It was often characterized that inequalities exist between nation-states via a hierarchical model, where ‘core’ countries dominate the rules of trade, ‘peripheral’ states are caught in a perpetual role of dependence, and ‘semi-peripheral’ and/or ‘semi-core’ states play the middle ground, exploiting the periphery while depending upon the core. We use network analysis to locate countries’ positions within a global trade network, and analyze how positions correspond with countries’ global shares of sulfur dioxide and wealth, as triggered by U.S. consumption. We find that for all goods and services consumed in the U.S., core countries benefit more than the non-core countries in terms of economic gains versus environmental losses (expressed as emissions to value added (EV) ratio). We note the one main exception to this trend is China, an emerging core country with a high EV ratio. We observe that China’s share of sulfur dioxide, as triggered by U.S. consumption, is very large, and its share of global value added is comparatively small. In contrast, the U.S., Japan and Germany appear to be the winners: their shares of global value added exceed their shares of global sulfur dioxide. Our study supports several world-system ideas that the core gains more from its structural standing in the trade network than other zones. In contrast, the periphery experienced a relatively lower level of benefits and a relatively larger share of environmental costs than the core. In the context of environmental justice concerns, i.e. who is responsible for pollution and who is most affected, we would prefer seeing more countries converge around a similar EV ratio, as such convergence would be an indicator of fairer, more equal distributions of pollution costs and economic benefits.