Photo: Flickr

We all face many, many problems, but two of them are real, long-term existential threats: Inequality, which fuels almost every social and political problem, and climate change. You’ll be happy to hear that they are linked!

It is alluring and easy to believe that you should pick a side in this fight. Think of the coal miners versus the environmentalists, a classic—and unnecessary— “either-or” political fight in which each side acts as if the other side must lose in order for them to win. All this does is showily display divisions that can be exploited by dishonest self-serving political opponents in a convenient way. And so you get coal miners voting for Trump, who will help solve neither inequality nor climate change.

Advertisement

Better to recognize that WE NEED TO FIX BOTH. You need air, and you need food. Not one or the other. Both. It’s not hard to figure out one way in which the two problems are related: People at the losing end of inequality will suffer the worst consequences of climate change, just as they suffer the worst consequences of poor health care and a broken political system and everything else. But a new report from the Roosevelt Institute highlights another way in which they’re linked—inequality itself drives climate change. Specifically, the report says, research has found that economic inequality is correlated with biodiversity loss, lower air and water quality, and higher pollution. Analyses at the level of cities, states, and countries found that where inequality was more pronounced, environmental degradation was worse as well.

This is unlikely to be a coincidence. The report itself offers a few hypotheses as to how inequality itself might exacerbate, not just be correlated with, climate change, including conspicuous consumption’s effect on the environment and the financialization of the economy’s tendency to undermine environmental regulations (and exacerbate inequality). More broadly we are talking about American-style capitalism’s inherent drive to both A) make it easier to capture more wealth for yourself the more wealth you have and B) insulate people with wealth from the negative effects of spoiling the environment, thereby making it rational for them to spoil the environment if it makes them rich.

Advertisement

We all need to live together in shabby huts on a small coastal barrier island highly susceptible to rising seas if we really want to drive home the importance of this in everyone’s minds. Until then, MAKE A CARBON TAX and make the rich pay it, and uh, don’t vote for a Republican president, or a billionaire, whatever you do.