Ecological Inequality in a Nutshell

Ecological inequality includes such things as access to fresh air, clean water, lush vegetation, beautiful scenery, healthy and non-toxic food, clean living spaces—even sunlight. In many large Chinese cities, a lot of people hardly see the sun, and millions die as a result of air pollu­tion. Many people around the world work in noisy, physically dan­gerous, dirty and toxic en­vironments, like children in West Africa working on huge piles of waste from electronics, slowly poisoning themselves to re­trie­ve valuable metals and minerals. The brunt of harm caused by environmen­tal de­gradation is carried very unevenly by popul­ations. You see this in every­thing from poor climate migrants, to subsist­ence farming dam­aged by glo­bal warming, to cognitive growth stunted cau­sed by pois­oned water­ways.

The following is a slightly edited extract from Hanzi Freinacht’s book ‘Nordic Ideology: A Metamodern Guide to Politics, Book Two’. This is the second book in a series on metamodern thought, a work of popular philosophy that investigates the nature of psychological development and its political implications. This is the fifth post in a series on six forms of inequality. In the green box to the right, you can find the links to the full series.

Of course, this kind of inequality is closely tied to the global economic order. The rich can choose to live in nicer and cleaner envir­on­ments, buy heathier products, go on hikes or health resorts, and so on. This, natu­rally, translates into other stratifications, such as race and ethnicity; for instance, in the US, in California, it has been shown that blacks and Lati­nos on average breathe in 40% more air pollution than whites—which naturally affects physiological equality and thus all the rest of it.[i]

And the rich parts of the world generally transpose the most environ­mentally destructive production processes and industries to the poorer parts. Citizens living in poor areas of urban India have fewer choi­ces in terms of healthy food and environments. This of course in turn affects all other aspects of inequality: economic, social, phy­siological and emotional.

Even if the expansion of “rights” is far from always the best and most practical way of protecting people’s interests, we should at least discuss the possibility of introducing ecological rights of citizens and/or commu­nities. Rights can lead to rather rigid forms of governance and they are difficult to relate to in terms of cost/benefit analysis, but some­thing along these lines may offer productive venues for future global poli­cies.

As it is relatively easy to see and understand this aspect of inequality, I will not dwell further upon it; suffice to say it is a crucial part of equa­lity, that it is an issue that divides the rich world from the poor, and that it interacts with differences of socio-economic class. And even if a new glo­bal order is needed for this to be seriously addressed, there is of course much that can be done at the local level.

Hanzi Freinacht is a political philosopher, historian and sociologist, author of ‘The Listening Society’, ‘Nordic Ideology’ and the upcoming books ‘The 6 Hidden Patterns of History’ and ‘Outcompeting Capitalism’. Much of his time is spent alone in the Swiss Alps. You can follow Hanzi on his facebook profile here, and you can speed up the process of new metamodern content reaching the world by making a donation to Hanzi here.

[i]. Union of Concerned Scientists, 2019. “Air Pollution from Vehicles in California”. Downloaded from on Feb 22nd 2019.