An interdisciplinary team of McGill researchers has uncovered a connection between growing economic inequality and an increase in the number of plant and animal species that are threatened with extinction.
"Our study suggests that if we can learn to share economic resources more fairly with fellow members of our own species, it may help us to share ecological resources more fairly with other species," said Dr. Greg Mikkelson, assistant professor in the McGill School of Environment and Department of Philosophy. The study appears in the May 16 issue of PLoS ONE, the online, peer-reviewed, open-access journal of the Public Library of Science.
Mikkelson and his colleagues related indicators of income inequality and biodiversity loss on two different scales: among 45 countries worldwide and among 45 states within the United States. They controlled for differences such as area and climate, human population size, and per capita consumption. The same general trend is evident in both scales: societies with more unequal distributions of income experience greater losses of biodiversity.
"While there is often a trade-off between economic growth and environmental quality," says Mikkelson, "this study suggests that there is a synergy between a different kind of economic development namely, toward a more equitable distribution of wealth and the conservation of biological diversity." For example, if the US were to achieve levels of income equality comparable to those of Sweden, the pattern reported in their paper implies that 44% fewer plant and vertebrate species in the US would be in danger of extinction.
"In the past, people thought that human population size was the main driver of biodiversity loss, then people showed that the size of the economy provided a better explanation," said co-author Dr. Garry Peterson, an assistant professor in the School of Environment and Department of Geography, and a Canada Research Chair (CRC) in socia
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