Summary: Inequality and Responsibility


This section is unique in the sense that it evaluates our environmental impacts from a different perspective – by placing all the blame on the individual.

The top earners of the world emit much more than others, on average. As such, we can’t just blame population growth for the destruction of the environment – our unsustainable lifestyles are also a big problem.

To lower our impacts on the environment, the top income earners will have to reduce their impacts. Of course, middle and bottom earners can adopt more sustainable practices as well, but the responsibility of reducing our impacts has to fall on the top earners. Quite simply, because they have the most potential for reducing their impacts and the resources to do so. Government policies and other large-scale solutions will have to make sure that the top income earners of the world reduce their individual impacts from non-essential activities. 

It’s important to note that in developed countries, many individuals are part of the top 1% – while the vast majority of employed individuals are part of the top 10%. So it’s really up to developed countries to move away from their polluting lifestyles.

Despite frequent efficiency improvements across all sectors, the world continues to consume more of the natural world, while emitting more GHGs in the process. With increasingly wealthy and demanding middle classes in developing countries, that makes sense. However, that’s only one part of the explanation. The other, much more worrying, is that developed countries continue to produce useless products at a furious pace – and consumers continue to purchase them.

To decrease our consumption and our emissions, we’ll first have to stabilize the shifting baseline. Large-scale solutions will have an important role to play in that regard. They’ll have to help focus research, energy, and finite resources on things that can help close the gap between the top and bottom earners of the world – as well as secure a sustainable future for present and upcoming generations.