How High Status Is High Carbon

The more you emit, the more status you have in capitalist society


It’s not just that the richest 1% emit double the carbon of the bottom 50%. It’s that high status itself is associated with emitting more, quite publicly. As you get rich, you stop taking the bus, you drive a car, you drive a ‘sports’ car. The less efficient your car is (Lambo, SUV, cars following you) the more it signals wealth. As you get richer, you fly more, you fly private, and you begin emitting hideous amounts of carbon. And this is cool. This is desirable. This is #goals.

The rich will occasionally cover up their carbon with a Tesla just like they cover up their hoarding with conspicuous charity. But this is a paint job over an edifice of dirty deeds. Someone who proudly drives a Tesla is still not taking the bus and generally flies and consumes enough to obliterate any ‘savings’. Luxury ‘eco’ products are just green lipstick on a pig. Obscene wealth itself is the problem, as much as these people host fundraisers and talk about how concerned they are. You don’t see them giving up money or power, the love of which is the root of all evil.

The fact is that in modern capitalist society, high status is high carbon. It’s not a coincidence that the rich emit hideously more, that is wealth. The capture, use, and abuse of energy. I love rap, and you can see, in rap music, the id of an entire society. What do you do once you come up? Buy a car, fly private, literally light money on fire to show how much you have it. I don’t begrudge rappers this. The money they get from touring for white kids is the closest black people will ever get to reparations. Frankly I think private jets should be reserved for rappers and illegal for everyone else.

The more silent but deadly emitters are the people that own the companies rappers buy from, that own their ticket vendors, that own the rappers themselves. These silent but deadlies won’t shout about their wealth, but their emissions are even more obscene. Rich arms dealers and private equity rent-seekers don’t wear jewelry or drive red Ferraris, but they’ll quietly fly private, drive multiple vehicles, occupy massive amounts of land, and—unlike rappers—destroy the environment as part of their day job. All of the people that own these mining companies…



Indrajit (Indi) Samarajiva is a Sri Lankan writer. Follow me at, or just email me at