Inequalities and Climate Change

Based on a meta-study on Climate Change and Social Inequality, climate change has been found to have a greater negative impact on disadvantaged groups. Through inequities that are already present within a community, these effects of climate change will be amplified to a significant degree. This means that those who are poor or disadvantage in a community are more likely to feel the weight of climate change consequences when compared to wealthier community members.  This happens in three major ways: 

  • Increase in the exposure to climate hazards
  • Increase in the susceptibility to damage caused by climate hazards
  • Decrease in the ability to cope with and recover from the damage 

These can be expressed in the following example:

Athens Burden Graphic-Page-1 (2)

A low income family that lives in less energy efficient housing may be paying high energy bills due to older appliances, insulation, etc. Climate change and increasing utility rates may also contribute to high energy bills. The high energy bills could create high energy burdens on the family, where they are paying 6% or more of their monthly income on their electricity and gas bills. According to a recent study, paying utility bills is the most common reason that people use short term loan products (Levy, R., and J. Sledge. 2012. A Complex Portrait: An Examination of Small-Dollar Credit Consumers. Chicago: Center for Financial Services Innovation.), which could intensify financial burdens on families due to high interest rates and perpetuate the energy burden cycle.  

Identifying and Addressing Inequalities

Within Athens- Clarke County, two major areas of inequity exist: energy burden and housing affordability. Through the Clean and Renewable Action Plan, we will work in a manner to redress historical inequities in the community by:

  • Developing a workforce in the energy efficiency and renewable energy sector
  • Facilitate energy efficiency upgrades
  • Present opportunities for clean transportation
  • Prioritize renewable energy installations in low-income communities

Energy Burden 

This video explains an overview of what Energy Burden is, and how it relates to Athens. You can click on the cube button on the bottom right of the video to enter "Full Screen Mode". 

One critical component of an equitable clean energy transition is understanding how energy policies will impact people’s day to day life. This includes people’s utility bills and energy burden, which is the amount of money a household pays for electricity and gas bills. 

Across the United States, households on average spend about 3% of their annual income toward their energy bills. If a household is spending more than 6% of their annual income on energy bills, that is considered a high energy burden. A household that spends more than 10% of their annual income on energy bills is considered to be in energy poverty

Georgia Scale:

Energy is an equity issue in Georgia, as high energy bills contribute to health problems and trap families in a cycle of poverty. Programs offering energy efficiency upgrades and community solar remain largely unavailable or otherwise inaccessible for the families who need them the most to reduce their high utility bills. Families who rent, live in multifamily affordable housing, or otherwise cannot afford the often high upfront costs of energy efficiency and solar. 

Athens Scale:

Final Energy Burden Graphic

Athens-Clarke County residents have some of highest rates of electricity burden in Georgia.The average energy burden for Athens-Clarke county is about 7%, however some households in the County spend upwards of 30% of their income towards energy bills every year.  This is 2x higher than the national average and the average energy burden in the State of Georgia, which is 5%. 

Energy Burden Maps

The two maps above, created by Greenlink Analytics, showcase the electrical and gas burden that is present within Athens. Energy burden mapping can be helpful in multiple ways: identifying where critical community engagement on clean energy would be beneficial and helping decision makers and community members center equitable pathway towards clean energy that focus on how clean energy policies and programs will impact residents’ energy burden. There are many ways clean energy work could move forward to decrease high energy burdens for more vulnerable communities: investments in residential energy efficiency and community solar can reduce energy burden and increase home comfort, all while creating jobs and stimulating a local economy.

Housing Affordability + Energy Efficiency:

Energy efficiency has several positive impacts on housing affordability including:

  • Generating savings that families can use to supplement income and cover other expenses.
  • Reducing financial burdens related to utility disconnections, debt collection proceedings, and re-connection fees.
  • Preserving wealth for low to moderate income homeowners by increasing property values and extending the life of a property. 
  • Improving home air-tightness, which the Athens Well-being Project found has a direct local impact on respiratory illness in the community

Efficiency Savings (1)

This image represents the dollars lost from houses with poor insulation and age, versus houses with proper insulation where dollars can be saved.