Equity in society and wildlife are inseparable. How?


Robin Through Glass by  Ginny Battson

I’m not sure many people consider the question of equity in human society in relation to how it impacts non-human lives in their complex interconnections. Equity, meaning justice and fairness for all with regard to equal rights to satisfy needs.

This could be quite a monotone subject and, I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to colour it. But it needs explanation.

Do we think a wealthy banker driving his Mercedes has anything to do with robin perched on our wooden bird table? Maybe the car is blue and robin’s breast is definitely ruddy – so, there we go, some colour already.

Human economies depend on the life support system that is Nature, comprising living beings (including our own) and the elements or building blocks of life.

The term social equity describes the idea that ALL members of the human community, local or global, have the same basic needs in order to flourish, and these are satisfied. I’ll also assume an inherent diversity built into the social system (not a safe assumption).

‘Needs’ are not the same as ‘wants’, and ‘wants’ may lead to excesses and further inequities.

Even in asserting our basic needs, we have to make choices with consequences harmful to other species. This is inescapable. It is up to us to decide how to minimise the harm we do and eliminate cruelty (virtue ethics). This is why scientific and ethical discussions are so vital, to give some sense and order to the difference between what we may want and what we actually need.

Intra-generational equity also describes justice among the present population. There is a natural justice to each human having the right to basic needs such as food, water, shelter, energy, access to land and sea in order to participate in the procuring of each, whilst at the same time gaining wellbeing from the mental, physical and spiritual side to this process. This includes downtime and rest (not to be overlooked).

These ‘basics’ and the fulfilment of needs are socially facilitated by economic transactions, currently based on monetary value, but not always in human evolutionary history. They are also based on social interactions, from friends and family to institutional support, and natural resource consumption. All objects bought and sold are formed from constituent parts of the environment, from other species and from primary non-biological resources.

When people have accumulated wealth, they tend to buy more stuff.

When people live out their lives under duress in any of these areas, if not all (poverty), ethical concern for their immediate welfare and Rights overwhelms consideration for long term care of the environment, impeding planning for the future.

And this is how it should be. Poverty is a SUFFERING. Compassion first.

So what are the consequences?

An inequitable market-driven economy embedded within society, with a widening gap between rich and poor and without fair redistribution of wealth, results in skewed utility of environment.

We see further impingement upon wildlife, habitats, water, minerals, energy and intense welfare pressures on livestock, plus further wildlife conflict, in order to meet demands in volume and in cheaper food, et al.

So now we begin to see a direct correlation between uneven distribution of wealth and wildlife.

It’s further complicated by direct and indirect consequences of social and commercial decision-making in relation to:

a. Accumulation of wealth and/or land as opposed to subsistence, to the detriment of equality.
b. Marketing of products and services, which may be detrimental to the overall wellbeing of nature.
c. Fiscal measures to favour the above.
d. The heavy environmental cost of energy and supply transport
e. Dealing (or not), with waste and emissions contributing to climate change.

The wealthy Banker driving his blue Mercedes and the ruddy-breasted robin that perches on our bird table ARE interconnected.

Even the wooden bird table is relevant (it was once a living tree and habitat to other species), and the food that is purchased and supplied to meet demand for it (as opposed to naturally foraged).

How many people can afford to buy bird tables? Would they be necessary if there was enough natural foraging for wild birds? Perhaps, the Banker might also buy one hundred bird tables and copious sacks of food for robins. But what are the environmental costs over benefits? Maybe for some people, feeding the birds seems a need not simply a want, for mental wellbeing, and will find a way to do it even if they have little or no accumulated wealth. They might make their own bird tables and grow their own bird seed. Worthy intent!

We are all interconnected. We all share Earth’s biosphere.

Egalitarian ecological education is one of, if not, the biggest empowering factors we could bring to finding solutions. I’ll write again on this soon and have been invited to guest blog elsewhere.

Further, there are domino effects of inequity from generation to generation. Current inequity can lead to future inequity and worse; conflict. Climate change will add to the burden.

In my view, it’s high time we looked at other ways of organising our economies and redistributing wealth, setting something other than increased GDP Growth as the ultimate aim in future.

For more information, check out steadystate.org and for a strong alternative. I signed the pledge. Maybe you’ll consider doing so too.