THE BLOG
05/31/2013 04:20 pm ET Updated Jul 30, 2013

Global Warming Will Be Hell, Dramatic New Data Indicate

AP

A World Bank researcher has found what may be the most ominous evidence yet of the impact that global warming will have. (Since 97% of climatologists say that it is happening, the operative phrase here is "will have," not "would have": global warming is happening, and will almost certainly keep getting worse, for reasons that scientists have documented extensively.) This evidence indicates that global poverty will soar as a direct result of global warming.

Already the hottest countries - the ones nearest to the equator - are overwhelmingly the poorest countries, averaging only about 2% of the per-capita annual incomes of countries like in North America, Europe, and Australia, and Japan, all of which are more than 3,000 miles from the equator. Global warming is going to make the climates in the richer countries more like the ones already are near the equator. Given the established relationship between climate and income, the signs of a sharp long-term economic decline in nations such as the U.S. are clear.

The lead research economist at the World Bank, Branko Milanovic, will be reporting soon, in the journal Global Policy, the first-ever calculation of global income-inequality, and he has found that the top 8% of global earners are drawing 50% of all of this planet's income. He notes: "Global inequality is much greater than inequality within any individual country," because the stark inequality between countries adds to the inequality within any one of them, and because many people live in extremely poor countries, largely the nations within three thousand miles of the equator, where it's already too hot, even without global warming.

For example, the World Bank's list of "GDP per capita (current US$)" shows that in 2011 this annual-income figure ranged from $231 in Democratic Republic of Congo at the equator, to $171,465 in Monaco within Europe. The second-poorest and second-richest countries respectively were $271 in Burundi at the equator, and $114,232 in Luxembourg within Europe. For comparisons, the U.S. was $48,112, and China was $5,445. Those few examples indicate how widely per-capita income ranges between nations, how it varies by climate, and how more heat generates more poverty.

Wealth-inequality is always far higher than income-inequality, and therefore a reasonable estimate of personal wealth throughout the world would probably be somewhere on the order of the wealthiest 1% of people owning roughly half of all personal assets. These individuals might be considered the current aristocracy, insofar as their economic clout is about equal to that of all of the remaining 99% of the world's population put together.

Milanovich says: "Among the global top 1 per cent, we find the richest 12 per cent of Americans, ... and between 3 and 6 per cent of the richest Britons, Japanese, Germans and French. It is a 'club' that is still overwhelmingly composed of the 'old rich'," who pass on to their children (tax-free in the many countries that have no estate-taxes) the fortunes that they have accumulated, and who help set them up in businesses of their own - often after having sent them first to the most prestigious universities (many in the United States), where those children meet and make friends of others who are similarly situated as themselves.

For example, on 22 April 2004, The New York Times headlined "As Wealthy Fill Top Colleges, Concerns Grow Over Fairness," and reported that 55% of freshman students at the nation's 250 most selective colleges and universities came from parents in the top 25% of this nation's income. Only 12% of students had parents in the bottom 25% of income. Even at an elite public, state, college, the University of Michigan, "more members of this year's freshman class ... have parents making at least $200,000 a year [then America's top 2%] than have parents making less than the national median of about $53,000 [America's bottom 50%].'"

Most of the redistribution that favors more than just the top 1% has occurred in the "developing" countries, such as China. However, a larger proportion of the world's population live in nations of Central and South America, Africa, etc., where today's leading families tend overwhelmingly to be the same as in the previous generation. They, too, near the equator, are members of the "club," but there are fewer of them.

Milanovic finds that globally, "The top 1 per cent has seen its real income rise by more than 60 per cent over those two decades [1988-2008]," while "the poorest 5 per cent" have received incomes which "have remained the same" - the desperately poor are simply remaining desperately poor. Maybe there's too much heat.

The finding by Milanovic that, "Global inequality is much greater than inequality within any individual country," results because, for example, the inequality between the $114,232 per-person annual income in Luxembourg, versus the $271 per-person annual income in Burundi, is a far higher ratio (422 to 1) than even the economic inequality in any one of the countries (Bolivia, Bottswana, Haiti, Honduras, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, and South Africa) that have the highest degrees of income-inequality, as shown by the latest data from the U.S. CIA. No nation has the gini, or inequality-index, that the entire globe does, which is .70; no nation has a gini of higher than .63 (found in Botswana, Lesotho, Sierra Leone, and South Africa). (A gini of 1.00 would exist in a country where only one person owns everything.) In other words: The reason that global inequality is more extreme than the inequality within even the most unequal individual countries is that no individual country can match the inequality that results from sheer climate-differences (equatorial versus non-equatorial locations). Most people vastly underestimate the actually enormous impact that sheer climate has on an economy.

This study, in Global Policy, to be titled "Global Income Inequality in Numbers: In History and Now," reports that economic developments of the past twenty years have caused "the top 1 per cent to pull ahead of the other rich and to reaffirm in fact - and even more so in public perception - its preponderant role as a winner of globalization."

A preliminary version of Milanovic's findings, presented by him at an economic conference, can be seen here. A stunning summary video of Milanovic's research can be seen here. Milanovic's study doesn't give a detailed breakdown of average incomes within the nations throughout the world, but the World Bank provides those data here, which clearly show that the equatorial countries (which are like the canaries in the global warming mine) have puny per-capita incomes, as compared to the moderate-climate countries.

----------

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They"re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST"S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.