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Measuring the Ecological Impact of the Wealthy: Excessive Consumption, Ecological Disorganization, Green Crime, and Justice

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Ecological disorganization stemming from conspicuous consumption practices is understudied in the social sciences. In this analysis, we study conspicuous consumption and its implications for environmental sociology, ecological footprint analysis, and green criminology. We examine the issue of conspicuous consumption through the study of items that increase the ecological footprint considerably, that is, through the consumption of “luxury commodities.” Specifically, we draw attention to assessing aspects of ecological footprints of super yachts, super homes, luxury vehicles, and private jets. Taken together, the construction and use of these items in the United States alone is likely to create a CO2 footprint that exceeds those from entire nations. These results are not necessarily surprising but suggest that excessive consumption practices of the wealthy may need to be reinterpreted as criminal when they disrupt the normal regeneration and reproduction of ecosystems by generating excessive ecological disorganization.
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Original Article
In How the Rich are Destroying the Earth,
Herve Kempf suggests that a portion of the
current ecological crisis stems from excessive
consumption by the rich (see also Bollier 2013;
Di Muzio 2015). Reinforcing that point, study-
ing household incomes, and carbon footprints,
Kennedy, Krahn, and Krogman (2014) refer to
the wealthiest income group (quintile) as
“egregious emitters” due to their much higher
level of consumption. As Rees and Westra
(2003) note, “Since the wealthy fifth or so of
humanity consumes 80+ per cent [sic] of
global economic output, the rich alone effec-
tively ‘appropriate’ the entire capacity of Earth
in important dimensions” (p. 112). In contrast
to these arguments, business and economics
researchers often describe luxury item con-
sumption as ecologically sustainable because
847491SCUXXX10.1177/2329496519847491Social CurrentsLynch et al.
research-article2019
1University of South Florida, Tampa, USA
2Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, USA
3Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK
4Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti, USA
Corresponding Author:
Michael J. Lynch, Department of Criminology, University
of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Avenue, SOC107,
Tampa, FL 33620-8100, USA.
Email: mjlynch@usf.edu
Measuring the Ecological
Impact of the Wealthy:
Excessive Consumption,
Ecological Disorganization,
Green Crime, and Justice
Michael J. Lynch1, Michael A. Long2, Paul B. Stretesky3,
and Kimberly L. Barrett4
Abstract
Ecological disorganization stemming from conspicuous consumption practices is understudied
in the social sciences. In this analysis, we study conspicuous consumption and its implications
for environmental sociology, ecological footprint analysis, and green criminology. We examine
the issue of conspicuous consumption through the study of items that increase the ecological
footprint considerably, that is, through the consumption of “luxury commodities.” Specifically,
we draw attention to assessing aspects of ecological footprints of super yachts, super homes,
luxury vehicles, and private jets. Taken together, the construction and use of these items in the
United States alone is likely to create a CO2 footprint that exceeds those from entire nations.
These results are not necessarily surprising but suggest that excessive consumption practices of
the wealthy may need to be reinterpreted as criminal when they disrupt the normal regeneration
and reproduction of ecosystems by generating excessive ecological disorganization.
Keywords
conspicous consumption, ecological footprint, environmental sociology, consumers and
consumption, green criminology
2 Social Currents 00(0)
luxury commodities last longer (Amatulli et al.
2017).
It is widely accepted across nations that one
perk of being wealthy is to consume as one
pleases. Such pleasures can promote excessive
consumption which uses up natural resources,
causing ecological disorganization—disrup-
tions in the normal functioning of the ecosys-
tem in ways that prohibit its regeneration/
reproduction, causing increasing ecosystem
instability (Lynch et al. 2016, chp. 3;
Schnaiberg 1980; Stretesky, Long, and Lynch
2013b). Under the influence of contemporary
post–WWII capitalism, new wants were stimu-
lated to enhance profit making, increasing a
new form of excessive consumption Migone
(2007) calls “hedonistic consumption.” Kempf
suggests that excessive consumption by the
wealthy has relatively old roots, best described
by Thorsten Veblen’s ([1899] 1934) theory of
conspicuous consumption. In Veblen’s view,
the wealthy purposefully consume luxury
items publicly and to excess to elevate or
maintain their social status (for a validating
empirical test see Heffetz 2011). Kempf, in
turn, argues that modern conspicuous con-
sumption by the wealthy generates extensive
ecological harms and that the wealthy generate
disproportionately more ecological harm than
the poor or middle classes.
Other views support this contention at dif-
ferent scales of analysis. This idea is also
expressed in aggregate patterns of ecological
consumption across nations measured using
ecological footprints (Jorgenson 2003, 2012;
Jorgenson and Clark 2011; Knight, Schor, and
Jorgenson 2017; York, Rosa, and Dietz 2003).
For example, controlling for trade relations
between nations, footprint analysis indicates
an association between cross-national ecologi-
cal consumption and national income levels,
meaning citizens consume more in wealthier
nations (Prell 2016; Prell and Sun 2015;
Weinzettel et al. 2013). Such analyses indicate
that wealthier (also called “advanced” or
“developed”) economies have much larger
ecological footprints than less-developed
nations. In advanced economies, there is a
greater tendency for consumption in general,
and perhaps some tendency for all classes to
mimic the conspicuous consumption habits of
the wealthy (Podoshen and Andrzejewski
2012). Across nations, these consumption pat-
terns can be understood relative to the global
capitalist economy in relation to theories such
as metabolic rift (Foster 2011; Foster, Clark,
and York 2011). In metabolic rift terms, exces-
sive consumption in developed nations is fed
by ecological withdrawals from less-devel-
oped nations, and transferring metabolic mate-
rials and natural wealth from less developed to
developed nations is part of the nature of
global capitalism and the process of ecological
unequal exchange (Jorgenson 2006).
In criminology, excessive consumption has
been connected to the production of ecological
disorganization and viewed as a green crime
against nature (Lynch et al. 2013). Here, we
argue that the wealthy’s excessive or conspicu-
ous consumption should be conceptualized as
a form of green crime within the contemporary
context of global ecological collapse (Barnosky
et al. 2012; Barry 2014) that generates: unnec-
essary ecological disorganization and con-
sumption inequities, a decline in global
ecological quality, uneven ecological access
and destruction, and unequal exposure to envi-
ronmental hazards across nations.
Here, we examine four indicators of con-
spicuous consumption’s ecological impacts to
illustrate the above. Where possible, we com-
pare those outcomes to average consumption
to better gauge the impact of conspicuous con-
sumption on ecological disorganization. When
such comparisons cannot be made, we refer to
the “gross harm” associated with conspicuous
consumption. Our four examples include the
ecological impacts of (1) operating super
yachts (SYs); (2) building super homes (SHs)
(those greater than 25,000 square feet); (3)
operating luxury cars (costing more than
$42,000) in the United States; and (4) for indi-
vidual and corporate operation of private jets.
Background
Currently, many nations have excessive ecologi-
cal footprints and increased levels of ecological
destruction (Foster et al. 2011). By “excessive,”
we mean an unsustainable ecological footprint.
Lynch et al. 3
Empirically, ecological footprints measure bio-
capacity availability against consumption/eco-
logical withdrawals, with ecological footprints
less than 1.0 defined as sustainable and those
greater than 1.0 as unsustainable. The current
global ecological footprint is 1.7, indicating
excessive consumption relative to available and
replaceable biocapacity (http://www.footprint-
network.org/).
Research indicates that controlling for trade
relationship effects, a nation’s ecological foot-
print varies with income, so that higher income
nations tend to have larger ecological foot-
prints (Ivanova et al. 2015; Weinzettel et al.
2013). For some high consuming nations,
where footprints are greater than 1.0, con-
sumption is augmented by consuming avail-
able biocapacity in other nations as part of the
global structure of capitalism (Foster et al.
2011). In this sense, excessive consumption
within some nations is facilitated by the global
capitalist world system, which enhances the
transfer of raw materials from less-developed
nations to more-developed nations as part of
ecological unequal exchange (Jorgenson
2006). The organization of this system contrib-
utes to global and local ecological decline and
disorganization. As Schor (2005) argues, it is
now widely known that current consumption
patterns fostered by the falling prices of goods
in the global capitalist market place due to
increased capital mobility are ecologically
unsustainable (see also Alcott 2008). Coupled
with changing and more positive attitudes
toward conspicuous consumption among pop-
ulations, such as those in China where there is
now a growing class of wealthy consumers
(Podoshen, Li, and Zhang 2011), local and
global world capitalist markets are accelerat-
ing resource consumption with potentially
disastrous ecological consequences.
Ecological footprint analysis demonstrates
variability in consumption behaviors and eco-
logical impacts across nations and that “devel-
oped” or “advanced” nations have higher
ecological footprints than less-developed
nations (Jorgenson 2003; Jorgenson, Schor,
Huang, and Fitzgerald 2016; Jorgenson, Schor,
Knight, and Huang 2016; Wiedenhofer et al.
2017). Within and across developed nations,
Kempf argued that the wealthy’s consumption
habits cause excessive ecological harm com-
pared to the behavior of individuals in other
income classes (see also Feng, Zou, and Wei
2011; Yang, Wu, and Cheung 2016). Consistent
with that argument, Oxfam International
(2015) notes that while the poorest half of the
world’s (3.5 billion people) population gener-
ates 10 percent of carbon emissions, the richest
10 percent produce nearly one-half of carbon
dioxide emissions.
As noted above, prior literature (e.g., Kempf
2008) argued that the wealthy have an exces-
sive ecological footprint and make unequal
ecological contributions to carbon footprints
(Kennedy et al. 2014) and ecosystem resource
consumption (Rees and Westra 2003). In this
sense, excessive consumption can be linked to
Veblen’s ([1899] 1934) concept of conspicu-
ous consumption. After noting the origins of
leisure, Veblen argued that the historical pro-
cess of capital accumulation concentrated cap-
ital in ways that allowed the emergence of a
new leisure class. The leisure class engaged in
visible forms of excessive consumption
as a customary basis of repute and esteem . . . [P]
roperty now becomes the most easily recognised
evidence of a reputable degree of success . . .
[and] the conventional basis of esteem. Its
possession in some amount becomes necessary. .
.to any reputable standing in the community. It
becomes indispensable to accumulate, to acquire
property, in order to retain one’s good name.
(Veblen [1899] 1934: 15)
Here, acquiring property and consuming
excessively become marks of distinction, and
to earn those marks, the leisure class must
consume. When connected to contemporary
arguments in ecological Marxism concerning
the contradictions between capitalism and
nature (Foster 1999, 2000), one can argue that
excessive consumption must result in exces-
sive ecological disorganization or the exces-
sive consumption of nature. This latter
argument is empirically testable, and the
association between various measures of eco-
logical consumption and environmental deg-
radation has been subjected to several
empirical tests (Givens and Jorgenson 2011;
4 Social Currents 00(0)
Jorgenson 2003, 2006; Jorgenson and Clark
2011).
Criminologically speaking, excessive con-
sumption is relevant to defining and under-
standing concepts such as green crime and
green justice. In green criminology, excessive
consumption generates what treadmill of pro-
duction theory describes as ecological disor-
ganization or an accelerating pace of
consumption that disrupts the normal func-
tioning of the ecosystem that prohibits its
regeneration and reproduction (Schnaiberg
1980). Green criminology emerged in 1990 as
an extension of Marxist/radical criminology
(Lynch 1990; on radical criminology see
Lynch and Michalowski 2006) and was intro-
duced to create a political economic under-
standing of how environmental harms that
affected ecosystems and ecosystem inhabit-
ants (including human and nonhuman life)
and the production of ecological and environ-
mental injustice. The green criminological
literature is diverse, addressing, among other
issues: (1) theoretical and empirical research
grounded in political economic and treadmill
of production theory (Long, Lynch, and
Stretesky 2018; Long et al. 2012; Lynch et al.
2013; Stretesky, Long, and Lynch 2013a;
Stretesky et al. 2013b; Stretesky and Lynch
2011; Stretesky et al. 2017; Stretesky et al.
2018); (2) theory and research about harms
against nonhuman animals, and controlling
those harms (Beirne 1999; (Nurse 2015;
Sollund 2011); (3) discussions of biopiracy,
food exploitation, and hunger (South 2007;
Walters 2006, 2007); (4) green-cultural crimi-
nology, which examines “mediated depic-
tions” of ecological harm (Brisman and South
2013); (5) empirical studies of environmental
injustice (Lynch, Stretesky, and Burns 2004;
Stretesky and Lynch 1998, 2002) and carbon
emissions (Stretesky and Lynch 2009) as
examples of green crimes; (6) studies of com-
pliance with environmental regulations
(Barrett et al. 2018; Kahler and Gore 2012);
and (7) research on conservation criminology
(Gibbs et al. 2009; Gore 2011), which pro-
motes risk assessment studies of conservation
crimes (Gibbs et al. 2011), empirical studies
of opportunity structures affecting green
crimes, and the control of conservation crimes
(Petrossian 2015; Petrossian, Rolf, and Clarke
2016; Pires and Clarke 2012).
Drawing on various theoretical perspec-
tives such as treadmill of production, world
systems theory, and ecological unequal
exchange, green criminologists have posited
that the adverse outcomes associated with eco-
logical disorganization are tied to the expan-
sionary tendencies of the capitalist world
system (Lynch et al. 2013). Here, ecological
disorganization is the sum of the deleterious
effects of two connected economic-ecological
processes: ecological withdrawals that disrupt
ecosystems by removing resources from the
environment and ecological additions that dis-
rupt ecosystems by adding pollution to envi-
ronments (Schnaiberg 1980). In an effort to
promote growth and capital accumulation, in
addition to exploiting labor, capitalist must
expand the market, which means producing
more goods and more demand for those goods.
To increase production, capitalism must
increase withdrawals of ecological resources,
causing ecosystem damage or disorganization.
Those raw materials are then fed into the man-
ufacturing process where, applying fossil fuel
and chemical energy, other forms of ecological
disorganization are created: pollution or eco-
logical additions. Drawing on these insights
and from ecological Marxism (Foster 1992,
1997, 2000), green criminologists suggested
that the ordinary production of commodities
via the capitalist process, creates ecological
disorganization and can be conceptualized as a
form of green crime from the perspective of
nature and also as a form of green/ecological
injustice (Lynch et al. 2013).
The view above suggests that the problem
of ecological disorganization/destruction and
injustice is structural; and that its primary
cause is found in the organization and opera-
tion of the global capitalist economy (as well
as within the organization and structure of
“local” or national capitalism), which drives
expanding ecological withdrawals of resources,
increasing levels of ecological additions (i.e.,
pollution) and accelerating consumption to
persistently increase profit making—the ulti-
mate goal of capitalism. It is well known that
Lynch et al. 5
these features of capitalism show up not only
in other structural phenomenon (i.e., class
struggle; unequal ownership of production;
unequal wage structures; class, race, and gen-
der discrimination; unequal distribution of
wealth and income; a diminishing social safety
net, and so on, (Foster 1992, 1997, 2000) but
also at lower levels of aggregation, and empiri-
cally, this must occur for structural inequality
to be present. With regard to this structural
argument and following Kempf, it is possible
to examine how structural inequities play out
at lower levels of aggregation.
Below, we employ examples of how exces-
sive consumption by the wealthy increases
their ecological footprint, impacts ecological
stability (Davison 2016), and contributes to
behaviors stimulated by capitalism both ideo-
logically (consumption-based stimulus that
can be addressed, for example, by green-cul-
tural criminology (Brisman and South 2013,
2014)) and structurally. That kind of empirical
evidence contributes to political economic
green criminological and green-cultural crimi-
nological explanations of green crimes and
injustice (Lynch and Stretesky 2014).
In contrast to views described previously,
some marketing researchers argue that luxury
brand consumption by the wealthy is “inher-
ently” sustainable (Amatulli et al. 2017:97).
Marketing researchers argue that luxury com-
modities are “inherently” sustainable because
they last forever (e.g., diamonds), and that the
longevity of these items reduces their ecologi-
cal footprints. These are dubious assertions.
For example, consider the ecological costs of
serving short-lived commodities with exten-
sive ecological effects. Serendipity 3, a New
York restaurant, at one time served a dessert
that Guinness’ Book of World’s Records iden-
tified as the world’s most expensive dessert:
Frrrozened Haute Chocolate ice cream sun-
dae. The dessert’s price, US$25,000, was due
to the inclusion of 28 different forms of cocoa,
five grams of edible gold foil, and the take
home serving container that included an
18-carat gold, diamond encrusted bracelet and
serving spoon. One hardly needs to argue
about the known deleterious ecological harms
associated with cocoa farming (Noble 2017);
let alone gold mining, even at the “artisanal”
level (Pavilonis et al. 2017), or diamond min-
ing—which may involve “conflict diamonds,”
unequal core-peripheral exchanges in the dia-
mond commodity chain and issues of ethical
consumption (Le Billon 2008). Other extreme
luxury items which challenge the narrative of
sustainable, low-ecological impact luxury con-
sumption include: Vizoury’s “Pure White”
luxury dumbbell, coated in ruthenium, 750
flawless white diamonds (7.5 carats), and a
custom made walnut storage box (29,000
Euros); or Gout de Diamants champagne, with
a hand-crafted solid white-gold label contain-
ing 18 carats of diamonds (US$1.8 million). A
list of other such items can be found on the
Bornrich.com web site.
While it is possible to explore numerous
examples of ecological harms generated by
individual luxury products, ecological harms
are more visible in larger aggregates of luxury
consumables. By examining these larger
aggregates, a picture of the ecological foot-
print of luxury consumption in comparison to
“average” or similar kinds of consumables in a
category can also be undertaken. To do so, we
examine four examples of how the wealthy’s
consumption of luxury items generates exces-
sive ecological disorganization: the operation
of SYs; the building of SHs; the operation of
luxury vehicles; and the operation of private
jet aircraft. These categories were selected
because they can be aggregated, and, as noted
below, these impacts can be described in eco-
logically relevant terms such as carbon equiva-
lent impacts.
Conspicuous Consumption,
Ecological Disorganization,
and SYs
There is little need to argue that only the
wealthiest people can purchase and operate
SYs. An average SY costs $3 million a year in
fuel, maintenance, docking, and staffing
(Mathew 2015). The initial SY buy-in depends
on its size. For larger SY, the buy-in averages
$275 million, with an upper price near US$1
billion (see below). For smaller, less well-
equipped SY, prices range from $12 to $50
6 Social Currents 00(0)
million. Gadd (2015) estimates there are only
about 200,000 individuals in the world (0.0027
percent of the global population) with suffi-
cient accumulated assets—which he defined as
more than $30 million—to afford even the
smallest SY.
The term SY emerged in the early 1900s to
refer to the increasingly large boats private
individuals were building as their wealth
increased. This is an example of the kind of
conspicuous consumption to which Veblen
drew attention at the end of the nineteenth cen-
tury. SYs are yachts larger than 24 meters/79
feet in length, and can, on average, range up to
70 meters/230 feet. The largest SY—those
over 300 feet—are also referred to as mega-
yachts or giga-yachts. Some SY are over 500
feet in length, such as the Fulk al Salamah (164
m/538 feet) and the Azzam (180 m/590 feet).
As of 2012, there were an estimated 32
mega/giga yachts in the world. Globally, there
are 100 SYs larger than 230 feet and 300 SYs
larger than 60 meters/196.9 feet (this informa-
tion is updated live, http://www.superyachts.
com/largest-yachts/worlds-largest-yachts-live.
htm). Despite the small size of the SY fleet, it
has extensive ecological consequences. At the
microlevel, an example of this harm was
widely reported in January 2016 when one of
the SYs owned by Microsofts cofounder, Paul
Allen, crashed into a protected coral reef, dam-
aging up to 14,000 square feet or 80 percent of
the reef.
On a larger scale, it is difficult to estimate
the full extent of the ecological costs of build-
ing and operating SYs. It is unclear, for exam-
ple, how much steel, aluminum or other metals,
fiberglass, exotic materials and so forth, are
involved in building an SY, and clearly, the
quantities vary depending on an SY’s size and
amenities, which can be extensive. Some SYs
include “extras” such as helicopters, subma-
rines, and smaller boats; and the volume of
waste generated by operating SYs (e.g., food,
paper, and fecal waste) are unknown. These
“extras,” along with size, can make SYs not
only financially pricey, but also costly envi-
ronmentally. Reportedly, the world’s most
expensive SY, the Eclipse, cost between
US$800 million to US$1.5 billion. At 162.5
meters/533 feet, it is also the world’s second
largest SY and contains 6,000 square feet of
living space in 18 guest cabins. In addition, the
master suite is 5,000 square feet and with
11,000 square feet of floating living space, the
Eclipse is five times the size of an average U.S.
home. It is operated by a 92-person crew, and
the crew requires living space not accounted
for above. In short, it should be clear that SYs
are owned by the very wealthy, and therefore,
any ecological harm generated from building
and operating SYs stems from the conspicuous
consumption behaviors of the wealthy.
In our effort to quantify SYs’ ecological
impacts, we admit omitting their full ecologi-
cal impacts and costs. For example, we were
unable to estimate the volume of various mate-
rials (e.g., rare woods and metals) and the
quantity of energy used to construct SYs. Our
estimate focuses only on the carbon footprint
of SYs in use and, as a result, drastically under-
estimates the full scope of the ecological disor-
ganization generated by building SYs.
Likewise, our comparisons are based on
employing U.S. commodities, and the ecologi-
cal effect difference may be greater or less on
the nation used for comparative purposes.
Operating an SY is expensive and ecologi-
cally damaging. On average, an SY over 71
meters/233 feet uses 500 liters/132 gallons of
gasoline an hour, and annual fuel costs for an
average SY are around $400,000. From avail-
able data, we estimated that an average (71
meter) SY uses about 107,000 gallons gaso-
line/year and produces 2.1 million pounds of
carbon dioxide emissions annually. Thus, the
fleet of 300 SY produces approximately 627
million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a
year. That very large figure needs to be placed
in context. To do so, we compare the carbon
and gasoline footprint of SYs owned by the
wealthy to the average vehicle—a more afford-
able mode of transportation for the average
person operated in the United States.
An average new car gets 25.5 miles per gal-
lon (mpg) in the United States. According to
the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S.
DOT) (https://www.fueleconomy.gov), an
average person drives about 13,476 miles,
using 528.5 gallons of gas, and generates
Lynch et al. 7
10,358.6 pounds of CO2 pollution annually.
Thus, one average SY produces as much CO2
pollution as 202 average cars, and, annually,
the SY fleet (N = 300) uses as much gasoline
as 60,600 cars that get 25.5 mpg.
Another way to illustrate the annual eco-
logical harm caused by SY is to compare the
CO2 emissions from the 300 largest SY to the
CO2 emissions of entire nations. The SY fleet
carbon emissions (nearly 630 million pounds),
for example, is similar to the emissions of the
10.6 million inhabitants of Burundi (654.02
million pounds), and 5.7 times larger than the
carbon footprint (111,556,039 pounds) of the
small (36,157 inhabitants) developed nation
of Liechtenstein. Thus, the carbon footprint of
the global SY fleet of the wealthy produces as
much ecological disorganization as entire
nations of people.
Ecological Housing Footprint
of SHs
The wealthy often own multiple homes. Their
primary homes can be extremely large and
their home-related ecological footprint may
extend beyond their primary home. Here, we
focus attention only on the largest homes of the
wealthy in the United States, whether they are
primary or secondary homes. To do so, we col-
lected data on the largest homes for sale in the
United States in November, 2016. Similar to
large SYs, we refer to these homes as “super
homes”.
Before beginning, we note that our analysis
underestimates the ecological effect of build-
ing SHs since we can only estimate their eco-
logical effects from general home construction
guidelines. Moreover, we could not quantify
the effects of using luxury or exotic construc-
tion materials (i.e., rare wood or stone). We
restricted our analysis to free-standing homes
(i.e., excluded apartments and condominiums).
In addition, since our data are drawn from the
United States, the results may not generalize to
other nations.
It is difficult to compare average SHs to aver-
age homes. According to the U.S. Department of
Commerce, the average size of new homes var-
ies over time and has tended to increase since the
early 1970s (Perry 2015; U.S. Department of
Commerce 2015). Nevertheless, average new
home data provide a rough estimate of the differ-
ence in size and the ecological footprint of aver-
age U.S. homes and SHs.
The price of SHs in our data varied consid-
erably, from $3 to 5 million to more than $100
million dollars. Table 1 shows information for
39 SH for sale in the United States during the
six-month period from April, 2016, through
November, 2016. Data shown in this table
were extracted from and cross-referenced with
several real estate web sites (e.g., Zillow and
Trulia) to obtain additional home characteris-
tics. As Table 1 indicates, these homes had: (1)
a mean price of $27.76 million; (2) total mean
square feet of 39,798 (35,300 in main building,
plus 4,498 square feet in additional buildings);
and (3) total building square footage (other
buildings on the property, including garages
when not included in the listing) of 1,552,107.
In contrast, during the same time period, an
average U.S. home: (1) cost $188,000 (147
times less); (2) contained about 2,200 square
feet (SHs were about 18 times larger); and (3)
included about 576 square feet of garage space.
To compare the ecological costs of these
different categories of homes, we calculated
(1) the approximate square feet of wood used
to build each type; (2) estimated the number of
trees required to build the average home in
each group; and (3) translated trees used into
carbon footprints. These estimates may not
represent the true ecological effect of SHs
because SHs likely include additional/larger
wood trims (e.g., wood cabinetry, base-board
moldings, chair rails, corner blocks, and ceil-
ing moldings), and other wood finishes (i.e.,
solid woods) compared to average homes, and
we did not adjust for those potential differ-
ences, which cannot be measured without
more specific information on each SH in the
sample. Thus, we likely underestimate the eco-
logical disorganization effect of SHs.
Calculating the carbon-related ecological
footprint of a home is difficult and requires
several transformations described in brief
below. For example, the Idaho Forest Products
Commission’s web site indicates that an aver-
age home includes 12.5 board feet of wood
8 Social Currents 00(0)
Table 1. Sample of Largest Super Homes for Sale Characteristics, 2016 US [N = 39].
Location $ millions Square feetaSquare feetbName
Potomac, MD 9.250 25,051 2,500 Versailles Mansion
Divide, Co 5.750 25,206 c
Hunting Valley, Oh 2.400 25,213 1,500
Paradise Valley, AZ 25.000 25,416 8,450
Wellington, FL 7.950 25,793 d
Springville, UT 8.000 26,000 3,150
Alamo, CA 28.000 26,739 e
Gainesville, GA 3.500 26,891 e
Clifton, VA 6.200 27,000 e
San Antonio, TX 9.800 27,417 e
Savanah, GA 12.500 28,000 13,800
Tampa, FL 4.199 28,363 1,750
Post Falls, ID 9.995 28,469 e
Holladay, UT 18.400 28,740 f
Potomac, MD 4.295 29,018 e
Prosper, TX 12.750 29,122 e
Montecito, CA 125.000 29,483 18,000
Scottsdale, AZ 32.000 29,700 e
Los Angeles, CA 88.000 30,000 e
Atlanta, GA 8.000 30,000 e
Barrington, IL 18.775 30,000 e
Alpine, NJ 48.880 30,000 e
Barrington, IL 5.999 33,000 6,000 Blue Heron Estate
Boca Raton, FL 6.950 32,511 5,040
Potomac, MD 18.000 33,000 3,000
Ellison Bay, WI 8.750 35,000 2,500 Ellison Bay Manor
Hillsborough, CA 23.888 35,000 5,500 King’s Domain
Philadelphia, PA 13.950 36,957 3,000 Tri-Wing Manor
Holmby Hills, CA 38,000 e
Cartersville, GA 19.900 40,000 8,000
Paradise Valley, AZ 10.000 40,280 4,000
Beverly Hills, CA 43,000 e
Lantana, FL 32.500 45,143 4,000 Paradiso Del Mar
Cartersville, GA 8.500 47,000 2,500
Hillsboro Beach, FL 159.000 47,774 12,734
Parker, CO 14.900 50,397 e
Highlands Park, IL 21.000 56,000 eMichael Jordan House
Windermere, FL 65.000 90,000 e
Manhattan, NY 130.000 62,000 70,000gRiver House
Total 1,026.981 1,376,683 175,424
Mean 27.76h35,300 4,498
aSquare feet main residence living area.
bSquare feet other structures on property such as guest houses, poll houses, apartments, stables, garages, taken from
published data or estimated from architectural guideline where square footage estimates were not published.
cThe property description lists six additional one bedroom guest cottages. It is unclear from the information whether
these are included in the square foot estimate.
dUnknown from listing.
eAppears to be included in Square Foot 1 as part of listing description.
fAn interesting note on this house: it includes 11 miles of crown moldings.
gEquestrian Center, not included in house and guest house square foot estimate.
hThis mean is for the 37 residences which had available price data.
Lynch et al. 9
products per square foot for nonconcrete slab
houses. A board foot is a board one inch × 12
inches × 12 inches. Our estimate is based on
an average house, and not on estimates of
board feet in new constructions alone, which
over time declined (see Lutz 2016 for trends).
As a result, our estimate, because it includes
older homes in the average, yields a higher
board foot estimate.
Following the above, an average American
home contains about 27,500 board feet. To
simplify our comparison, we assumed that SHs
use the same square foot ratio of wood prod-
ucts as an average home. This assumption
likely underestimates the board feet in SHs
because SH likely include more wood in their
construction (e.g., additional wood trims) than
an average home. SH also includes other omit-
ted ecological effects from the use of rare
woods, old growth forest woods, and so on,
that have not been taken into account.
Nevertheless, we estimated that an average SH
used 497,475 board feet of wood product or
18.09 times as much wood product as an aver-
age U.S. home.
Next, we translated board feet into tree
equivalents using the “Doyle Rule” for deter-
mining board feet from a tree (see, Guldin and
Baker 1988). From the Doyle Table, we
selected a relatively large tree (48 foot tall, 36
inch diameter) for the board feet transforma-
tion. It is likely, however, that average homes
and SH use different wood stocks and have dif-
ferent wood stock ecological effects (e.g.,
some trees grow faster), but we were unable to
address those effects. From the Doyle table,
each tree we selected produces 1,310 board
feet. Thus, a 2,200 square foot/27,700 board
foot home uses 20 trees, while an average SH
(497,475 board feet) consumes 380 trees, or
has a tree-related ecological withdrawal effect
about 19 times higher (without accounting for
additional wood-use differences).
Tree harvesting can also impact wildlife
population stability, which is an additional
ecological cost of home building. We calcu-
lated that effect using federal data relating
wildlife population stability relative to forest
density. Following U.S. Federal guidelines,
forest density of 300 trees per acre is suitable
for wildlife population stability (U.S.
Department of Agriculture 2015). Using this
estimate and our tree use estimates above, an
average home consumes seven percent of a
well-forested area, whereas an SH consumes
127 percent of a well-forested area. Translated
into other measures, this means that five well-
forested acres could produce wood for 71.43
average homes, but for only four SHs.
An alternative measure of environmental
harm from home building can be derived by
estimating the carbon sequestration potential
lost to trees harvested for home building—a
measure which also illustrates the connection
between ecological withdrawals, ecological
disorganization, carbon pollution, and climate
change. Doing so requires a series of estimates
to translate trees used into carbon sequestra-
tion equivalents. For our example, we used
trees described earlier (48 feet in height; 36
inch diameter; 72 inch circumference). Tree
circumference can be used to estimate tree age,
and tree age is then used to calculate carbon
sequestration.
The simplest tree age estimation suggests
that each inch in circumference is equivalent to
one year’s growth (for more complex tree
growth and species-specific models see
Colbert et al. 2004). As our examples trees
have a 72 inch circumference, they would be
approximately 72 years old. Scientific studies
indicate that an average tree sequesters about
48 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, and that
large trees have an average life span of 150
years (Nowak and Crane 2000). In our exam-
ple, then, harvested trees have 78 years of life
remaining at time of harvest. Over those 78
now lost years, an average tree could poten-
tially sequester 3,744 pounds of CO2 (78 × 48
pds/year).
Using our sample trees, an average home
requires harvesting 20 trees and an SH requires
380 trees. Carbon sequestration loss for an
average home is, therefore, 74,880 pounds
CO2, while it is 1,422,720 for an SH—or
nearly 20 times greater for an SH.
The 39 SH homes in Table 1 generate a car-
bon sequestration loss of 55,486,080 pounds,
which is the equivalent loss associated with
building 741 average homes. Again, this
10 Social Currents 00(0)
procedure may underestimates the carbon
sequestration effect of building SHs because
they are likely to contain more wood products
than we use in our estimates.
Luxury Car versus Best-
Selling Car Footprints
The wealthy also have adverse ecological
impacts through their automobile purchasing
and operating habits. The wealthy possess
the ability to purchase vehicles (i.e., luxury
vehicles) largely unavailable to the average
consumer. While the definition of a luxury
vehicle is debatable (Flint 2009), those vehi-
cles typically cost “much more” than the
average vehicle and have features “beyond
what is necessary.” For our analysis, we only
employ data on new car sales from 2015
(mean car price in 2015 was $35,543). Price
data were extracted from Kelley Blue Book
(KBB; https://mediaroom.kbb.com/new-car-
transaction-prices-jump-august-2015). In 2015,
KBB indicated an average compact car sold
for $20,560, while the entry level price for
the luxury car market began at $ 42,383.
Based on these data, we employed a cutoff of
$42,000 to identify luxury cars sold in the
United States in 2015. Those data, which
appear in Table 2, were aggregated depend-
ing on the available data (e.g., by maker, or
by maker and model), and include the sale of
hybrid vehicles.
As with SHs, luxury vehicles have multiple
ecological effects, some of which cannot be
directly measured. First, these vehicles tend to
be larger and building them consumes more
ecological resources. Second, luxury vehicles
use materials not found in average cars, and
thus have different ecological impacts than an
average car (e.g., they may include wood trim).
And third, luxury cars, with the exception of
hybrids and electric vehicles, tend to perform
less efficiently, consume more gasoline, and
have a larger carbon dioxide use footprint. Of
these ecological effects, the CO2 footprint can
be measured.
To create a comparative CO2 use footprint,
we collected miles per gallon (MPG) data for
all luxury cars sold in the United States, and a
sample of the best-selling (i.e., average) cars in
the United States. Car sales data were collected
from the web site Left-Lane.com. MPG data
were derived from the U.S. government web
site, www.fueleconomy.gov.
Luxury sales and MPG data were collected
for 39 luxury models or brands for vehicles cost-
ing most than $42,000. For some luxury brands,
individual vehicle sales were small and were
thus averaged to create a brand average rather
than a model listing. The total number of luxury
vehicles sold in the United States in 2015 was
708,909. The sales and MPG data for each
model/brand were used to calculate a weighted
MPG effect for each model/brand, and then the
weighted effects were summed to create an aver-
age MPG for all luxury vehicles sold in 2015
(see Table 2). As shown in Table 2, the average
MPG of the entire luxury fleet (all 708,909 lux-
ury cars sold) was 19.59 mpg. In Table 2, the
relative MPG effect for each model/brand is cre-
ated by multiplying the percent of sales for each
model/brand of luxury cars sold by each model/
brand’s average MPG. The sum of each model/
brand relative MPG is the average MPG of all
vehicles in the luxury class sample.
The same procedure was followed for top
10 vehicles sold (N =2,324,510). Each top 10
model’s MPG was then derived from the
fueleconomy.gov web site. The weighted MPG
effect for these vehicles (31.28) was derived
using the same procedure outlined above (see
Table 3 for results for top 10 vehicles). The
sum of the weighted MPG score equals the
average MPG for the entire fleet of top 10
vehicles sold.
From these data (Tables 2 and 3), it is clear
that an average luxury vehicle’s MPG (19.59)
is significantly less efficient than an average
top 10 selling model’s MPG (31.28). In rela-
tive terms, top 10 vehicles sold were 62.63 per-
cent more fuel efficient than luxury vehicles.
From the MPG data, we can crudely estimate
the CO2-use effect in several ways.
First, for luxury vehicles, we estimated that
for every 1,000 miles driven, 51.05 gallons of
gasoline are required. The U.S. Energy
Information Administration (https://www.eia.
Lynch et al. 11
Table 2. Luxury Car (>$42,000) Sales, MPG, and Aggregate MPG for Luxury Fleet of Cars Sold in the
United States, 2015.
Model Units sold MPG % sales Relative MPG
Porsche 51,756 21 7.3 1.53
Cadillac 175,267 19 24.72 4.70
Lincoln 101,227 20 14.3 2.86
Jaguar 14,446 18 2.04 0.37
Land Rover 70,582 17 9.96 1.69
Aston Martin 1,160 16 0.16 0.02
Bentley 3,186 15 0.45 0.07
Maserati 11,697 16 1.65 0.26
Lamborghini 2,091 14 0.29 0.04
Ferrari 2,640 15 0.37 0.06
Mercedes E 20,995 21.5 2.96 0.64
BMW 5 23,578 20.5 3.33 0.68
Alfa Romeo 4C 663 26 0.09 0.02
Acura MDX 58,208 22 8.21 1.81
Audi S8/A8 4,990 20 0.63 0.13
Audi A7/S7 7,721 21 1.09 0.23
Audi Q7 18,995 18 2.68 0.48
Audi R8 495 15 0.07 0.01
Infiniti QX80 15,648 15 2.21 0.33
Infiniti QX70 5,737 15 0.81 0.12
Infiniti QX60 41,770 22 5.89 1.30
Lamborghini 756 15 0.10 0.02
Lexus GS 23,117 29 3.26 0.95
Lexus LS 7,165 20 1.01 0.20
Lexus LX 3,883 12.5 0.55 0.07
Lexus GX 25,212 15 3.56 0.53
Lexus RC 14,784 21.5 2.09 0.45
Rolls Royce 1,140 15 0.16 0.02
Total 708,909 100 19.59
Note. Car sales data are from the web site Left-Lane.com; MPG estimates come from U.S. EPA estimates, www.
fueleconomy.gov.
MPG = miles per gallon.
Table 3. Top 10 Vehicles Sold, US, 2015, Most Cars Sold by Model.
Model Units sold MPG % sales Relative MPG
Hyundai Sonata 171,751 28/38 (31) 7.39 2.29
Ford Focus 180,287 29/40 (34.5) 7.76 2.68
Chevy Cruze 193,680 28/42 (33) 8.33 2.75
Ford Fusion 255,143 24/36 (28) 10.98 3.07
Honda Civic 277,538 31/41 (34) 11.94 3.88
Nissan Altima 283,372 27/38 (32.5) 12.19 3.96
Honda Accord 294,935 27/36 (30) 12.69 3.81
Toyota Corolla 306,693 30/42 (34) 13.19 4.49
Toyota Camry 361,111 25/35 (28) 15.54 4.35
2,324,510 100% 31.28
Note. Sales data from Left-Lane.com.
MPG = miles per gallon.
12 Social Currents 00(0)
gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=307&t=11) estimates
that one gallon of consumed gasoline gener-
ates about 19.6 pounds of carbon dioxide.
Thus, 51.05 gallons of gasoline consumption
translate into 1,000.58 pounds of CO2 emis-
sions per every 1,000 miles driven in a luxury
car. For 708,909 luxury vehicles driven 1,000
miles each, this equates to 1,000,580 pounds of
CO2 emissions. For the top 10 selling vehicles,
gasoline consumption per 1,000 miles driven
is 31.97, which translates into a CO2 output of
626.60 pounds/1,000 miles. Compared to top
10 selling vehicles, a luxury vehicle produces,
on average, 373.98 more pounds of CO2 emis-
sions per 1,000 miles traveled, or 59.68 per-
cent more CO2 emissions.
The CO2 difference noted above, however,
is misleading. Miles driven annually varies by
income, and thus some effort must be made to
address that difference since income and lux-
ury vehicle purchases are likely connected.
Adjusting for this effect helps derive a better
measure of the ecological effect of driving
luxury vehicles.
Income-related miles driven can be esti-
mated from U.S. DOT (2011) data. U.S. DOT
data do not report miles driven by income
directly, however, but instead provides data on
the number of trips (i.e., defined as travel from
one address to another in a motor vehicle) by
income, and average trip length in miles by
income. These data can be combined to esti-
mate miles traveled annually by income
groupings. In 2009, the average number of
trips across all income groups was 2,640, but
for high-income groups (incomes greater than
$80,000) equaled 4,815 or was 82 percent
higher than the average.
Moreover, trip length also varies by income,
and it has been reported that automobile travel
is shaped by class membership/income
(Kotval-K and Vojnovic 2016). For low-
income users, average trip length is 8.85 miles.
So, for this group, average trip length (8.85
miles) times the average number of trips
(2,640) equals average miles driven per year =
23,364. For the high-income group, average
trip length (11.5 miles) times 4,815 trips =
55,373 miles annually. These outcomes can
then be converted in CO2 outputs per vehicle,
which would be 55,404 pounds for one vehicle
in the high-income group and 17,958 pounds
for one vehicle in the low-income group.
Private Luxury Jets
Footprints
The average individual does not own or oper-
ate a private luxury jet. That privilege and the
ecological destruction that goes along with it
belongs only to the wealthiest individuals and
businesses/corporations that employ private jet
services. As an example, Donald Trump owns
a Boeing 757 (U.S. registration number
N757AF). Today, there are more than 14,939
private jets registered in the United States
Table 4. Average Gasoline Consumption, Variable and Rental Costs, Private Jets, US, 12 Most Popular
Private Jet Models.
Model Gasoline/hr Variable cost/hr Average rental cost/hr
Gulfstream 550 358 2,153 8,460
Global Express XRS 450 2,675 8,045
Falcon X7 318 1,918 7,965
Falcon 900 307 1,809 6,075
Gulfstream IV 479 2,929 5,884
Challenger 604 350 1,831 5,053
Citation X 336 2,080 4,533
Hawker 800 255 1,675 3,582
Citation Excel XLS 210 1,497 3,388
Learjet 60 207 1,432 3,347
Citation Mustang 100 610 1,674
Airbus A319 640 4,100 6,926
Lynch et al. 13
alone (https://registry.faa.gov/aircraftinquiry/).
Private jets can cost thousands of dollars to
operate and rent per hour and have extensive
ecological costs related to the burning of gaso-
line and CO2 emissions.
To estimate those effects, we used data on
the most popular private jets. Those data were
drawn from a Forbes Magazine (Ewalt 2013)
article that identified the 12 most popular pri-
vate jets used in the United States. Data on
gasoline consumption per hour, variable oper-
ating costs (fuel, maintenance, parts, and
labor), and average rental costs were collected
for these private jets from the web site
Jetadvisors.com (2016). These data are dis-
played in Table 4.
Data on the number of hours of operation
for each plane model found over a one-year
period are unavailable. Thus, to estimate the
annual ecological footprint of operating pri-
vate jets, we used the average hourly fuel con-
sumption by model (see Table 4) along with
National Business Aviation Association (2015)
estimates of the number of hours flown by
individuals, businesses, corporations and for
instructional purposes in private jets. Those
data indicate the following use patterns: indi-
viduals, 8,000,000 hours; business, 2,400,000
hours; corporate, 2,700,000 hours; and instruc-
tional, 3,900,000 hours; total hours, 17 mil-
lion. From Table 4, mean hourly fuel
consumption for the 12 listed private jet mod-
els can be estimated and is equal to 344.17 gal-
lons/hour.
The average volume of CO2 produced from
burning one gallon of jet fuel is 21.1 pounds
(https://www.eia.gov/environment/emissions/
co2_vol_mass.php). Thus, from 2014 data, we
estimate the carbon footprint from private
plane use (17 million hours; 344.16 gallons
fuel/hour; 21.1 pounds CO2 /hour) to be 55.996
million metric tons annually. Based on U.S.
Energy Information Administration total U.S.
CO2 emissions, private jets generate only
about one percent of total U.S. carbon emis-
sions. Nevertheless, despite the small percent-
age of total U.S. carbon emissions generated
by private planes, the aggregate emissions are
substantial. Earlier, for example, we noted that
Burundi’s 10.6 million residents generate
about 650 million pounds or 294,835 metric
tons of CO2, which is about 45 percent of the
CO2 produced by the operation of private jets
in the United States. This comparison is nota-
ble in the context of the present discussion to
the extent that it illustrates how wealth trans-
lates into expanded consumption and addi-
tional adverse ecological consequences.
Discussion and Conclusion
This article examined the effect of the wealthy
on ecological disorganization using estimates
of their ecological footprint related to the con-
spicuous consumption of particular luxury
items. Prior studies suggest that income and
ecological destruction are positively related
(Brounen, Kok, and Quigley 2012; Kempf
2008). Within the context of green criminol-
ogy, this information is useful for illustrating
how the wealthy unequally contribute to green
harms/crimes and injustice (Brisman and
South 2014). As noted, ecological footprints
vary across nations, and some nations produce
more ecological destruction/disorganization
than others through excessive consumption. A
similar argument has also been made about
social classes—the wealthy generate more
ecological disorganization than other income
groups due to conspicuous consumption. We
addressed that issue estimating carbon dioxide
outputs for SHs, SYs, luxury cars, and the pri-
vate jet fleet in the United States.
Conspicuous consumption is, as Thorsten
Veblen argued, part of the nature of capitalism
and the consumption habits capitalism gener-
ates. We extended this line of thought to sug-
gest that the wealthy not only control
production through ownership and manage-
ment of the means of production, they also
have a large ecological footprint that influ-
ences the course of ecological disorganization.
In some cases, as illustrated above, their
behaviors have ecological consequences as
large as those produced by the populations of
some nations. These results are not necessarily
surprising, as one of the uses of accumulated
wealth in a capitalist economy is consumption.
These outcomes—both conspicuous consump-
tion and the adverse ecological consequences
14 Social Currents 00(0)
such consumption generates—have been
described as being part of the nature of capital-
ism (Foster 2000) and as one of its contradic-
tions (Foster 1992). Ecological Marxists,
however, have not been alone in pointing out
this type of concern. Reviewing this issue,
Hornborg (2009) identifies what he calls “the
restricted number of critics of industrial capi-
talism,” which is illustrated in the develop-
ment of the ecological economics literature
(see Hornborg 2009:246–51; Martinez-Alier
1987). Those views, which include among oth-
ers, emergy analysis, zero-sum growth argu-
ments, steady-state economics, metabolic rift
analysis, and ecological unequal exchange
theory, all point toward the problem of eco-
logical destruction and disorganization associ-
ated with capitalist production and
consumption. Whether capitalism can be reor-
ganized (e.g., steady-state economics) or must
be replaced to solve the large-scale nature of
the ecological crisis is, one can argue, an ideo-
logical question that depends on the initial
assumption made in any of these approaches.
Nevertheless, it can still be illustrated, as we
have shown above, that the consumptive
behaviors of the wealthy, who comprise a
small part of the world’s population, has a
much more significant ecological impact than
the behavior of other economic groups. Based
on that observation, one could argue that it is
necessary to devise strategies for controlling
the conspicuous consumption habits of the
wealthy. How that might be accomplished and
assessing the economic effects of such restric-
tions is beyond the scope of this article.
Theoretically, prior research within green
criminology suggests that conspicuous con-
sumption and the excessive ecological disorga-
nization such consumption generates can be
defined as a green crime—that is, as a crime
against ecosystems and the inhabitants of eco-
systems including nonhuman life forms, who
suffer from those crimes as local and global
ecosystems become increasingly disorganized
(see also Agnew 2013; Lynch et al. 2013).
Drawing upon ecological Marxism, Lynch
et al. (2013) specially argue that in a political
economic green criminological perspective,
that “[a]s a result of the inherent contradiction
between capitalism and nature, the capitalist
system must be seen as a crime against nature”
(p. 998). Outlawing capitalism is unlikely for a
variety of reasons, including its global organi-
zational scope, and the stored assets and vari-
ous forms of political and military power that
are routinely employed to prevent such a
threat. Even at the local or national levels, the
treadmill of environmental law or the organi-
zation of environmental laws is structured in
ways that protect the capitalist treadmill of
production and facilitate its expansion (Long
et al. 2018; Stretesky et al. 2013b), meaning
that laws/regulations are an unlikely source for
controlling conspicuous consumption. Legally,
of course, conspicuous consumption is not a
crime—it is an acceptable form of behavior
encouraged under capitalism. But perhaps it
should become a crime, given its adverse eco-
logical impacts. More traditional analysts are
likely to object to such a proposition, noting
that these expenditures create jobs and allow
wealth to “trickle down.” The effectiveness of
trickle-down economic approaches is mixed at
best, and even reports from the International
Monetary Fund suggest this form of econom-
ics is not viable and often does not stand up to
empirical scrutiny (Dabla-Norris et al. 2015).
In the modern context, the wealthy have a
great many choices they can make as a result
of their wealth. This often involves, as noted
earlier, engaging in behaviors that Migone
(2007) identifies as hedonistic consumption.
Those behavioral choices, often freed from
market constrains as a result of the level of
economic resource availability the wealthy
possess, can also generate extensive ecologi-
cal harm. An increasing number of quantita-
tive physical and social scientific studies
indicate that the odds of local and global eco-
system collapse are expanding and that the
continued expansion of production and con-
sumption are part of the problem. Nations
across the globe have been engaged in efforts
to produce treaties, legislation, and regula-
tions designed to curb production practices.
While researchers also note the need to limit
consumption as part of protective ecological
policies (Meadows, Randers, and Meadows
2004; Schaefer and Crane 2005; Wapner and
Lynch et al. 15
Willoughby 2005), no such policies about
limiting consumption exist.
Researchers in numerous fields can contrib-
ute to efforts to promote sustainability and
limit the ecologically destructive consumption
habits of the wealthy by developing and empir-
ically assessing how such policies would pro-
mote ecological sustainability. Such studies
are essential to developing a theoretically
informed policy literature that explains the
need for policies that limit excessive consump-
tion as indispensable in an era where uncon-
trolled economic growth and expansion has
outstripped ecological resource availability
and ecological system sustainability.
Acknowledgments
The authors would like to thank aviation pilot
Matthew Fox for providing information concerning
accessing data on private aircraft use and fuel use,
and the anonymous reviewers and editors of Social
Currents for their comments and suggestions.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of
interest with respect to the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The author(s) received no financial support for the
research, authorship, and/or publication of this
article.
ORCID iD
Michael J. Lynch https://orcid.org/0000-0003
-4012-5871
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... It is therefore more urgent than ever to take actions, and to design suitable targets to move in the most appropriate direction. The objective of this paper is to contribute to the understanding of the origins of profits in a capitalist economy, and how this point is tightly linked to the empirical evidence showing that luxury consumption by richer classes is a major determinant of CO2 emissions 1 (Kenner, 2015;Lynch et al., 2019). In so doing, we aim at contributing to fill a theoretical gap, given that a heterodox framework linking ecological issues to how a whole capitalist economic system works is still missing (Pirgmaier, 2021). ...
... According to some estimates, the average couple of HNWIs has a carbon footprint of about 129.3 tCO2eq per year (Otto et al., 2019). Luxury emissions are especially related to air travel, tourism, luxurious private vehicles and large private mansions (Brand and Preston, 2010;Gössling, 2019;Kenner, 2015;Lynch et al., 2019). These consumption categories, being highly energy-intensive, tend to be more elastic, increasing the energy footprint of HNWIs (Oswald et al., 2020). ...
... On a disaggregated level, inequality in energy consumption is mainly concentrated in the transport sector (Gössling, 2019;Oswald et al., 2020), with air travel being the leading emission contributor (Otto et al., 2019). Lynch et al. (2019) estimate that one average super yacht in use produces the same amount of CO2 emissions as 202 average cars in the USA, without accounting for carbon emitted in the production phase. Similar figures apply to passenger cars. ...
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Given that the richest 10% of the world population is responsible for more than half of global greenhouse gas emissions between 1990 and 2015, understanding the sources of excessive consumption of wealthier households and the ways to reduce them becomes especially important. Indeed, subsistence emissions are the emissions generated to satisfy basic needs, while luxury emissions are those generated to satisfy non-basic needs and that can, thus, be avoided or reduced. We make use of the 'integrated wage-commodity sector' model to study this issue. By using this model, we are able to connect the double role of luxury goods. On the one hand, they are the main reason why profits exist (together with surplus production of other wage-goods), given that profitability stems from surplus production delivered by workers. On the other hand, they are the major constituent of wasteful luxury consumption and, hence, major drivers of CO2 emissions. Three different scenarios ('green growth', 'reformist', and 'just transition') are depicted and connected to the possible policy actions to be undertaken to address social and environmental predicaments. The just transition scenario seems to be the only viable option to respect both social and environmental boundaries.
... Die beschriebenen klassenspezifischen sozial-ökologischen Ungleichheiten könnten dabei aufgenommen und auf eine gerechtere Verteilung der Lasten gedrängt werden. Um weiterführend für eine breite Akzeptanz für Einschnitte in den Lebens-und Konsumgewohnheiten zu werben, sollte im Sinne einer popularen Umweltpolitik der enorm umweltschädliche exzessive Luxuskonsum der Superreichen, ihre Superhäuser-und -yachten, Privatjets und Luxusautos (Lynch et al. 2019), zuallererst problematisiert werden. ...
... ). Umgekehrt gilt in der Regel: je niedriger das Einkommen, desto geringer der Ressourcenverbrauch.18 Bei Personengruppen am obersten Ende der Reichtumsverteilung kulminieren die ökologisch zerstörerischen Konsummuster darüber hinaus in einem maßlosen Luxuskonsum(Lynch et al. 2019). Es gilt darüber hinaus, dass je größer die soziale Ungleichheit in einer Gesellschaft ist, desto stärker sind Statusunsicherheiten und desto verbreiteter ist ein demonstrativer Abgrenzungs-und Statuskonsum(Schaum/Theine 2015), der in Form von Luxuskonsum Statusdistinktion und in den unteren Klassenlagen gesellschaftliche Teilhabe signalisieren soll. ...
... Die beschriebenen klassenspezifischen sozial-ökologischen Ungleichheiten könnten dabei aufgenommen und auf eine gerechtere Verteilung der Lasten gedrängt werden. Um weiterführend für eine breite Akzeptanz für Einschnitte in den Lebens-und Konsumgewohnheiten zu werben, sollte im Sinne einer popularen Umweltpolitik der enorm umweltschädliche exzessive Luxuskonsum der Superreichen, ihre Superhäuser-und -yachten, Privatjets und Luxusautos (Lynch et al. 2019), zuallererst problematisiert werden. ...
... ). Umgekehrt gilt in der Regel: je niedriger das Einkommen, desto geringer der Ressourcenverbrauch.18 Bei Personengruppen am obersten Ende der Reichtumsverteilung kulminieren die ökologisch zerstörerischen Konsummuster darüber hinaus in einem maßlosen Luxuskonsum(Lynch et al. 2019). Es gilt darüber hinaus, dass je größer die soziale Ungleichheit in einer Gesellschaft ist, desto stärker sind Statusunsicherheiten und desto verbreiteter ist ein demonstrativer Abgrenzungs-und Statuskonsum(Schaum/Theine 2015), der in Form von Luxuskonsum Statusdistinktion und in den unteren Klassenlagen gesellschaftliche Teilhabe signalisieren soll. ...
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Die Diskussion über Klassen und Klassenpolitik ist neu entfacht: In zentralen sozialen Konfliktfeldern wie Geschlechterverhältnissen, Rassismus und Migration, globaler Ungleichheit, Prekarisierung oder Ökologie wird wieder nach der Rolle von Klassenverhältnissen gefragt. Der Band bietet einen Überblick über aktuelle Diskussionen zu deren Zusammenhang. Die Beiträge setzen sich mit Klaus Dörres Thesen zur »demobilisierten Klassengesellschaft« auseinander und weiten den Blick für Kontroversen an den Nahtstellen des neuen Klassendiskurses.
... Affluence is recognised as one of the strongest predictors of higher carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions through higher levels of travel, larger and multiple houses, alongside greater food waste and consumption more broadly (Gibson et al., 2011). Consumptionand especially conspicuous consumptionunderpins higher ecological carbon emissions, disrupting the normal regeneration and reproduction of ecosystems (Lynch, 2019). In this context, the need to understand the underlying mechanisms behind patterns of consumption and to identify more sustainable future solutions has taken on a new urgency. ...
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Income inequality has been associated with higher levels of status consumption with well-established harmful effects on health, wellbeing and economic stability. Research has suggested that status anxiety may be the mechanism that connects income inequality with status consumption, but the literature is disparate. In this interdisciplinary review, we draw together the evidence and explore the implications for climate change and sustainability, identifying that status anxiety may be a key driver of the higher levels of consumption in more unequal contexts. We find that status-anxiety fuelled consumption is associated with household debt, spatial inequalities, cycles of unsustainable consumption and longer commuting times, ultimately contributing to higher carbon emissions. We propose that further research should include more in-depth study and cohesive measurement of status anxiety and seek to better understand how to reduce unsustainable patterns of status-anxiety driven consumption. Reducing income inequality could have both short and long-term positive global environmental impacts.
... Planned obsolescence has been used as a metaphor by green criminologists Brisman and South (2013) to summarize how humanity has (mis)treated Planet Earth. Also, the environmental consequences of wasteful consumption (Lynch et al., 2019;Smith & Brisman, 2021) and particularly of electronic waste have been well-documented (Bisschop, 2012;Gibbs et al., 2010). The role of producers and the interplay between consumers and producers has, however, been under-scrutinized except for being called a push factor for illegal e-waste trade and substandard disposal (Bisschop, 2012). ...
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Planned obsolescence is the practice of deliberately designing products to limit their life span to encourage replacement. It is a common business strategy for consumer goods, with far-reaching ecological and social consequences. Here, we examine the definition, causes and consequences of planned obsolescence by using insights from corporate crime literature, integrated with environmental philosophy, management sciences, technology studies and law. Focusing on cases of planned obsolescence in consumer electronics, we show that the concept and procedure carries conceptual ambiguity and moral ambivalence, bearing diffuse harms, benefitting short-term corporate profit but undermining consumer confidence, and posing a major barrier to environmental sustainability. We discuss the system lock-ins driving companies to engage in planned obsolescence, and reframe the practice as a form of corporate environmental crime.
... Second, the nature of one's social interactions is of paramount relevance as a driver. It is apparent that members of traditional elites are also today indulging in outsized consumption patternswhether in the form of luxury cruises, multiple holiday homes, lavish cars, or private jetsthat have large environmental footprints (Lynch et al. 2019). The socio-psychological factor, in this case, is peer pressure, not explicitly caused by social marginalization, but just the general tendency to "keep up with the Joneses" (Gulati 2017;Makgosa and Mohube 2007). ...
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Concern about the environmental impacts of consumption has drawn research attention to the drivers of conspicuous and luxury (C/L) consumption. Given the prevailing patterns of overconsumption, most studies to date have focused on countries in the global North. However, an emerging high-consuming middle and upper class in nations such as India and Brazil makes it imperative to extend the study of C/L consumption to these contexts. Research that does exist pertaining to India has predominantly focused only on the role of social identity in driving consumption growth among certain groups. Our study proposes a broader conceptual framework, incorporating a variety of possible factors and applying multivariate statistical analysis to household-expenditure data from the India Human Development Survey. We examine how C/L consumption expenditure is correlated not just with the economic ability to consume (income or wealth) but also with potential socio-psychological drivers and moderators. The results show that while the economic ability to consume (income or its proxy) is an enabling factor, mass-media exposure and social network activity appear to influence C/L consumption positively. Education and caste have more mixed relationships with consumption, and interaction effects between these two variables and economic ability to consume are also significant. The results highlight the importance of socio-psychological factors in shaping consumption decisions beyond the enabling role of income and wealth. Improving understanding of this broader set of factors, as well as their interaction effects, is particularly salient for devising better policies for transitioning toward more sustainable consumption patterns in a large developing country such as India.
... In this context, it is also important to point out the often long supply chains through Far Eastern production, which have a significant impact on the overall CO2 footprint of luxury products in Europe. Overall, the work of Lynch, Long, Stretesky, and Barrett found that the environmental impacts of customers in the luxury segment remain significantly higher than those of ordinary consumers, a finding confirmed by Kenner and Grützmacher as well as by the statements of the companies surveyed (Lynch et al. 2019;Kenner 2015). Nevertheless, this question has shown that customers are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their purchases and that this trend is also affecting the luxury industry. ...
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