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
Inequality and the ecological footprint Continue reading

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
(click for larger version)

Continue reading

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
(click for larger version)

Continue reading

Unequal wealth: Income distribution gaps in Europe

The Social Atlas of EuropeIncome inequality has become a wider acknowledged issue in the wealthy parts of the world which is no longer restricted to academic debate. A study commissioned by the IMF (Berg et al, 2011) acknowledges that “the trade-off between efficiency and equality may not exist” (IMF), referring to inequality one possible result of unsustainable growth. Europe has seen a steep rise in economic inequalities which have a huge impact of the people in the European nations. An OECD working paper (Bonesmo Fredriksen, 2012) states that “poor growth performance over the past decades in Europe has increased concerns for rising income dispersion and social exclusion”. It also concludes, that “towards the end of the 2000s the income distribution in Europe was more unequal than in the average OECD country, albeit notably less so than in the United States”, stressing that within-country inequalities are just as important if not more important than the between-country dimension. Both, however, are relevant in the current economic crisis and the again-growing divisions on the continent. As one of the reasons for these changes, the OECD paper states that “large income gains among the 10% top earners appear to be a main driver behind this evolution”.
The following two maps compare the share of income of the richest and poorest 10% of the population in Europe based on national-level data published by Eurostat (2013) (map legend ranked by quartiles). To show the data from a people’s perspective, the map uses a population cartogram as a base which shows the countries resized according to their absolute population. The maps give a look at how disparities exist not only between the countries, but also within each of them by showing, how (un)equal the distribution of income is in every country:

(click for larger version)

Continue reading

Unequal Elite: The THE World University Rankings

This feature was compiled in collaboration with Phil Baty of Times Higher Education and first appeared in the World University Rankings 2013-2014. In the following blog post we put the rankings results into a human and economic perspective (modified version from the original article). The two maps show the top 200 Universities from the Ranking displayed on two different kinds of gridded cartograms:

(click for larger version)

Continue reading