Xenophobia Upside: Ethnic and Religious Diversity Correlated to Less Environmental Action

Science 2.0, December 20, 2012

When is diversity a bad thing?  When it comes to environmental action, according to a new paper from the University of East Anglia (UEA).

Scandinavian countries, low in ethnic and religious diversity, take more collective action than more diverse nations, like the UK, China and the United States. But the UEA paper frames diversity using the more negative term ‘fragmentation’.

Americans may love separation of church and state and the mix of multiple religions in the USA but Dr. Elissaios Papyrakis, a senior lecturer in UEA’s School of International Development and a senior researcher at Vrije Universiteit in Holland, found that religious diversity has an even greater detrimental impact on environmental performance than ethnic diversity.

Papyrakis gathered data on ethnicity, religion, industry, income and population density, and then more subjective measures like conflict and control of corruption, for 127 developed and developing countries and then matched them to environmental performance. {snip}

The data analyzed was for the period between 1960 and 2006, the most recent available to him. Environmental performance was measured by attributing monetary damage—as a share of GDP—attributed to a country’s carbon dioxide emissions and the dependence of energy consumption on ‘clean’, or renewable, sources such as hydropower, geothermal, nuclear and solar power.  Papyrakis also took into account the country’s adjusted net savings, a measure of sustainable development that looks at the true rate of saving in an economy after taking into account investments in human capital, depletion of natural resources and damages caused by pollution.

Although numerous factors influence environmental performance simultaneously, ethnic and religious diversity alone can explain a substantial part of the differences observed in environmental performance across countries. For example, an ethnically fragmented country such as Tanzania invests 11 per cent less for the future (adjusted net savings) compared to other Sub-Saharan African countries, such as Madagascar, that are not diverse.

Papyrakis believes that “social fragmentation has a negative effect on environmental performance. Countries that are either ethnically or religiously diverse tend to under-invest in environmental protection, even when one controls for differences in income and industrial activity, for example.

“This might be because of differences in preferences across the various, and often geographically concentrated, ethnic or religious groups about which environmental measures should be introduced and when and where. For example, public spending for waste treatment facilities or reforestation can become particularly contentious issues when different ethnic or religious groups do no benefit equally. Even when preferences over what should be done do not differ much, differences in language and culture may hamper communication and collective action. If these differences cannot be bridged, investment will not be made and positive action will not be taken.”

Some of the worst environmental performers, given their level of economic development and ethnic and religious diversity, are China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and the United Arab Emirates. The more ethnically diverse United States and UK also scored lower in terms of adjusted net savings (US 2.92 per cent of GDP, UK 13.88 per cent (2005 figures) and higher in terms of damage attributed to CO2 emissions (US 0.344 per cent of GDP, UK 0.178 per cent (2005 figures) compared to less diverse Scandinavian economies such as Denmark (adjusted net savings 13.88 per cent, CO2 damage 0.13 per cent (2005 figures).


Paper: ‘Environmental Performance in Socially Fragmented Countries’, Environmental and Resource Economics.

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  • pcmustgo

    Since when is China “diverse”? This article labels UK, US and China as diverse.

    • Dutchman

      I think China is considered diverse due to the presence of significant non-Han populations. Uighurs, Manchu, Tibetans, etc. Also the differences in language even among the Han-

      • GM (Australia)

        China is remarkably diverse, but you tow the Party Line OR ELSE.

      • The__Bobster

        The non-diverse regions of China populated by the majority Hans are an environmental disaster. The same could be said for East Germany right after the wall fell.

        Thus, the boobs at East Anglia (the AGW fraudsters?) should’ve come to the conclusion that Communism is bad for the environment, but we know why they didn’t.


        • David Ashton

          Thank you for this website reference. I have never researched global warming to anything like the extent I have studied biological anthropology and “racism”, but it is quite clear how the political Zeitgeist, career progress, government and private funding will interfere with scientific research and its presentation.

    • Doppleganger

      China is only 91% Chinese. The rest are minorities. Both Italy and the UK are more homogeneous than China is.

      • pcmustgo

        Yeah, but let’s face it, those “minorities” in China are racially Asian, not much different than Han Chinese… it’s not racially diverse there. Ethnically, maybe. Its’ not like they have blacks and latinos and whites.

        • jay11

          A few ethnic groups in northwest China are caucasian. There was a video on cofcc.org about a year back that showed a big crowd of Chinese immigrants to the uigher lands tormenting and beating a very white-looking uigher toddler. It went on for some time and the terrified child nearly had his arm broken by the smiling chinese men and women who formed a torture circle around him. I saw this video and was shocked, and then I thought about our great-grandkids 50 years from now, and how they will suffer and have no one to help them.

          • liberalsuck

            It is up to us to see that us to see that our our children and grandchildren have a secure future. I hope when I’m an old man I’m like Gran Torino.

  • Robert Binion

    It is hard to gaze upon a sparrow when the woods are filled with wolves.

  • Fredrik_H

    I don’t even know if this is a good thing. The greens are commited to kill our last remaining swedish industries with ever-increasing energy taxes while holding the door open for every Abdullah, Muhammed and Achmed who wants to come here and live on the swedish tax-payers behalf.

  • GM (Australia)

    What I believe the good professor is trying to say is that some cultures have not progressed beyond the “Slash & Burn” mentality.

  • The Verdict of History

    With more diversity in a community comes LESS commonality, less unity, more fragmentation, and less willingness to cooperate to meet common goals…

  • dhs

    Liberals preach the environmental gospel only when it advances liberalism, i.e. controlling industries, getting white people to reduce their birth rate, advancing world governance. If policies advance the liberal agenda, they ignore the environmental destruction, i.e. massive immigration into Western nations.

  • kjh64

    It’s very simple. In a nation with a racially and ethnically homogeneous culture, society is much more stable, much less fragmented and there is a strong common culture with common values. People see their nation as part of their extended family. In a multicultural nation, it’s the opposite. Society is much more balkenized, less stable, doesn’t have common values. People are out more for themselves and their own group and see themselves in terms of a group within groups, not a country as a whole whose environment has to be protected.

    • I’ve seen this discussion many times here at Amren but you compiled and compressed the basic thought very clearly KJH64. Thanks.

  • David Ashton

    The UEA is my local university in Norfolk, and on balance this is an unexpected plus from that quarter.

  • FourFooted_Messiah

    Well, duh. Different cultures place different values on the environment. Where there are Chinese, there are dead bears, killed for their paws and gall. And numerous other dead wildlife, killed for other dubious “medicines”.

    I always laugh at World of Warcraft forums when someone bring up urban legends of what they do and don’t allow in China. People really think the Chinese actually worship pandas, for instance. However, according to the animal rights mags I once subscribed to (one is defunct) the Chinese have always seen Great Pandas as nothing but agricultural threats, to be killed on sight, as long as there are no Westerners around to care.

    I think the AR mags had it right on that one, to be honest.

    If the Chinese would be concerned about dead Pandaren players in game, it would only be to maintain its illusion with the West that it actually gives a damn about endangered species – which it doesn’t. Tiger blood as an aphrodisiac, anyone? I have seen visuals of a tiger’s throat being slit for its “magical” blood.