Inequality, Decoupling, and Sustainable Development

Photo Credit- PTG 2020. Hidden Lake Park, Nashville, TN.

As the intensity of environmental change driven by the development of Humanity’s social and economic systems deepens, finding a way to mitigate such change becomes ever more urgent. However, it is well acknowledged that the growth-oriented development of systems (i.e. cultural, economic, political) that structure our social relations is ineluctably tied to activities that rely on the extraction of natural resources and exploitation of sinks for the byproducts of our dominant mode of social organization. Identifying the social, political, and economic features of the social world that can move Humanity toward the widely held goals of universal, equitable improvements in human well-being and maintenance of earth systems that can support these improvements long into the future is of the utmost importance. In this project, I, and many of my co-authors (Julius Alexander McGee, Christina Ergas, Matthew Thomas Clement, Jordan Fox Besek, Dan Shtob, MacKenzie Christensen, Nathan Pino, and Carl Appleton) use a number of quantitative and historical methods to explore the ways that some improvements in human well-being (e.g. movement toward greater gender, racial, and economic equity) re-structure development processes such that they are “decoupled” from environmental change. Put differently, I ask what social changes yield a society that is more equitable, sustainable, resilient, and robust.

Assistant Professor of Sociology and Public Policy Studies

I am interested in the relationships between development, inequality, and environmental change.

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