“Inequality and Environmental Degradation: An Undeniable Link” by Julian Agyeman

“Inequality and Environmental Degradation: An Undeniable Link” by Julian Agyeman


This presentation is brought to you by Arizona
State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and a generous
investment by Julie Ann Wrigley. Later in 2003 in the book that Aaron mentioned,
Just Sustainabilities, Developments in an Unequal World, myself, Bob Bullard and Bob
Evans, came up with this idea that really, there is an inextricable link between environmental
quality and human equality. That wherever environmental degradation is
happening in the world, human rights and social justice are always being infringed. Whether it’s in the Amazon, in the Niger Delta
with the Ogoni people being fled by the oil exploration, et cetera. So human rights and environmental degradation
are linked. Now let’s think about this. Some data that I saw in the early 2000s said,
look at countries like the Nordic countries, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland. These countries have the highest commitment
to social justice measured on women’s empowerment, women in parliament, access to medical care,
kids in school, and school achievements, et cetera. On a whole raft of factors, the Nordic countries
are way out on social justice. That’s not all. They’re also the countries with the strongest
commitments to environmental protection. Nordic environmental regulations are some
of the strongest in the world. There’s a link between how we treat each other
and how we treat the planet. Now I’m not saying it’s causal. But I’m saying there’s some kind of correlation. And countries that are trashing their environment
are often trashing that people as well. We only have to look at places like Nigeria
at the moment, where social justice issues are the fore. And also, Nigeria has a terrible record on
environmental protection. So we can see that there are links. And again, don’t get me wrong here, there’s
no causal link, but there is something going on when we treat environments and treat people
very differently. Even in the United States, look at the difference
between the northern states and their record on social justice compared to the southern
states. Similarly, the northern states have much stronger
records with the Environmental Protection Agency and following EPA guidance than do
the southern states, which are frequently infringing EPA guidelines. So even at the United States level, there
is some tentative link between social justice and environmental protection. But really, it wasn’t until this book came
out about two or three years ago that I think we really nailed the link. And I don’t usually advertise other people’s
books. But I’m going to talk about four books tonight
that I really, really, really want you to read. This is called The Spirit Level, Why Equality
is Better for Everyone. And the headline in this report is something
that we progressives have known all along. It’s not poverty as such that is corrosive. It’s inequality. It’s the gap between rich and poor. And the bigger the gap between rich and poor–
and the book has 40 years of data to back this up– the bigger the gap between rich
and poor, the higher the prison population. The more domestic violence. The more drug abuse. On every social aspect, countries that have
got a bigger gap between rich and poor have more social deviance, social malfunctioning. And not only that, one of the chapters in
the book was about climate change and sustainability. And what really caught my eye was this notion
that inequality heightens competitive consumption. So basically, the bigger the gap between rich
and poor, the poor starts trying to emulate the lower middle class. The lower middle class, the middle class. The middle class, the upper middle class. And we’re on an escalator of consumption. It’s called keeping up with the Joneses. And strangely enough, they even show how advertising
revenues are much bigger in countries with a big gap between rich and poor. The advertisers get in there and they manipulate
people to consume to get to the next level. Now what does this mean for us. Inequality heightens complexity of consumption. Competitive consumption drives the carbon
footprint of the country. So the argument of Wilkinson and Pickett is
that those countries with the greatest inequality are also those with the biggest carbon footprint. So if we really want to understand sustainability,
our focus should be on both human equality and environmental quality together. This presentation is brought to you by Arizona
State University’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, for educational,
and non-commercial use only.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *