Equality Helps the Environment

Equality is mostly used when referring to a “humans-helping-humans measurement”, but it has environmental impact implications too.

Oftentimes, equality refers to income equality, which strives to compress economic citizens into a tighter band of socioeconomic tiers. The tighter the socioeconomic range, the smaller the income gap, and in turn a corresponding ability to the control a population’s CO2 emissions. A populations social prosperity and consumption bandwidths dictates its total CO2 emissions.

Generating Waste

The U.S. is well known for its “buy it and toss it” mentality. A growing percentage of Americans recycle, but even that has its downside. The fact of the matter is, almost everything you buy, you’ll eventually throw away. It might take a few years, especially for big purchases like furniture, but almost everything gets tossed – sooner or later.

The problem is that when income inequality is wider, there’s a higher preference for consumer goods that are not built to last. That forces people to spend more money on consumables needed more frequently. Take for example, Ikea furniture, terrific product initially as long as you don’t have to move. Ironically, their customers are highly mobile. Disassembling it and setting it back up usually means that it does not hold together as well, then the next thing you know you have to venture back to the mall for more cheap furniture because the last set broke after moving twice.

There is a marked tendency for countries that are unequal to produce more waste, of all kinds. In 2013, America generated about 254 million tons of trash. Comparatively, Denmark generates about 13 million tons. That isn’t quite as impressive as it sounds since the US is a larger country, but what is impressive is the percentage of recycling. Denmark recycles 60 percent of their waste, while the US comes in at a measly 34 percent. That’s a pretty enormous difference, and it can have dire consequences if left unchecked.

Food Products

What you throw away isn’t the only part that counts. What you’re buying in the first place matters, too, and the US buys a lot. Most American dishes focus on one thing – meat. The rest of the meal is usually built around that product, which is why so many people find it hard to go vegetarian. It’s not just learning a few new recipes — meals need complete re-structuring.

Eating meat isn’t bad on its own. Eating as much meat as Americans tend to, however, is a different story. Eating meat as often as needed would cut consumption down to eating it a few times a week. Most Americans eat meat daily, sometimes as much as two or three times a day. Meat isn’t just its own product. You have to grow the animal, feed it, care for it and ensure regular reproduction to replenish the stock before slaughter. All of that comes with a carbon price tag.

Raising and slaughtering animals, along with all the food they need, produces significantly more CO2 than just feeding people a plant-based diet. That said, it’s unrealistic to ask everyone to switch to a vegetarian or vegan diet. But it is reasonable to inform people of the CO2 produced by factory farming, which comes in at a whopping 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Countries that regularly consumer more meat protein tend to have wider income inequality and higher CO2 per capita.

Carbon Footprint

On a purely per capita, America produces more CO2 than China, even though China produces more overall because of its large population. In the US, each person produces about 19.8 tons of CO2 annually, while each Chinese person is responsible for only about 4.6 tons.

Housing efficiency can play a large inflating a person’s carbon footprint. People might be unnecessarily spending resources heating or cooling their house because it isn’t properly sealed to prevent climate-controlled air from leaking out, or they might not be able to afford HVAC and may instead rely on open fires during winter and for cooking. Open fires like those shows in these pictures have both environmental and health risks.

One solution is to offer people access to environmentally friendly and income-restricted housing options. Some people are more comfortable moving into a manufactured home community, where prices may be more reasonable, and the entire community lives in a similar income bracket. This can make a big difference because goods and services are geared toward the expected revenue in the area, which essentially reduces socioeconomic inequality for that area.


Getting from one place to another is a necessity for everyone. But places with similar incomes tend to have similar expectations for that movement. Personal cars are a mainstay of many countries, but countries in the EU tend to have more options for public transportation.

A big part of that comes from the disproportion of income. People who are wealthy enough to live near their job don’t usually have to drive far. People who can’t afford to live that close often have longer commutes, and they don’t always have access to public transportation. The US, Australia and Canada all have issues with higher CO2 emissions, primarily because cities are spread far and wide.

The other problem with those three countries lies in the densely populated areas and wide open areas with few people. Those areas with a lower population are often poorer, with fewer job opportunities, less education and no options but to buy a car. Trains don’t pick riders up, buses don’t go out that far and the Uber services are few and far between. If you need to go somewhere, you have to get there on your own which can be challenging.

The biggest factor is the richest portion of a population often produces the most greenhouse gases, while the poorest section produces the least. The wider the income range, the more that divide increases and the more CO2 the wealthy produce. Income equality isn’t just a goal to help people, it’s to help the planet too.


About the author

Kate Harveston