The problems are systemic and complex. So are the answers.
Globally, the United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population, but we produce 15% of the energy-related CO2 emissions. Coastal flooding, hurricanes, drought, and fires are all related to climate change. And who suffers the most from the impacts of climate change? Mostly the poor and vulnerable.
Bringing this closer to home, in the US, 5.9 million people live within three miles of a major coal-fired power plant. On average, these people have a per capital income of $18,400, which is 17% lower than the average in the US.
A Yale University study found that Hispanics have the highest exposure rates for 10 out of 14 air pollutants. African Americans have higher exposure rates than whites for 13 out of the 14 air pollutants.
68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant. Black people are exposed to 1.5 times more particulate matter than white people. Hispanics have about 1.2 times the exposure to particulates than non-Hispanic whites.
African Americans are hospitalized for asthma at three times the rate of white Americans. And, the death rate from asthma is 172% higher for African Americans than white Americans.
Among children, the results are even worse. According to the Centers for Disease Control, black children are twice as likely to have asthma as white children. And black children are 10 times more likely than white kids to die of complications from asthma.
And, that is not to mention increased birth defects, heart disease, lung disease, learning difficulties, and lower property values.
The average US household spends 4% of their income on energy costs, while low-income families spend 17% of their income.
African Americans spend around $40 billion on energy. Yet, 1.1% of energy jobs are held by African Americans. And, only .01% of energy revenue went to African Americans.
The Solutions Can Be the Problem
At one level, we have the solutions in hand. King Coal is dead. It is more expensive to generate electricity from coal than from either wind or solar.
Wind is the cheapest source of new electricity generation in Minnesota. The cost fell by 16% in one year.
The price of solar energy in Minnesota has declined 34% over the last five years.
LED lighting is energy efficient. Electric cars don’t emit CO2 from combustion.
However, as H. L. Mencken said, “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.”
The problems are systemic and complex. The solutions are at the systems level.
According to Ry Brennan, a doctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, “Solving the problems with our existing energy infrastructure requires creating resilient energy systems. These systems must be decentralized, diverse, and open to democratic deliberation. This change will require a dramatic remaking of our hard and soft energy infrastructures.”
A Call to Action
In this episode of Social Entrepreneur, Ry challenges us to think deeply about our electrical system. “Figure out how energy gets from the plant to your light switch. If you’re not happy about it, find out what people in your town are doing about it. If they’re not doing anything about it yet, ask if anyone wants to help you make some noise. If you are happy about it, share your community’s good idea with someone else.”
About Ry Brenna
Ry Brennan is a doctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where they study energy justice, infrastructure, environmental sociology, prison ecology, and democracy, especially as these themes and fields relate to energy decentralization. They are also a community organizer working in a range of different affinity groups with the simple ambition of ending oppression in all its forms to cultivate the flourishing of humans, non-human animals, and their ecosystems. They do nothing in their spare time because they have no spare time.