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The Cost of the Wealth Gap

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‘As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest’ (Nelson Mandela). This is a constant discussion, especially in highly charged times, where political candidates are bringing to surface the inequalities that the nation faces. As history has shown, inequalities have existed since the beginning of man. One such inequality is the growing wealth gap and the effects on our environment, which in turn affects our own health. The article, ‘The Environmental Cost of Inequality’ by J.K. Boyce discusses environmental impacts on society as a whole, but in particular those in the lower socioeconomic communities. Boyce talks about why these communities are the targets of negative environmental decisions, and the effects on the inhabitants. The article ‘The Health-Wealth Gap’ by R.M. Sapolsky explains the connection between lower income families, neighborhoods and communities and the degradation of their health and welfare. Sapolsky details the physical, intellectual and emotional affects on families because of the wealth disparity. The cost of economic inequality will show the similarities and differences on the environment and the health of individuals.

What are the central points, insights and conclusions presented?

The Health-Wealth Gap – It has always been a challenge among scholars to determine whether inequality within society could have worse of an impact on the quality of a life. After examining the central points within Sapolsky’s article, it is simple to conclude that inequalities among a society could end up leading to the decline in the overall health of an individual. The Health-Wealth Gap, straight forwardly declares that there is data that has reinforced the conception that there is a correlation between economic disparities and declining health (Sapolsky, 2018).

The Environmental Cost of Inequality – After the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, along with climate activists, made headlines, in 2016, regarding corporate and government backers made headlines for a oil pipeline that would cross the Missouri River which could leak and contaminate their river water; citizens across the United States became reinvigorated to become more environmentally aware. Boyce became interested and researched the economic differential between the Native Americans and activists and the affluent corporations, and the role it played in the movement. His research led him to Bangladesh, Southeast Asia, Europe and back home to Houston, New Orleans along with major metropolitan cities. His findings were globally the same; where the affluent live, the environment is clean, healthy and free of waste sites and pollution producing industries. In sharp contrast, and not surprising, the lower socioeconomic communities and cities suffered from a lack of proper waste sites, therefore affecting their water, air and green spaces (Boyce, 2018).

Why were the researchers motivated to address these central points or insights?

The Health-Wealth Gap – Bruce S. McEwen (Sapolsky, 2018) introduced the term ‘allostatic load’. He was an American neuroendocrinologist and head of the Neuroendocrinology Lab at Rockefeller University. It is prominent that the environment always affects our bodies, and we stay healthy when we achieve a challenge. This inevitably resulted in experts to focus on particular organs that solve challenges.

The Environmental Cost of Inequality – As the human body changes through time, because it adjusts and acclimates to environmental factors, Boyce was interested in the question of the internal change and health of individuals due to the economic inequality of communities. He learned that internal change that occurred due to the stressors brought on by environmental degradation that the body could not contend with. These environmental changes were not through natural occurrences i.e. hurricanes, droughts, earthquakes, rather they were induced by pollutants caused by the affluent whose corporations were brought into the lower SES communities (Boyce, 2018).

In what ways were the researcher’s methods (i.e. reasoning, approach or process) similar or different between the two articles

The Health-Wealth Gap article focuses on the decline of an individual’s health as a direct result of internal stress brought on by socioeconomic inequality and the significant impact on adults and children. Sapolsky’s research found that poor health is not only about being underprivileged, but the emotion of actually feeling poor is an even bigger contributor to ill health. Sapolsky’s findings of the phenomenon of ‘feeling poor’ are interrelated with Boyce’s research on The Environmental Cost of Inequality. The lower socioeconomic communities that have to endure the hazards of the decline of their communities reinforce their reality and therefore the notion of ‘feeling poor.’ Just as Sapolsky found that telomeres help keep our chromosomes steady, and when there is a change in the telomeres due to an unnaturally traumatic event(s), molecular aging takes place internally (2018), Boyce’s research and findings show that communities with less structured provisions for their water, air and vegetation have lower standards of educations, lower income levels and fewer political rights, which also create stressors that are beyond the natural scope of life (2018). Both studies show the health detriments to communities and individuals as a direct result of severe socioeconomic inequalities.

Describe the thoughts that occurred to you and were most interesting while reading and analyzing each article and whether these thoughts were similar or different…and why?

The research and findings in Sapolsky’s article, The Health-Wealth Gap provided deeper insight and information about the consequences and detriment of the wealth gap in the U.S. The stress Sapolsky discusses is more serious than I was aware. As a human being stress factors bombard us every day, which can result in headaches and fatigue to name a few. However, the stressors that the lower income communities experience have a deeper impact. Sapolsky explains the affects of on the hippocampus, the pre-frontal cortex and the telomeres. The hippocampus is responsible for memory and learning, spatial and emotional behaviors, and regulates the hypothalamus. Because it is a plastic and susceptible structure, it is vulnerable to damage by a variety of stimuli, especially severe stress or trauma (Anand & Dhikav, 2012). The pre-frontal cortex aka the executive function of the brains is responsible for successes on higher cognitive tasks such as making connections, analyzing information, predicting and drawing conclusions. In a healthy adult brain, there is a larger prefrontal cortex, especially its lateral part, which is associated with better performance on executive functions tests. It was found that those who suffer from hypertension, a common ailment in lower socioeconomic communities, the injury to the brain functions due to internalized stress and trauma can be so severe that it is considered to be equivalent to having both frontal lobes removed (Yuan & Raz, 2014). Most people understand that stress is a natural part of life; however, many are uninformed, though stress may be inevitable, some stressors are controllable by reducing, if not eliminating much of the wealth gap (Sapolsky, 2018).

Both The Environmental Cost of Inequality and The Health-Wealth Gap were interesting in that though they were addressing different points, the end result was similar. The domino effect of the environmental cost of inequality only compounds the problem to the health-wealth gap that exists, be it in the United States or any other region or country in the world.

What future questions or un-addressed areas of inquiry did each author describe? Were these similar or different?

The Health-Wealth Gap – Though this article was very informative, it appears biased in that it blames and holds the rich completely responsible for all the problems that are brought on by inequality. Sapolsky explains that majority wealth of the country is owned and controlled by the top 1%. However, he fails to address that top 1% that may actually give back to communities that do need assistance. He does not give credit where credit is due. Though his statistics may be accurate, it is not complete. Due to the lack of that information, it can incite anger or frustration by not allowing his readers to be fully and fairly informed.

The Environmental Cost of Inequality – states that many of these hazardous industries that the wealthy profit from are not equally distributed in areas that they reside in as well as in low socioeconomic areas. However, the question that remains in the shadows is, is it true that low income communities are targeted by people in power because the wealthy don’t want to deal the detriments of human pollution? Knowing that these industries lead to greater health risks and potentially lead to more problems, is it that the wealthy have the opportunity to leave areas where these industries reside? Consequently, these locations become undesirable areas where the degradation of water, air and vegetation help reduce property values, therefore allowing it to be more affordable and accessible to the lower income families.

Discussions on the impacts of socioeconomic differences continue. Some, who consider themselves ‘tree huggers’, believe in the disparities and the direct impact on the environment, along with the impact on communities and the health of its residents. Others, who believe that both the health of the individual and the environment is highly exaggerated and any occurrences are a result of natural events, however, it has been my belief since my youth that environmental health along with human health is directly related to the economic wealth, or lack thereof, in the community. The articles that were discussed only cements my conviction….(continue with explanation and points)

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