Problem Identification

Recognition of the Problem

Fuel Poverty

According to the UNDP, inequality in energy accessibility is highly correlated with low human development. This is in part because energy is required to develop, innovate and grow.  In 2016, the United Nations created a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals to achieve by 2030. The seventh goal is to achieve affordable and clean energy for all (UN SDG 7). Many of these development goals interact and overlap, and the seventh goal is no exception. As a result of creating accessible, resilient and clean energy for all gender inequality, education, health, and many others can be improved. Recently, there has been focus on the clean aspect of energy sources. Newer technologies like wind and solar power have begun to push out polluting and climate change causing fossil fuels. However, much less focus has been taken on the accessibility and resiliency of these energy sources. The effects of climate change has begun to increase frequency and intensity of storms, has raised sea levels and destroyed lands through droughts. It is therefore vital to continue to strengthen the infrastructure of nations through resilient energy sources. Additionally, rural and low income populations are more at risk to the effects of climate change and therefore should be provided necessary tools like energy access to continue to adapt.

Fuel Poverty is used to describe a situation in which electricity access is limited and therefore forces the use of solid biomass to fuel stoves and meet household energy needs. Utilizing this definition, about 1.2 billion people are in fuel poverty. Poor People’s Energy Outlook in 2010 describes this poverty as a three pronged issue. First, as a form of poverty: lack of energy access stunts the growth of people and communities. Second, as an outcome of poverty: limited financial resources can only buy inexpensive and less efficient energy sources. Finally, this fuel poverty is a cause of poverty: it perpetuates the limited growth in human potential by restricting educational learning, health and innovation capabilities.

The Problem: Domestically

The issue of energy inaccessibility is still present in high income countries, especially the United States. The problems were brought to light recently as a result of several tropical storms that affected Puerto Rico, Texas and even Hurricane Sandy that affected New York and New Jersey. These storms, worsened by the rising sea level as a result of global climate change, have shown the vulnerability of the electricity grid in low income areas. Populations were  left without access to energy for several weeks following the storms and in some cases left people without clean drinking water, heat and in the case of hospitals, necessary medical equipment. While these storms also affected high income areas, financial stability and excess income allowed easier recovery. The effects of climate change will continue to worsen and it is necessary for the United States to build up resiliency to the changes, especially in regards to low-income population’s access to energy.

The Problem: Internationally

In rural parts of less developed countries, families rely on wood burning stoves to cook their food, and boil water. Often these stoves are located inside their house and result in a smoke filled area that is detrimental to all who live in the house. Usually, the effects of this smoke disproportionately affects women and children as they are often present inside the house and usually help with the cooking. The use of these stoves that cause such problematic health effects are a result of limited access to energy sources. In order to address an issue that faces more than 3 billion people per year, an accessible, affordable and reliable solution must be created

My Actions:

Awareness and acceptance of a problem is the first step to solving the issue. By contributing to this blog, I hope to increase awareness of this issue by providing well supported and researched examples. Additionally, by using the definition of sustainability that we have developed in my class:

Something is sustainable if it’s initiatives, actions or impacts serve to meet the social and economic needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own through:

  1. reducing resource use, encouraging re-use, and minimizing waste while protecting and restoring the health of natural systems and biodiversity, reducing pollution, and addressing global climate change
  2. equitable economic development that empowers people to meet their own needs rather than exploiting them
  3. an elevated and dignified standard of human well-being for all people including but not limited to improved health and access to basic human rights.

Best practices for meeting these objectives include using an inclusive, transparent process; that employs systems thinking; encourages individual action; and assessment using measurable indicators.

I will evaluate possible solutions to address this issue on their sustainability. This project will be over the course of three months.

Photo Pictured: Brycegray. “In Nicaragua, Improving Respiratory Health Starts at the Hearth.” Medill Reports Chicago. March 16, 2015. Accessed February 02, 2019. https://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/in-nicaragua-improving-respiratory-health-starts-at-the-hearth/.

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