Gone are the days when U.S. billionaires accounted for over 40 percent of the list. With the help of Forbes magazine, we and colleagues at the Institute for Policy Studies have been tracking the world’s billionaires and rising inequality the world over for several decades. Just as a drop of water gives us a clue into the chemical composition of the sea, these billionaires offer fascinating clues into the changing face of global power and inequality. After our initial gawking at the extravagance of this year’s list of 1,426, we looked closer.
In December 2012, a pink-haired complex systems researcher named Brad Werner made his way through the throng of 24,000 earth and space scientists at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union, held annually in San Francisco. This year’s conference had some big-name participants, from Ed Stone of Nasa’s Voyager project, explaining a new milestone on the path to interstellar space, to the film-maker James Cameron, discussing his adventures in deep-sea submersibles. But it was Werner’s own session that was attracting much of the buzz.
“The rich are different from us,” F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have remarked to Ernest Hemingway, to which Hemingway allegedly replied, “Yes, they have more money.” The exchange, although it never actually took place, sums up a wisdom Fitzgerald had that eluded Hemingway. The rich are different. The cocoon of wealth and privilege permits the rich to turn those around them into compliant workers, hangers-on, servants, flatterers and sycophants.
People who own the world outright for profit will have to be stopped; by influence, by power, by us. — Wendell Berry1 The need for more studies confirming that we’re approaching an irreversible ecological crisis, the tipping point beyond human control, is over. James Hansen, the world’s most eminent climatologist is so certain of this evidence that he’s added civil disobedience to his resistance repertoire. Along with legal challenges, expert testimony and lobbying governments, the 72-year-old grandfather advocates direct action by a mobilized citizenry.
For years, energy analysts had been anticipating an imminent decline in global oil supplies. Suddenly, they’re singing a new song: Fossil fuels growing scarce? Don’t even think about it! The news couldn’t be better: fossil fuels will become ever more abundant. And all that talk about climate change? Don’t worry about it, they chant. Go out and enjoy the benefits of cheap and plentiful energy forever.