The wasteful one-percenters: Bamboo toothbrushes against private jets

09 Apr 2023

Bamboo toothbrushes (image: Karolina Grabowska /

"Climate Crisis: A Culmination of Colonial Exploitation? Past, Present and Future". This is the topic Tonny Nowshin1 discussed at the latest University of Hamburg event.2 About the superrich and degrowth.

Present: Where are we?

Human economic activity, industrial farming, social conflicts and migration are drastically impacting the human and natural world. Humans, animals and plants experience changes: water availability, river pathways and much more.

Meat supply per person, 2020 (image:

Humans are land mammals of average height - as such they change the environment they live in. But are there differences in responsibility for these changes?

"The richest 1% (c.63 million people) alone were responsible for 15% of cumulative emissions, and 9% of the carbon budget".3 There is a direct connection between wealth and riches to CO2 emissions. There is a connection between a certain kind of lifestyle and carbon emissions.

Share of cumulative emissions from 1990 to 2015 and use of the global
carbon budget for 1.5C linked to consumption by different global income groups (image:

This world order, this hierarchy, where a few are superrich and many are very poor, is not a natural law. Use of power, exploitation and manipulation created it.

The climate crisis is created by capitalism. The climate crisis is a social justice issue.

Certain parts of the world population are so responsible: the superrich. A big chunk of emissions is concentrated into a small number of hands. But when we go into the climate discussion, they are never the ones held accountable. There is a power dynamics to put the responsibility on the people who are not in the room, on the people who are most marginalized. But it's actually the superrich who have to change. This is key for a better future.

[Tweet: “Rule by the rich is not democracy” - Tweet by Radical Graffiti (@GraffitiRadical)]

Future: The way forward

There is an economic pathway: Degrowth: Reduce levels of production and consumption within an economy in order to conserve natural resources and minimize environmental damage.
There are many examples for overuse of resources:

  • Fashion and clothes are short-lived: Chile's Atacama desert is a desert full of clothes: It's where the fashion industry leaves unsold clothes.4
  • Overfishing: Dead fishes are thrown back into the sea. There is also a problem with fish waste: In the US, up to 63% uneaten fish is put in the bin.5

Degrowth is not about going hungry, it's about how we are producing and consuming. People's needs will still be met, but the power structures and profit greed need to change. Degrowth is about prioritizing social and ecological welfare over production and consumption. It's about

  • sufficiency: Meeting needs over wants, that come from excess.
  • democracy: Making sure we are creating a structure where everybody can participate and share their decisions that are being made in a distribution.
  • redistribution: Why are so many working poor while all the money is ending up in the hands of a few?
  • and individual wellbeing: Don't associate happiness with consumption.

Growth's failure

The promise was: The pie will be bigger and everybody will get a piece of the pie. But we see it does not happen. The pie got bigger, but it hasn't been shared fairly: Not a lot of people profited from the pie's growth. Wealth is just accumulated by a few. As Thomas Piketty6 put it: We thought growth will solve our problems, but because of the capitalist structure, wealth is just accumulated.

We can see this in the United States:

  • Luxury goods production is increasing.7
  • More and more private jets are being produced and bought8 - and that takes a lot of resources.


Meetings, conferences and work produced insufficient policies and commitments: We are not where we need to be. Our governments have been ineffective. There is a lot of work to do to address climate change and inequality. The superrich need to be held accountable for their emissions: The non-superrich will not be able to offset the superrich's emissions with bamboo toothbrushes and metal straws.

The University of Hamburg event took place April 04, 2023.

The speaker:
Tonny Nowshin:
The event:
Further reading:
Svante Arrhenius:
Gilbert Plass:
Exxon: The Road Not Taken:
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change:

Emissions trading:
Big Oil: