Social Inequalities, Environmental Crises, and the the STIRPAT Model

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Perhaps the two greatest threats to humanity in our era are:(1) the global environmental crisis, which involves climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and resource depletion; and (2) high and rising levels of social inequality, including the concentration of wealth and injustices based on race, gender, and national origin, among other dimensions. These two threats are not entirely distinct from one another, since there are many interconnections between them. Indeed, key forces that are driving our most pressing environmental problems stem from the same processes that create and perpetuate social disparities, and environmental deterioration threatens to exacerbate inequalities, since the least powerful members of societies typically are the most vulnerable. Without doubt, one of the most important tasks for scholars is to help expand and refine our understanding of the interlinked forces leading to environmental crises and social inequalities. Here, we aim to contribute to this project by considering how one prominent model of the anthropogenic driving forces on environmental impacts, the STIRPAT model, incorporates considerations of inequalities. Our assessment includes exploring STIRPAT’s limitations and ways in which it can be improved. We begin by explaining how the STIRPAT model developed, and how it is used, and then move into examining how inequalities can be addressed in the model.

The Edward Elgar Handbook on Environment and Inequality