Countries with Higher Equality Are More Environmentally Friendly

The gap between the rich and poor in different countries appears to affect how people impact
the environment.

As we humans learn and understand more about our world, we’ve discovered many of our actions have consequences — and many of them are not benefitting the environment. Since we only have one planet, we have to find a way to take care of it so it will sustain us for generations to come.

There has been a push in recent years to slow down the impact of global warming, and that includes being more environmentally friendly. Every person living on the planet has to do their part if we are going to save the world, but new research has shown there are ties between economic equality and how friendly equality-rich countries are to the environment. It found nations that had economic inequality contributed more pollution to the planet, while those with higher economic equality were often more environmentally friendly.

Indicators of Environmental Impact

The research on environmental impacts and economic equality focused on 11 different indicators. Four were found to have the biggest impact, and they include:

· The amount of waste created

· Carbon dioxide emissions

· Meat consumption

· Other pollutants.

The Impact of Waste Production

Researchers found countries with the most economic inequality contributed the most damage in each of these four categories. The U.S., which has the highest rate of economic inequality, produces the greatest amount of waste in the world.

Because of advertising and the desire to “keep up with the Joneses,” many Americans buy products they don’t need and eventually have to throw away. For countries that are more economically equal, people tend to see beyond the advertising ploy and invest less in things they don’t need, thus reducing the amount of waste they produce in the long run.

Why CO2 Emissions Rise in Certain Places

When it comes to carbon dioxide emissions released into the atmosphere, the U.S. ranks second in the world behind China. However, the U.S. ranks first when carbon emissions are ranked per person, emitting twice as much per person as China.

Once again, carbon emissions can often be attributed to the actions of the rich and their desire to have larger houses, which require vast resources to build and energy to heat and cool — and, if they have pools, even more energy is required to maintain those.

Researchers also cite wealthier people’s desire to own and drive vehicles and/or the desire to travel as contributing factors, with airplanes releasing huge amounts of CO2 and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Countries that are more equality-rich use less energy because eco-friendly alternatives like biking tend to be more popular, as well as public transportation.

Accounting for Other Pollutants

In addition to CO2 being released into the environment, other pollutants created by vehicles and industries contribute to poor air quality and other environmental impacts. Again, those countries with economic inequality supply the vast majority of these pollutants. Because people have the means and ability, they drive their own vehicles instead of taking public transportation
or riding their bikes to work.

Cities are often designed with long driving distances between homes and workplaces. There is a sense of entitlement and superiority among wealthy people in these countries, and those individuals who are better off want to flaunt their riches.

The Expense of High Meat

Raising animals for consumption is a costly venture, both economically and environmentally. Cows are one of the leading contributors to greenhouse gases because of their methane production. Countries that are inequitable tend to raise more animals for consumption, which means they harm the environment more than equitable countries.

The inequitable countries are often more overweight because they consume more food. While it’s unknown exactly why unequal countries consume more meat, it has been shown that they do, which impacts the environment.

The Ties Between Economy and Empathy

The purpose of the research was to determine how economic equality or inequality impacts the environment, and the results are clear. Countries with higher equality are more environmentally friendly. Having a population that doesn’t have a large disparity between wealth classes means the people have a tendency to be more empathic and less greedy. Perhaps the answer to saving the planet partially lies in breaking down economic inequalities.

Comments (2)


There are a lot of contributing factors to many of these points that the researchers seemed to overlook (at least based on a cursory reading of the study linked in your article). For example, it is mentioned in passing, but not discussed that the cities in the US have long distances between homes and workplaces. This would obviously decrease the ability of citizens to bike or take public transport due to inefficiency or lack of availability. European countries have cities that are built and structured differently allowing for biking or public transportation to be a predominant form of transportation.

Furthermore, how does one reconcile one of the charts presented from the study showing Denmark who has the lowest income inequality in the study, but has equal or more amounts of waste in kg per capita?

Sam Jenkins
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Steven Singer
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Pat Greer
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