Why equal societies are better - Kate Pickett

Kate Pickett has worked out why more equal societies do better. She tells us about her life and work.

What inspired you to be one of the guest speakers at Friends of the Earth’s annual conference this year?

I spoke at the 6 Billion Ways festival this year, and that led to me being asked to come to Friends of the Earth annual conference. It’s always inspiring to share thoughts with people who are committed to making the world a better place and I’m looking forward to the conference very much.

Your book The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better came out in 2009. How do you think it links to Friends of the Earth’s environmental work?

Inequality fuels status competition, individualism and consumerism through a general weakening of social ties and social cohesion. This makes it harder to gain public support for policies to reduce global warming and work towards sustainable economies.

Greater equality offers the prospect of a shift in focus and an ability to work collectively, towards a world with a better quality of life for everybody and a move away from economic growth at all costs.

When are you happiest?

I’m happiest among mountains, walking with my partner and co-author, Richard Wilkinson, and being with my family.

greater equality would create a better quality of life for us all, but it would be lovely if someone could fix the intermittent and mysterious fault on my new cooker

What are three things you would take with you on a desert island?

I would be lost without things to read, so I’d take an e-book reader with satellite connectivity and a lifetime subscription, so I could download books without limit. That probably counts for three wishes.

What’s your greatest extravagance?

I don’t have any real extravagances – the luxury of being without serious worries about money now is something I’m always conscious of and grateful for.

Your greatest fear?

Like any mother, fears of something bad happening to my children outweigh anything else.

Which living green person do you most admire and why?

I admire anybody who makes an effort to be green, even in small ways. I’m lucky to count Molly Scott Cato, economics spokesperson for the Green Party, as a friend and I admire her scholarship, her activism and her kindness. 

I’m a huge admirer of Caroline Lucas, who can paint with words a vision of a better society unmatched by any politician in the mainstream parties.
What is your favourite food, music, smell, book, place, film…?

It’s hard to name a favourite food. I like absolutely everything.

It’s hard to name a favourite piece of music because I don’t like very much – but I do like Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Kate Bush, the Dixie Chicks and Alison Krauss singing with Robert Plant, and Mark Knopfler’s soundtrack for 'The Princess Bride'.

I like edible smells – lemon, vanilla, ginger, rose, coconut, herbs.

Books are difficult too, I re-read Jane Austen in the summers and Tolkien in the winter and Margaret Drabble year round. But I think Dodie Smith’s 'I Capture the Castle' is a stunning coming-of-age story.

My favourite places in Britain are Snowdonia and the Lake District but I lived in America for 16 years and miss the Bay Area and Chicago at times. 'Local Hero' is my all-time favourite film.

What will be at the heart of your talk at our annual conference?

I hope to make the links between social equality and building a sustainable economy crystal clear, and to inspire the green movement to incorporate that understanding into their activism and campaigning.

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

In the long term, of course, I think greater equality would create a better quality of life for us all, but while we keep working away at that, it would be lovely if someone could fix the intermittent and mysterious fault on my new cooker.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on extending our research in The Spirit Level, looking at how changes in income inequality map to changes in health and social outcomes; and how inequality shapes indicators in childhood that affect lifelong wellbeing right across the socio-economic spectrum.

What makes you laugh out loud?

Good political satire – 'Private Eye', or 'Have I Got News For You' or the 'News Quiz'.

Kate Pickett is Professor of Epidemiology at the University of York and a National Institute for Health Research Career Scientist. She lives in North Yorkshire with her partner Richard Wilkinson and children.

Kate will be speaking on Sunday afternoon at our 40th anniversary conference, 9-11 September in Nottingham.

One of our biggest events of the year, our conference brings together local groups, activists, staff, volunteers and guest speakers. The programme offers panel discussions, training and workshops, celebrating our successes and lots of networking. Bookings are open and places are limited.

Interview by Karen Liebenguth