A new study published by Nature Communications suggests that greater levels of sustainability on the planet can only be affordable if governments tackle excessive levels of wealth.
This perspective on the environmental crisis -and the actions needed for mitigating its impacts- is supported by a large group of researchers, including environmental scientists, engineers, physicists and economists, and it is sustained on the existing knowledge and recommendations from the scientific community. Wealth is strongly associated with global environmental problems. Consumption levels have increased in the last decades even more rapidly than technology development, and therefore, policies aimed at storing renewable energies or capturing carbon dioxide may not be effective on their own. Consequently, transitioning towards sustainability can only be effective if changes in behaviour of the most affluent agents complement technological advancements.
Even though individual efforts regardless the levels of wealth are crucial, they are diminished if no structural changes are considered, authors say. A change in economic paradigms is, for instance, sorely needed. Hence nations around the world should consider eco taxes, green investments, wealth redistribution, a maximum and minimum income, and a guaranteed basic income to help untie the environment from this economic snowball. In contrast, this new paradigm suggests that affluence needs to be addressed by reducing consumption, not just greening it.
In an interview for Desafio Tierra (Earth Challenge) CNN Chile, EfD researcher Marcela Jaime argues on the power of tailoring policies at the different points of the income distribution -and combining them with behavioural nudges- as a core aspect of environmental justice. While behavioural policies play a key role in promoting individual contributions to global environmental problems, structural policies targeting affluence contribute to succeed in these goals with fairness.
In terms of structural changes, Jaime highlights the need to take account of the heterogeneity in society for policy design. For instance, regulating energy prices to promote the use of cleaner technologies in wealthier homes, especially for heating. A similar approach can be used when regulating water and transport, areas that still consider that individuals are homogenous. Other types of policies might include environmental education, because it is an important tool to promote personal rules from the early childhood.
Finally, the environmental economist concludes that it is necessary to promote the adoption of pro-environmental behaviours. As a matter of fact, the reduction in consumption of highly polluting products should become a “social norm”. More information about the article can be found here (Spanish).