Publications

Technology driven inequality leads to poverty and resource depletion

Usman Mirza, M.; Richter, Andries; Nes, Egbert H. van; Scheffer, Marten

Summary

The rapid rise in inequality is often seen to go in-hand with resource overuse. Examples include water extraction in Pakistan, land degradation in Bangladesh, forest harvesting in Sub-Saharan Africa and industrial fishing in Lake Victoria. While access to ecosystem services provided by common pool resources mitigates poverty, exclusive access to technology by wealthy individuals may fuel excessive resource extraction and deplete the resource, thus widening the wealth gap. We use a stylised social-ecological model, to illustrate how a positive feedback between wealth and technology may fuel local inequality. The resulting rise in local inequality can lead to resource degradation and critical transitions such as ecological resource collapse and unexpected increase in poverty. Further, we find that societies may evolve towards a stable state of few wealthy and many poor individuals, where the distribution of wealth depends on how access to technology is distributed. Overall, our results illustrate how access to technology may be a mechanism that fuels resource degradation and consequently pushes most vulnerable members of society into a poverty trap.