Tax the rich, save the planet

The Reverend David Haslam, a well-known British human rights and tax justice activist, has this little joke that counts. “I am really concerned for the souls of the rich.”

“If we are going to save their souls, we will have to take some money from them.”

This drew laughter from the proudly socialist crowd who attended a side event to the well-known UN climate conference at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, this week. He was part of a panel that examined the relationship between the climate and tax justice movements.

As the founder of Church Action for Tax Justice, the Methodist minister has waged a lifelong crusade against income disparity. He is now turning his attention to climate change and agrees that more work is needed to unite climate advocates and anti-poverty tax justice whose interests are aligned.

It will take money and a lot to solve the climate crisis, and taxes for the wealthiest individuals and corporations are an obvious way to do this.

So why aren’t climate crusaders and tax justice advocates working more closely together?

Too often, the environmental movement and the tax justice movement operate in silos, diluting their influence, the panelists agreed.

However, the problems of wealth disparity and climate injustice are inseparable, said Priya Lukka, an economist and professor at Goldsmith University in London.

Lukka said that decisions being made in the negotiating rooms of COP26 continue to serve the West and “commodify” green solutions, he said.

Money to disadvantaged countries that are bearing the brunt of climate change will be loaned, not delivered. In the style of the International Monetary Fund, colonialism will continue, he said. “Power over nature and human life remains in the hands of the political elite.”

Robin Hood’s solution to the #climate crisis. Tax the rich and give to the poor countries hardest hit by climate change. # COP26 # COP26xCNO # inequality # fiscal justice #carbons #disparity

Even within the organization of the COP26 conference, the division is remarkable. The power titans meet on the great Scottish Event Campus; panels examining more radical and equitable solutions are relegated to the humble brick community halls of Glasgow. It’s easy to see why people with power want to keep it that way.

Boost carbon taxes

Lukka advocates for taxes and reparations at all levels; a global tax on the profits of the richest one percent, a crackdown on the illicit flow of money to tax havens and, most importantly, the cancellation of the debt of impoverished countries.

While much was made of last month’s agreement by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to impose a 15% tax on the world’s most powerful corporations by 2023, it is not enough, said Mariana Paoli, global advocacy leader at Christian help, a multi-religious organization that fights against poverty. It will not be enough to solve poverty. It will not be enough to solve climate change.

Paoli said she is disappointed with the lack of traction globally to raise taxes, particularly in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, which so clearly highlighted the disparity between rich and poor.

Progressive carbon taxes are receiving some support, he noted. But activists of all stripes must push for much more.

“There is no viable solution to reducing emissions on the scale we need without a price on carbon,” Paoli noted as one of the most equitable.

She cited a 2020 report from Oxfam. The report found that the richest 10 percent accounted for more than half of the added emissions to the atmosphere between 1990 and 2015.

Philanthropy is not enough

Taxing the rich is the only true route to climate justice, the panel agreed. And Haslam said there is nothing wrong with engaging with “well-meaning rich people” to make this happen. There are “patriotic millionaires” committed to us, he said.

But while it’s laudable for philanthropists to donate to pet-related causes, the state, not the people, must dictate how climate mitigation money is raised and determine where to spend it, he said. Forcing the rich to pay fair taxes is more important than allowing them to “choose what to do with their money.”

Lukka has a more radical notion; dismantle the existing system so that no one accumulates obscene amounts of wealth. The capitalist system produces billionaires, he notes. The last thing we need are billionaires designing “green solutions that are not aligned with the public interest.”

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