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Robin Hood in Reverse: Climate Change Takes from Poor, Gives to Rich

A new study finds that climate change is triggering a massive reallocation of resources to the world's wealthiest countries

A study connects climate change to the worsening gap between rich and poor around the globe. (Laszlo Ilyes/Flickr/cc.)

A warming climate is exacerbating global inequality by pushing critical natural resources, such as fish stocks, away from impoverished equatorial regions and making them more exploitable by the wealthy, according to a study released on Wednesday.

While the gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. and worldwide has expanded at a mind-boggling pace in recent decades, the new study, designed by scientists at Princeton, Rutgers, Yale, and Arizona State, shows that the frightening speed with which the globe is warming will only compound the economic trend.

The study looked specifically at fish to better understand the phenomenon.

"We tend to think of climate change as just a problem of physics and biology," Malin Pinsky, professor of ecology and evolution at Rutgers explained to Rutgers Today. "But people react to climate change as well, and at the moment we don't have a good understanding for the impacts of human behavior on natural resources affected by climate change."

There's something in the air...

In an effort to examine those impacts, Pinsky observed to the newspaper that “[w]hat we find is that natural resources like fish are being pushed around by climate change, and that changes who gets access to them."


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The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked at what the authors call "inclusive wealth," or the "sum of a community's capital assets."

The researchers looked at natural resources, such as fish and forests, but also took into account a community's infrastructure—buildings, roads, factories—and the education level and health of its human population, Rutgers Today reports.

The newspaper wrote:

The stronger and more conservation-oriented the natural resource management in a community, the higher the value that community places on its natural resources, whether those resources are increasing or diminishing, Pinsky reports. If wealthier communities and countries are more likely to have strong resource management, then these wealthy groups are more likely to benefit, thus exacerbating inequality.

The study used data collected by Pinsky in his studies of fish migration and applied a mathematical formula created by Yale University economist Eli Fenichel to illustrate the connection between the migration of natural resources and the migration of wealth. The scientists created two fictitious fishery-dependent communities, Northport and Southport, and used Fenichel's formula to examine potential future interactions between the two communities and their fish stocks.

The findings also echo the changes and depletion reported by commercial and Indigenous fisheries around the world.

The researchers observed in the study that "a changing climate can reallocate natural capital, change the value of all forms of capital, and lead to mass redistribution of wealth."

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