The super-rich consume a large percentage of resources here in the US, and worldwide, and the truth of the matter is that market based means of addressing environmental issues are entirely unrealistic, since most environmental impacts have no prices. Since externalities dominate the world we live in and since power is so unevenly distributed, the externalities and social costs are really a cost shifting exercise. The rich create the overwhelming majority of social and non-market costs, which they then pass off onto the environment and others not nearly as powerful, i.e., those unable to fight against these costs being pushed off onto them. Worldwide, the top 20% of the world’s population consume about 80% of all resources, and the top 10% generate about half of all carbon emissions. The very policies that led to the US and other countries developing are now barred by the WTO and deals like NAFTA. The US, and most every other developed country developed behind massive protectionism, the US in particular had the highest average industrial tariffs in the world from about the War of 1812 until WWII. Ha Joon Chang has written a lot about this. A large percentage of wealth in the US is inherited, some studies show about 80% of all wealth in the US, and inequality within and between countries has increased in recent decades. When deals are negotiated that impact capital, capital is the only interest with a seat at the table. With the recent TPP agreement, Obama gave full access to 500 “corporate advisers”, labor and environmental groups had next to no input, and our own reps had to threaten to sue just to look at it. When they were allowed to look at it, they were barred from discussing its contents with their constituents, and NAFTA was just as bad in that regard. The end result in regards to knowledge is something like TRIPS at the WTO, which is highly protectionist. The capitalist economy, in most industries worldwide, is increasingly concentrated, which means that a free market, which has a particular definition in economics, doesn’t exist, and hasn’t existed in the US since at least the late 19th century, and because capital accumulation has been an issue for decades now in capitalist countries, the finance, insurance and real estate markets (the FIRE sector) have been the main sources of capital accumulation. If you look at the economy reports to the president going back to about Reagan, you will see that about 10% of domestic profits accrued to the financial sector when Reagan was first elected. That was climbing to about 40% when the crash hit, and is climbing once again. Since finance’s product is debt, you would expect private debt to have exploded in recent decades. Well, it has, private debt has exploded, it is much larger than public debt and grew at a much quicker rate than public debt leading into the crash. Worldwide, poor countries have been trapped under mountains of debt, they have paid the principal on the debt they long ago took on and their debt has continued to climb. Eric Toussaint has written amazing books on this.
There is a huge gap between what people want on policy and what the government actually does, and policy closely tracks what the rich want. Countless studies now show this. Here in the US, wages have stagnated in real terms, adjusted for inflation, going back to about Reagan, while the costs of everything from healthcare, education and housing have continued to exponentially grow. There is a massive infrastructure gap, and our infrastructure has a grade of D-. And keep in mind, since Reagan, we have lowered taxes on the rich and corporations, lowered estate taxes, lowered taxes on dividends and capital gains, mass privatizations, mass deregulations, unions are weaker, and look at the shape of the country. Capitalism, whatever it was a century ago, is a failure of a system, and it is THE key driver in regards to environmental degradation. Capitalism must continuously expand and most impacts are outside of the pricing mechanism, which means that things that create negative externalities are over-produced, and things that provide positive externalities are under-produced. Whatever system emerges to deal with all of these issues, it won’t be capitalism, the environmental crisis alone insures this.