Inequality and the Biosphere

Rising inequalities and accelerating global environmental change pose two of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century. To explore how these phenomena are linked, we apply a social-ecological systems perspective and review the literature to identify six different types of interactions (or “pathways”) between inequality and the biosphere. We find that most of the research so far has only considered one-directional effects of inequality on the biosphere, or vice versa. However, given the potential for complex dynamics between socioeconomic and environmental factors within social-ecological systems, we highlight examples from the literature that illustrate the importance of cross-scale interactions and feedback loops between inequality and the biosphere. This review draws on diverse disciplines to advance a systemic understanding of the linkages between inequality and the biosphere, specifically recognizing cross-scale feedbacks and the multidimensional nature of inequality.