, to take steps to reduce carbon emissions. Overlooked in all the meetings and accords are the actions and lifestyles of the super rich. The fossil fuels burned keeping their yachts, private jets, and mansions going dwarf the carbon footprint of ordinary people.

The carbon footprint is “the amount of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds emitted due to the consumption of fossil fuels by a particular person, group, etc.”


Oxfam Inequality Study

In 2015, Oxfam released a report that revealed the “Extreme Carbon Inequality” among the various strata of the world’s people.

Commenting on the report, the United Nations University noted that

“the richest 10 percent of people produce half of the planet’s individual-consumption-based fossil fuel emissions, while the poorest 50 percent — about 3.5 billion people — contribute only 10 percent. Yet those same 3.5 billion people are ‘living overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change,’ according to the report.”

Yet, if we parse those numbers further, even more shocking inequality emerges. 10 percent of the wealthiest 10 percent, the so-called one-percenters, produce carbon emissions 175 times greater than someone in the bottom 10 percent.

40 percent of these carbon hogs live in the United States, 20 percent in the European Union, and 10 percent in China.


Lifestyles of the Rich


The mega-rich accumulate very expensive toys that emit carbon. The luxury yacht is a huge prestige symbol. They are priced in the hundred of millions of dollars, but their ecological cost is horrible.

Ben Proctor writes about yachting and he calculates that “a yacht of 70 metres will consume about 500 litres of diesel an hour when the engines are running but not moving.” But, a 70-metre yacht is for the wannabe super rich. Welcome to the world of the monster yachts.

Khalifa Al Nahyan is President of the United Arab Emirates. His yacht, Project Azzam, measures 180 metres and cost $600 million. Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich potters about in the 162-metre long Eclipse. More modest is movie director Stephen Spielberg’s Seven Seas, which is only 86 metres long and priced at $200 million.


Private planes are also must-have items for plutocrats. Joseph Lau, a Hong Kong property billionaire, sets the bar high by owning a Boeing 747-8. When topped up at the gas pump it carries 63,034 U.S. gallons (238,610 litres), enough to travel 8,000 miles (15,000 km). By the way, Lau is a convicted felon with resonates with a quote from Honoré de Balzac (see below).

Lesser mortals, such as rapper Drake, must make do with a Boeing 737, which consumes the same amount of fossil fuel on a full tank “as a small African town might use in a year” (George Monbiot, The Guardian).

The Royal Family

Britain’s royal family advocates for environmental concerns but doesn’t always practice what it preaches. CNN reports “In 2019 its (the royal family’s) CO2 emission total for business travel was 3,344 tonnes.” That’s an increase of 98 percent over the previous year.

In addition, the royal housing rivals that of even the most extravagant tycoon. The Queen owns among other properties:

  • Buckingham Palace – 775 rooms;
  • Balmoral Castle – 52 bedrooms;
  • Sandringham House – 20,000-acre estate;
  • Windsor Castle – 1,000 rooms.

Imagine the heating bills.

The Crime of Ecocide

In translation, Honoré de Balzac wrote that “The secret of a great success for which you are at a loss to account is a crime that has never been found out, because it was properly executed.”

Lawyer Polly Higgins worked tirelessly, until her death in April 2019, to make the causing of serious damage to the environment an international crime called ecocide. George Monbiot in The Guardian puts forward the suggestion that the “very wealthy, almost as a matter of definition, are committing ecocide.”

Corporations and governments have been found guilty of crimes against the environment. The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of April 2010 has cost the company at least $65 billion in legal settlements and clean up expenses. Shell Oil was forced to accept full responsibility for oil pipeline spills in Nigeria in 2008 and pay compensation.

But, can an individual be charged with ecocide because she or he has a carbon footprint 10 times greater than the average person?


Ecocide is the extensive damage, destruction to or loss of ecosystems of a given territory, whether by human agency or by other causes, to such an extent that peaceful enjoyment by the inhabitants of that territory has been severely diminished.

— Polly Higgins

Bonus Factoids

  • The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact has crunched some numbers about super-rich households. The findings are that a family of two with assets of $1 million over and above their property value has a carbon footprint of 129 tonnes of CO2 a year. This is about 10 times bigger than the global average.
  • In July 2019, Goggle convened a climate change conference at the Vendura Resort and Spa in Sicily. A-list luminaries such as Prince Harry, Katy Perry, Mark Zuckerberg, Orlando Bloom, and Bill Gates were among the attendees. Barbara Ellen reports for The Guardian that “A total of 114 private jets ferried the celebrities to Italy, releasing hundreds of tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere.”
  • Along with great wealth goes great spending and resource consumption, which, inevitably, leads to assaults on the environment. The Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeys has suggested a solution to this that she calls limitarianism. Her idea is that just as a poverty line is recognized so too a wealth line should be accepted and anything above that set level should be taxed away. This is a heresy in today’s capitalist-dominated world.
  • The Sultan of Brunei has a palace with 1,788 rooms, a collection of more than 7,000 high-performance cars, and a Boeing 747.



  • “The World’s Richest People Emit the Most Carbon.” Jess Colarossi, Our World, December 5, 2015.
  • “Emissions Inequality: There Is a Gulf Between Global Rich and Poor.” Nicholas Beuret, The Conservation, March 28, 2019.
  • “What Does it Cost to Run a Super Yacht?” Ben Proctor,, January 3, 2015.
  • “Britain’s Royal Family Doubles Carbon Emissions from Travel.” Bianca Britton, CNN, June 25, 2019.
  • “These Are All of Queen Elizabeth’s Homes.” Leah Silverman, Town and Country, December 12, 2017.
  • “It’s Easy to Mock Eco-Celebs.” Barbara Ellen, The Guardian, August 3, 2019.
  • “For the Sake of Life on Earth, We Must Put a Limit on Wealth.” George Monbiot, The Guardian, September 19, 2019.

© 2019 Rupert Taylor


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Rupert Taylor profile imageAUTHOR

      Rupert Taylor 

      12 months ago from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

      Thanks Tessa, but I'm convinced the powers that be will only tinker with the edges of the issues. The people who will suffer the most are those who are least responsible for the climate catastrophe.

    • TessSchlesinger profile image

      Tessa Schlesinger 

      12 months ago

      Excellent article. I'll share this on my various streams. All good for climate emergency week.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)