Inequality, pandemics and climate change

featuring Richard Wilkinson

SFU Vancouver Speaker Series

Richard Wilkinson is one of the world’s leading experts on the health and social impacts of inequality—which have been impossible to ignore, and deeply exacerbated, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His decades of research show that countries with greater income inequality have worse health and social outcomes at all levels of society. Lifespans are shorter, rates of violence, addiction and imprisonment are higher, and educational performance is lower. Inequality also is tied to chronic stress, anxiety and depression. 

Wilkinson argues that socioeconomic inequality erodes our social fabric, decreases our trust in each other, reduces political stability and undermines our resilience to major shocks—from pandemics to climate change. Thus, addressing inequality must be central to Canada’s policy framework, and at the heart of our response to all our challenges.

In this SFU Vancouver Speaker Series lecture, Wilkinson will address how inequality affected the pandemic experience and response, and how we can improve quality of life post-COVID as we face the ultimate challenge of the climate crisis.

Wilkinson will be joined by Maya Gislason (Assistant Professor in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences) and Chuka Ejeckam (political researcher and writer) for a wide-ranging conversation and audience Q&A moderated by CBC journalist Laura Lynch, host of What On Earth on CBC Radio.

Points of discussion will include:

  • What is the relationship between inequality, rates of transmission and vaccination and vaccine hesitancy?
  • How did inequality in Canada affect the worst outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • How can reducing inequality better equip us to respond to the climate crisis?
  • How does the reduction of inequality improve economic outcomes for everyone?


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

12:00 p.m. (Pacific Time)

Online event

A link and password to access this online event will be emailed to all registrants via Eventbrite shortly before the event.


ASL interpretation will be available at this event. Participants will need to join from a laptop or desktop computer in order to view the ASL interpretation properly.

Closed captioning in English will be available at this event.

The event will be recorded, and a link to the captioned video recording will be emailed to all registrants after the event.

If you have any questions about accessibility, please contact

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson has played a formative role in international research on the social determinants of health and on the societal effects of income inequality. He studied economic history at the London School of Economics before training in epidemiology and is a Professor Emeritus of Social Epidemiology at the University of Nottingham Medical School, Honorary Professor at University College London and Visiting Professor at the University of York.

Wilkinson's books and papers have drawn attention to the tendency for societies with bigger income differences between rich and poor to have a higher prevalence of a wide range of health and social problems. The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, co-written by Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, is a best-seller available in 24 languages. It won the 2011 Political Studies Association Publication of the Year Award and the 2010 Bristol Festival of Ideas Prize, and was chosen as one of the Top Ten Books of the Decade by The New Statesman. In their 2019 book, The Inner Level: How More Equal Societies Reduce Stress, Restore Sanity and Improve Everyone's Well-Being, Wilkinson and Pickett move from the study of inequality on societies to how it affects us individually, and how material inequities have powerful psychological effects.

Wilkinson is also the co-founder of The Equality Trust (with support from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust), which seeks to promote public understanding of the effects of inequality. In 2013 Wilkinson received SOLIDAR's Silver Rose Award and Community Access Unlimited’s Humanitarian of the Year Award. The Irish Cancer Society awarded him the 2014 Charles Cully Memorial Medal, and he was the 2017 medalist of the Australian Society for Medical Research.

In the last few years he has given many hundreds of conference addresses and media interviews round the world, including at the World Health Organization, the European Union, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and the World Bank.



Maya Gislason

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, SFU


Dr. Gislason is a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar, Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University and founder of the Research for Eco-social and Equitable Transformation (RESET) team. As an eco-social equity scholar, she works with a range of partners on projects rooted in the ethic of intergenerational climate justice and towards the goal of improving health for people and the planet. Dr. Gislason works with governments using sex- and gender-based analysis approaches to address the impacts of climate change on equity-deserving groups and is championing new work on children’s mental health resilience and climate change.


Chuka Ejeckam

Political Researcher and Writer


Chuka Ejeckam is a political researcher and writer in British Columbia, and a research associate with the BC Office of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. He holds a master's student in political science from the University of British Columbia. He also serves on the steering and advisory committee of the SFU Labour Studies Program, and has served on the organizing committee for a UBC Lind Initiative speaker series. His writings can be found at and elsewhere.


Chuka is also a member of the advisory committee for our Towards Equity Community Summit. For more from Chuka, read our On Equity interview with him!



Laura Lynch

CBC Journalist


Laura Lynch is an award-winning journalist with the CBC. She is the host of What On Earth on CBC Radio, which won the 2021 CJF Award for Climate Solutions Reporting. In the course of her career, she has reported from across Canada and around the world, and has won the prestigious Nieman fellowship from Harvard University, awards from the British Bar Association, the Canadian Bar Association, RTNDA (Canada and U.S.), Overseas Press Club of America, Amnesty International, RNAO and the Gabriel awards. Laura has a law degree from the University of Victoria and a journalism degree from Carleton University.

About the SFU Vancouver Speaker Series

The SFU Vancouver Speaker Series brings global experts to a local audience.

Launched in 2012, the series builds on SFU’s rich history of community engagement by exploring critical issues to contribute to better understanding among Vancouver’s citizens through an intellectually enriching experience.

The SFU Vancouver Speaker Series is presented by SFU Public Square, in partnership with SFU Vancouver and SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement.

Past SFU Vancouver Speaker Series events


Accessibility, technology and privacy


ASL interpretation will be available at this event. Participants will need to join from a laptop or desktop computer in order to view the ASL interpretation properly.

Closed captioning in English will be available at this event.

The event will be recorded, and a link to the captioned video recording will be emailed to all registrants after the event.

If you have any questions about accessibility for this event, please contact

Registration and password

A link and password to access this online event will be emailed to all registrants via Eventbrite shortly before the event.

Technology requirements

To engage in this online event, you will need a computer (laptop or desktop), tablet or smartphone, with speakers or headphones. A microphone and/or a webcam are recommended if you would like to fully participate in the interactive portions of this event.

We recommend that you use a computer for the best experience of this event. Some interactivity and accessibility features, including ASL interpretation, are not available when using a smartphone or tablet.

Protecting your privacy

This event will be recorded, but only the speakers will be visible in the published recording. The recording will be shared with all registrants and published on SFU Public Square’s website, YouTube and social media channels.

To ensure that we are using online event technology in a privacy-conscious way, we are following best practices for this online event series:

  • We will only circulate the event link to those who are registered for the event
  • We will password-protect the event
  • We will enable end-to-end encryption
  • We will not use attention tracking

To protect your own privacy:

  • We remind you that whatever you say during the event is public, so please do not share sensitive information about yourself or others, and do not say anything you do not wish to enter the public domain.

To protect the privacy of others:

  • Please do not record or photograph yourself, other participants, or the hosts during the event, unless permission is requested and given.

If you have any questions about this event’s accessibility, technology requirements or privacy, please connect with us at

Community guidelines

Our community guidelines are intended to ensure the safety of all guest speakers and event participants, and to foster honest, socially accountable dialogue at our events. Thank you for respecting these guidelines!

  • Above all, there will be zero tolerance for those who promote violence or discrimination against others on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, or disability. Anyone who incites harm towards other participants (whether through chat, video, audio or otherwise) will be removed at the discretion of our technical team and moderator.
  • Don’t assume pronouns/gender/knowledge based on someone’s name or appearance. Please refer to people using the usernames and/or pronouns they provide.
  • Take space, make space: share your perspective, and make space for other voices to be heard too. Recognize that we are all here to learn.
  • Practice self-care in whatever way you need to. If you need to get up or take a break, please do so.