Danny Dorling, THE GUARDIAN
That equality matters in terms of health and happiness has been clear for some years. But it is also better for the environment. The evidence (which is still emerging) suggests the most unequal affluent countries contribute more to climate change via pollution than their more equal counterparts.
They may suffer more, too. A new report predicts the United States will actually see its levels of economic inequality increase due to the uneven geographical effects of climate change – resulting in “the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history”, according the study’s lead author.
In a 2016 report, Oxfam found that the greatest polluters of all were the most affluent 10% of US households: each emitted, on average, 50 tonnes of CO2 per household member per year. Canada’s top 10% were the next most polluting, followed by the British, Russian and South African elites.
In more equitable affluent countries such as South Korea, Japan, France, Italy and Germany, the rich don’t just pollute less; the average pollution is lower too, because the bottom half of these populations pollute less than the bottom half in the US, Canada or Britain, despite being better off.
In short, people in more equal rich countries consume less, produce less waste and emit less carbon, on average. Indeed, almost everything associated with the environment improves when economic equality is greater.