Does Egalitarian Democracy Boost Environmental Sustainability? An Empirical Test, 1970-2017
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Many argue that the twin problems of poverty and environmental degradation are best addressed by adopting greater egalitarian processes of governance. Greater egalitarian societies apparently contain the required social trust and consensus for making hard choices and tradeoffs for achieving environmental gains. We employ novel data on egalitarian democracy, which measure the equal access of the poor to political power and societal resources, and data covering weak and strong sustainability measured by the “adjusted net savings” and several indicators of atmospheric pollution. The results suggest that greater egalitarian governance reduces weak sustainability and increases the intensity of climate-harming pollution. Regardless of democracy, other measures of social equity, such as the GINI and equal access to health and political resources, increase, not decrease, atmospheric pollution. These results are robust to estimating procedure, several alternative models, and data. While liberté, egalité and fraternité should be pursued for their own intrinsic value, meeting urgent challenges from global warming may require more targeted solutions.