In Focus: Wealth on the British Isles

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Political InsightThe debate about the relevance and impact of the super-rich on society has gained greater currency as evidence continues to grow that the widening gap between the poor and the rich has a negative impact on societies as a whole. In otherwise affluent countries where the richest one per cent owns the most, child poverty is common, school attainment is lower and medium household incomes are depressed. Along with reduced average living standards, housing is of poorer quality, and health suffers as anxiety rises.
In an article for the “In Focus” section of Political Insight (December 2014, Volume 5, Issue 3) Danny Dorling and I looked beyond the economic, social, educational and medical implications, focussing on the geographical lessons to learn when wealth concentrates. Where the richest of the rich live, work and where they keep their assets is even more imbalanced than the wider and growing underlying inequalities between rich and poor. In societies where the rich have less they tend to be more spread out across a country, but when the wealth of those at the top rises greatly there is a tendency to congregate – with London a prime example.

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World University Rankings 2014/15

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This year’s World Science Day for Peace and Development, established by UNESCO in 2001, is promoting Quality Science Education: ensuring a sustainable future for all. According to UNESCO, the day “offers an opportunity to mobilize various partners to highlight the important role of science in society and to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues and the relevance of science in their daily lives”. While the importance of science is less disputed, the reality of ensuring scientific progress through excellent academic education remains a highly unequal matter, as many global academic rankings show.
This feature is an update to the work originally compiled last year in collaboration with Phil Baty of Times Higher Education and which first appeared in the World University Rankings. In this update I put the latest rankings results for 2014/15 into a human and economic perspective. The first two maps show the top 200 Universities from the Ranking displayed on two different kinds of gridded cartograms:

THE World University Ranking maps
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Inequality and Sustainability

“We should … dethrone the idea that maximising the growth in measured prosperity, GDP per capita, should be an explicit objective of economic and social policy.”
Adair Turner, Chair of the UK Financial Services Authority, 2007

Today I gave a talk at the meeting of the Sustainability Knowledge Alliance and the Environment Audit Committee (EAC) of the UK Parliament at the British Academy in London. The event aimed at discussing the relationship between growing inequality and sustainability. As the meeting’s announcement explains, “in so many ways inequality is a backdrop to many features of modern political, economic and social arrangements where structures of self-reinforcing power and influence combine to buttress non-sustainability. We see this in the lobbying for the perpetuation of a carbon economy, in the promotion of the “war on terror”, and in the huge biases built into the interweaving connections between business, politics, regulation and consumerism.”
In my talk I explained how inequality and a consumption correlate. I looked at the issue mainly from a global perspective, using evidence that Danny Dorling and I compiled to find out to what extent inequality and (un)sustainability correlate. The following series of charts give in insight into how the level of inequality and a range of indicators related to consumerism and consumption compare:

Inequality and the ecological footprint
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Child Poverty in London

The Campaign to End Child Poverty has today published new figures showing that London contains 14 out of the top 20 local authorities with the highest rates of child poverty across the UK.

Child Poverty Ratios in the London Boroughs, 2014
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Europe at Night

Earth HourNASA’s night lights imagery published in the Earth Observatory provides a stunning view of our impact on the planet. The following map of Europe at night is an extract of my gridded population projection of the the Earth at night showing more detail of where the distribution of night lights is on the European continent in relation to its population distribution (the surrounding areas such as the northern tip of Africa remain unchanged, hence shows a ‘normal’ land area perspective). Europe is one of the few regions globally (alongside North America) where light pollution at night is very much a phenomenon that is ‘normal’ for the vast majority of people who see very little of the night skies (hence the dominantly bright areas in this image – dark spots are those areas where people live with very little light pollutin). Northumberland Dark Sky Park (which gained Dark Sky Status by the International Dark-Sky Association in December 2013) is now to be known as Europe’s biggest Dark Sky Park and the largest unspoilt area in this regard, squeezed in the sparsely populated bright spaces between Northern England and Southern Scotland in this cartogram:

Equal population projection map of Europe at Night
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European Youth Unemployment: A lost generation?

Ronda Forum - Southern Europe's forum on entrepreneurship and educationAs shown previously on this website, unequal living conditions are one of the defining social problems of contemporary crisis-battered Europe. This weekend I attended the RondaForum 2014, Southern Europe’s forum on entrepreneurship and education, where this issue was discussed amongst young people from around the world who were seeking for new ideas to bridge the gap between the often bleak realities of Europe’s youth and the aspirations that are needed to create a sustainable basis for future competitiveness and growth. How big that problem really is amongst Europe’s youth can be seen from a look at the change in youth unemployment over the course of the financial crisis. Much of Europe’s youth is now being referred to as the lost generation, and in almost every European country youth unemployment has increased considerably between 2007 and 2012, as the following two maps show. They show the countries of Europe resized according to their absolute increase/decline in youth unemployment in these five years, with only Germany having a significant decline in youth employment in that period. Amongst those countries having a considerable increase, especially Southern Europe is standing out showing the growing North-South divide of the continent that highlight the challenges that initiatives such as the European Union’s Europe 2020 growth strategy face:

European Youth Unemployment
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