Shelley Welton, a Professor of Law and Energy Policy, argues that addressing luxury emissions could be a vital step towards tackling climate change. Luxury emissions refer to the excessive carbon emissions produced by the top 10% of emitters, who are responsible for emitting half of the world’s carbon in the past 30 years. These emissions are often associated with the use of private yachts and jets, multiple homes, and multiple cars.
Welton believes that focusing on luxury emissions is crucial because it highlights a class-based dynamic that is often overlooked in discussions about climate change. By framing luxury emissions as morally problematic, she hopes to generate wider support for policies and laws that discourage excessive carbon consumption. Specifically, she is considering the implementation of a luxury emissions tax that targets individuals with excessively high carbon footprints.
One advantage of targeting luxury emissions is that it may be more politically acceptable than a broad-based carbon tax. Previous research has shown that a broad-based carbon tax can have regressive effects and may encounter opposition from those who argue that individuals have the right to spend their money as they please. By focusing on luxury emissions, policymakers can hone in on a smaller population and make the tax proposal more politically palatable.
Welton is also involved in a project exploring energy transition in the Southeast and the performance of electricity grids in the United States. She seeks to understand the goals and aspirations of energy sector workers and households struggling to pay their energy bills in order to propose policies that benefit them directly.
Ultimately, Welton believes that with the right legal and governance frameworks in place, it is entirely possible to maintain grid reliability while transitioning to a system that relies heavily on renewable energy sources like solar and wind. She remains optimistic about recent legislation, such as the Inflation Reduction Act, which aims to change the economics of technologies that promote systemic change towards a cleaner energy future.
Source: University of Pennsylvania