Why is it that some of the more equal societies are also better at looking after the environment? Is it equality in itself that brings a greater care for environmental protection, or it is the other way around? Do strong environmental policies by their very nature necessitate political and societal reforms that bring about a fairer distribution of resources?
The authors of ‘Spirit Level’, Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett, highlighted the links between equality and environmental sustainability. Although their evidence focused on a narrow area of activity, if one looks at EU measurements on compliance it is noticeable how the equal societies identified by Wilkinson and Pickett are also good at implementing EU policy on the environment. This theme of social justice and environment policies is developed by George Monbiot. In his article ‘Cold Hearted’ he alerts readers to fuel poverty in the UK and makes a strong case for the need for ‘perfect synergy’ between climate change and social justice policies.
The European Environment Protection Agency 2010 report released in November also looked at the importance of linking social and green policies. In its conclusion the report stated: “a fully integrated approach to transforming Europe to a resource-efficient green economy can not only result in a healthy environment, but also boost prosperity and social cohesion.
These examples and realities provide evidence for the necessity of long term integration of environment, social and decision making policies. Focusing on social and economic policies while ignoring the environmental implications will result in poor quality of life, and there is a great danger that only focusing on a narrow environmental policy agenda will result in greater unfairness. An example is imposing carbon taxes on top of existing income tax and VAT, which serves as an extra burden to the less well off, another example is when lack of public investment in public transport builds on disadvantage.
So too with policies regarding conservation areas, for with the exception of a tiny percentage of the planet’s surface, people and communities are an integral part of the natural environment. Changing habits and practices built up over generations cannot be changed without ongoing hard work on the ground, searching for alternative sources of income and providing a renewed community identity in protecting natural heritage. While this is difficult and time consuming work, wildlife protection plans that alieniate instead of including local populations are doomed to failure.