Energy insecurity has negatively impacted health and the environment

The renewable energy economy is out of reach for many households.


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Energy insecurity can have important implications for health and health equity. Many long-standing programs to address energy insecurity need to be refreshed in light of climate change, the recognition of unacceptable disparities, and the impending transition to clean energy.

Many long-standing programs to combat energy insecurity must be renewed in light of climate change and the imminent transition to clean energy.

A new article published in Health Affairs examines the links between energy instability and poor health, emphasizing the financial difficulties experienced by low-income households.

The average American household spends 3.1% of its income on energy, whereas low-income households spend up to 8.1%. Because of this financial difficulty, more resources are needed for other fundamental requirements such as housing, food, clothing, child care, medical expenditures, digital access, and transportation.

Disconnection of electric or gas service is seen as the tipping point of energy insecurity, with roughly 15% of homes receiving at least one disconnection notice in the previous year.

Energy insecurity has physical, economic, and coping components, indicating financial hardship, concerns with housing quality, and adaptive tactics used to manage exorbitant bills and substandard living circumstances. Over 30 million U.S. families were energy insecure as of 2020, with low-income and minority households being disproportionately affected.

Structural racism, poor housing conditions, inflation, climate change, and the clean energy transition exacerbate energy insecurity.

Hernandez, who is also managing director of the Energy Opportunities Lab’s Domestic Program at the Center for Global Energy Policy in Columbia’s School of International and Policy Affairs, said, Energy insecurity or the “inability to adequately meet basic household energy needs has profound implications for health and health equity, Energy insecurity encompasses much more than electricity, gas, or other power sources used for lighting, cooling, and heating. Instead, there are three primary dimensions of energy insecurity the physical, economic, and coping, which reflect financial hardship, housing quality issues, and the adaptive strategies people use to manage unaffordable bills and poor living conditions.”

Hernandez highlights the following:

1) By 2020, more than 30 million U.S. families will be energy insecure.

2)Energy insecurity disproportionately affects low-income households and those made up of people of color.

3) Structural racism, substandard housing, inflation, climate change, and the shift to sustainable energy all contribute to and increase energy insecurity.

4) Energy insecurity has a negative impact on physical and mental health and can be fatal.

5) Policy and programmatic measures are available to minimize and eliminate energy insecurity.

According to Dr. Hernandez from Columbia University, home renters, rural dwellers, residents of houses built before 1980 with inadequate insulation, and people living in the Northeast and Southern regions, as well as mobile home occupants and households with children, had a higher risk of experiencing energy insecurity than those with an elderly resident. “The latter is due, in part, to senior shutoff protections.”

Recent worldwide occurrences, like the COVID-19 epidemic, global social upheaval, and the Ukraine war, may encourage additional investments in renewable energy. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences Centre for Environmental Health and Justice in Northern Manhattan contributed to the policy brief.

The conclusion shows that Energy insecurity has been hidden for decades. However, recent events such as climate change, COVID-19, and Ukraine have brought it to light, emphasizing the importance of tackling and addressing its negative health implications.

Journal Reference:

  1. Diana Hernández, et al. Energy Insecurity And Health: America’s Hidden Hardship. Health Affairs. DOI: 10.1377/hpb20230518.472953/full/


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