Climate’s Ledger

They never asked for this –
swollen seas,
faded lands,
gasping breaths.
Tiny footprints
washed away
by distant,
heavy strides.
Counting houses
tally yields
from afar,
spinning gold
from smoke.
Their ledgers hold
no columns
for the lost –
coastlines sunk
beneath the waves,
generations fleeing
broken homes
and barren fields.
Now the planet itself
comes to collect,
a storm
of compound interest
on bills too long unpaid.
Time to balance the books –
let the ledger reflect
the real debts owed.

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that America’s wealthiest 10% is responsible for 40% of US greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing the world today. But its impacts are not felt equally – the world’s poorest communities tend to suffer the most, despite having contributed the least to global emissions. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, countries urgently need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is fair and just for all. This means not only cutting emissions, but also helping vulnerable communities adapt to the changes already happening. Unfortunately, current government plans are not enough to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C, the target set by many climate scientists.

In this new study, researchers found that emissions inequality in the United States cuts across economic and racial lines. The richest 10% of US households were linked to 40% of the country’s total emissions in 2019. For the top 1% of households, whose income is connected to 15-17% of emissions, their investment holdings (i.e., investments and assets such as stocks and properties that generate passive income) accounted for 38-43% of their emissions. The study suggests that targeting investments and shareholder income with a carbon tax, rather than just consumer purchases, could be a fairer way to encourage businesses and investors to cut emissions. The money raised could also help fund climate action in vulnerable communities. This research further highlights how more action is needed to create a truly just and equitable future for everyone on the planet.

2 thoughts on “Climate’s Ledger”

  1. Hi Sam, I share your anger! I really like this poem – it calls the wealthy minority who have contributed so much to the causes of climate change to account. It does it in a direct, uncompromising way – your opening line “They never asked for this” makes clear that the poem is speaking for those who don’t have a voice – the animals, insects and birds that are vanishing and the humans who will be in the future dispossessed by the ravages of climate extremes. Unfortunately, I suspect that America’s wealthiest 10% will be somewhat better placed to take care of themselves than the poor. But it’s a great poem because it tells an unpalatable truth simply and without pulling any punches, and your use of the ledger metaphor gives it extra weight.


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