Is inequality harming the environment? - RSA

Is inequality harming the environment?

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  • Sustainability
  • Environment
  • Social justice

Tackling economic inequality cannot come above tackling environmental damage. The most vulnerable in society suffer most from the effects of environmental damage. In addition, economic inequality exacerbates environmental damage. The two issues are intrinsically linked and in order to tackle them, we need to address them together.

Greater inequality in a country, as defined through people’s relative distribution of income, pay and wealth, leads to poorer outcomes for health, happiness and education for almost everyone in that society. Those who suffer most from these effects of inequality in the UK are also disproportionately affected by the cost of environmental damage. This effect is evident when air pollution is shown to be significantly greater in the poorest 20 percent of neighbourhoods in the UK. Yet the recent resignation of all four members of the Social Mobility Commission shows the lack of progress we have made in tackling inequality. Greater effort to reduce economic inequality is needed in the UK, if we are to reduce damage to the environment without further hardening the lives of the worse off in society.

The less well-off suffer most from environmental damage

The link between economic inequality and unequal environmental impacts can be seen on a global scale as well. A recent study by the World Bank found that most people live in countries where poorer residents are more exposed to disasters like droughts, floods and heat waves. Higher income countries nearly always have better infrastructure and planning in place for environmental disasters. For example, while 91 percent of farmers in the US have crop insurance to cover losses in the event of extreme weather only 15 percent of Indian farmers and 1 percent of farmers in Malawi do. It is clear that poorer people, both within countries and globally feel the negative impacts of environmental damage more than their higher income counterparts. 

When climate disasters do occur, higher income countries also recover far quicker. While Japan recovered from its 1995 earthquake rapidly, with railways 80 percent in operation within a month, Haiti is still severely battling with homelessness, cholera and mass food shortages from its 2010 earthquake of similar magnitude. Climate change, with its ability to push the most vulnerable in the world into extreme poverty, is detrimental to economic equality globally. In order to tackle inequality, it is vital that steps are taken to reduce damage to the environment. 

Economic inequality drives environmental damage

It might be sadly unsurprising that the worst off in society are also the most likely to suffer from environmental damage, but is the existence of economic inequality itself bad for the environment? Increasingly, evidence suggests that more unequal affluent countries generate higher levels of pollution than their more equal counterparts. They create more waste, eat more meat and produce more carbon dioxide. The richest 10 percent of the world’s population is shockingly accountable for around 50 percent of global emissions. However, in equal countries which have greater income equality, such as Germany, Japan and South Korea, it isn’t just the rich that pollute less, pollution on average is lower.

There are a number reasons put forward for this being the case: inequality is thought to fuel individualism by supressing people’s care for common goods like environmental sustainability. Instead those in more unequal societies experience status anxiety. They are more likely to aim for unattainable consumption goals set by the rich, and therefore they consume more at a faster rate, as this is perceived as a sign of success. This is problematic as the rich tend to consume far more than the rest of the population. It can be argued that the notion of economic growth with its ever increasing production rate, has become a substitute for equality of opportunity and income. If this is the case then it spells disaster for the environment. More equal societies are therefore needed to change how and what people consume. 

While fast developing countries like China and India are perceived as the new drivers of greenhouse gas production, it is important to recognise that individual consumption is responsible for 64 percent of global emissions, and much of what is produced in developing countries is for the consumption of those in more affluent countries. The fact that more than two-thirds of plastic packaging waste in the UK was exported for recycling last year, further demonstrates the need for higher-income countries to take more responsibility for the environmental damage that they create.

The only beneficiaries of inadequate climate action are those that have a vested interest in a high carbon and deeply unequal global economy. Trump’s withdrawal from the climate change Paris agreement demonstrates the ease with which the most powerful globally can refuse to take responsibility for their actions. It shows a preference for short term economic gain, of which the rich elite benefit the most, over mitigating long term environmental consequences, felt most by the poorest globally. If countries are unequal, there is also more scope for the poor to argue that they should not be burdened with the financial costs of environmental policies. Therefore in more unequal societies, with greater amounts of rich elite, governments have less of a mandate and desire to pursue environmental policies.

Two sides of the same coin

It is clear that in order to tackle both economic inequality and environmental damage most effectively, the two must be looked at together. The work of the RSA’s Citizens’ Economic Council showed us that citizens do view the environment when they consider sustainability in their own futures. The council placed sustainability at the heart of their economic charter, recognising that protecting our environment is essential to achieving social sustainability. As we see citizens connecting the environment to their sustainable futures, it is essential that policy makers do the same. 

Work is being done to recognise the two issues as inherently linked. The RSA’s Food, Farming and Countryside Commission is considering how the future of farming in the UK can be both inclusive and sustainable. However more needs to be done nationally to connect the two issues at a government policy making level. Whilst the effects of environmental damage can be felt most by those worst off in world, it is becoming increasingly apparent that more equal societies are needed to truly create more environmentally friendly ones. 

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  • The way to stop environmental damage is to stop the growth of economic inequality.
    We have a new and guaranteed way to stop the growth of economic inequality.
    The Idea Summary

    We propose a handheld Economic Inequality Rating App (EIRA) that can rate companies, individuals, and products based upon how much economic inequality they create. This is predicated solely upon economic inequality parameters. Individuals use the ratings to transfer wealth from the 1% back to the 99% through free market choice. Instead of the revenue from a purchase going to the wealthy elite, the money will go to those companies and individuals who support those in the 99%. Being a convenient and easy to use cell phone app, the EIRA can lower economic inequality on a very large scale.

    Economic inequality is extremely toxic to individuals and society. It alone causes many of the world's problems because it is extremely corrosive to the threads holding individuals and society together. It is also the main reason for the misalignment of many other value systems. For example, in areas with high economic inequality, homicide rates increase dramatically warping the social value of not killing others. Clearly the main culprit is the economic inequality itself.

    We differ significantly from other rating systems in that our ratings will be created by a team of experts based solely upon economic inequality parameters and not other social value systems. For instance, individuals may not want to purchase a product or a service based upon how they value gun ownership. This kind of a choice may make the individual who is making the purchase feel good but it does not decrease economic inequality. Rather it just mirrors the pro and anti gun forces already existing in our society. This push and pull of established values only causes stagnation, it does not decrease the inequality harming us.

    By following the EIRA ratings, individuals can not only capture the revenue normally lost to the 1% but also redirect this revenue back to the 99% while simultaneously reducing economic inequality. This freedom of choice in the marketplace completely bypasses the usual political, tax, and judicial gridlock by placing power directly back into the hands of the 99%.

    To illustrate the use of the EIRA, if a product such as a computer is shown to have a high inequality rating, then we know the item is aligned with creating high economic inequality. This purchase should be boycotted in favor of a similar computer with a lower inequality rating. This not only benefits those in the 99% but will also cause a redistribution of wealth by denying the top 1% the revenue they would otherwise receive from the purchase.
    About  Our Organization  And The Premise For The Idea
    Dr. Shameem Heetun

    I am a Fulbright Scholar with degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Accounting, a Doctor of Business Administration in Strategic Management, and an MBA. Having lived and studied on four different Continents, I have seen and experienced firsthand the corrosive impact of economic inequality upon individuals and society. I believe economic inequality is the single most important factor threatening the very existence of our world today.

    Dr. Robert Lipkowitz

    I am a Doctor of Pharmacy with over forty years of experience in the clinical medical arena. Additionally I also invented the first operational quantum entangled switch and have expertise in many areas of economic inequality. My current focus is on the role economic inequality will play regarding the direction humanity takes in the face of quantum computers and the looming technological singularity.

    Further information about the EIRA can be found on our newly launched website, Fight Inequality. Although it is still under construction, the website can be accesses by doing a Google search on More specific information on the EIRA can be found in our "Guide To Saving Humanity," located on the home page navigation bar. The Guide also explains and substantiates the internal workings of the EIRA in much greater detail. A summary preface regarding the seven basic summary points about our Guide is detailed below.
    Summary Preface (The Seven Basic Summary Points To The Guide)
    There is abundant literature to show that new technology is a fundamental driver of economic inequality. Among the following seven basic summary points below, this deleterious effect of new technology on equality will be explained and substantiated in “The Guide To Saving Humanity.

    1) Technological singularity is defined as a hypothetical point in the future when technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization. Due to the exponential processing power of the coming super computers, a technological singularity will occur. Advancing at inconceivable rates, it will overwhelm our human capacity to understand it. This rapidly approaching future is expected to create one of either two adverse events. The first is a dystopia, an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic. This new reality will be perverted beyond recognition from that of our present-day existence. The second adverse outcome is that it will create an even greater likelihood of a world causing human extinction.

    2) This dismal future is being caused by an inherent difference in brain structure between liberals and conservatives. Scientific research clearly shows that conservatives have a larger amygdala—a brain structure grouping of neurons shown to play a key role in the processing of emotions—that is more prominent in conservatives than in those of a liberal persuasion. In conservatives the larger amygdala incorporates an evolutionary survival mechanism that is more fear based. This excessive fear mechanism manifests itself in the thoughts and actions of conservative individuals causing them to act in ways that promote economic inequality. In other words, it is this fear-based aspect of the conservative brain structure that causes them to advance increased economic inequality in our society.

    3) Since the 1970s—spurred on by conservative fear-based policies—economic inequality has dramatically increased.  Most of the social and health ills of the world are directly caused by this inequality. Historically economic inequality has been the basis for the collapse of many past civilizations. The United States, with an ever-increasing rate of economic inequality, is well on this same path to self-destruction.

    4) As stated above, there is abundant literature to show that, new technology is a fundamental driver of economic inequality. Not only will the top 1% mindset not try to regulate this rapidly advancing new technology, but they will want to generate high profits from it so that they can create even newer technology that will further exacerbate economic inequality in favor of their own interests and at the expense of the wellbeing of the general population. This conservative fear-based mentality places a higher value on profit motive than on welfare for all. This means that conservatives will apply little regulatory control to the coming technological singularity; it will run its course unabated in order to maintain a high profit motive for the few at the top. Consequentially, this quest for profits and a lack of regulations will either bring about a dystopian future of inequality-based suffering and lack of the people’s democratic power or human extinction—or, ultimately, both. To prevent these dire events, we must first stop runaway economic inequality.


    5) Almost all economic inequality is initially premised at a subconscious level and occurs with little conscious thought. The proven social psychology of this occurs by placing an individual on a specific tier in the social hierarchy. The gap in social rank between an individual’s lower socio-economic standing and that of those at the top of the hierarchy is what defines economic inequality. Research shows that this inequality manifests itself as toxic to both the individual and society at large. By reducing economic inequality, we can reduce its insidiously progressing poisonous impact upon us all.

    6) The proposed Economic Inequality Rating App (EIRA) will rate products, services, and individuals based upon how much economic inequality they produce. A high rating on the EIRA means that the product or service for purchase creates a high amount of economic inequality and should be avoided in favor of a purchase with a lower EIRA rating. This choosing of a company or service with a lower economic inequality rating will transfer wealth from the elite 1% back to those who support the 99% when the product or service is purchased. This reduces economic inequality (without changing any laws or voting anyone into office) simply by giving the consumer accurate information by which to make their purchasing decisions. By having a rating system based solely upon economic inequality parameters, we members of the 99% can make an informed and purposeful decision to reduce economic inequality, which in turn will support all our best interests.

    The ratings loaded into the app will be determined by a team of experts based solely upon economic inequality parameters; this differentiates us substantially from other rating systems. The EIRA tells us what product or service to choose solely based upon how much that product or service will reduce economic inequality. Because economic inequality is what causes most of the problems in the world and is at the core of creating many misalignments in other value systems, these other value systems will need to be subordinate to the value of reducing economic inequality.

    7) The transfer of wealth from the 1% back to the 99% by use of the EIRA will significantly reduce the nationwide economic inequality experienced in today’s society. This puts power back into the hands of the 99% where it rightfully belongs. Only then will economically based social ills within our society begin to dissipate—including the dire consequences of a realized dystopian reality and ultimate elimination of the human race.
    Our future's bleak outcomes are being enhanced by two powerful streams merging together to create the ultimate disaster: the coming technological singularity and increasing economic inequality. Economic inequality creates more new-technology profitability for the 1%, which then creates more uncontrolled economic inequality through further investing in new technology. These two streams—technological singularity and economic inequality—massively feed upon each other. The proposed EIRA can change the trajectory of these negative outcomes for the betterment of all humanity.