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Researchers highlight how social inequity is part of climate crisis

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Posted at 10:35 AM, Jul 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-09 10:35:35-04

There are a lot of factors contributing to the climate crisis. Now, a group of researchers is highlighting how social inequity is part of that list.

The study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that people in poorer neighborhoods are paying more for electricity. Homes averaged 25 to 60% more energy use per square foot compared to wealthier homes.

Researchers studied St. Paul, Minnesota, and Tallahassee, Florida.

“We found that wealthier neighborhoods were predominantly white. The least wealthy neighborhoods had a diversity of, you know, white and nonwhite populations. But the most racially diverse neighborhoods tended to also be the poorest,” said Dr. Anu Ramaswami, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Princeton University.

Findings show a number of things lead to the increased energy use. The quality and age of a structure was a big one. Low-income housing often allowed for heat and cool air to escape.

Tree coverage also made a big difference. That's something the nonprofit American Forests recently looked at on a national scale. Data shows poorer neighborhoods had fewer trees to produce shade.

However, energy efficiency rebates from utility companies also played a role and may be the quickest way to enact change.

“And so, what it allows utilities to do is take a very data-driven approach to say, well, maybe I should look at why the participation rates are low and maybe it's low because they need more language assistance or something else. Maybe there's a cultural reason, maybe they need more neighborhood outreach,” said Dr. Ramaswami.

Dr. Ramaswami hopes the fine-scale data from this study can provide a framework for national spending, this as Congress works to approve new infrastructure and climate legislation.

Dr. Ramaswami also leads a research network called Sustainable Healthy Cities that's constantly working to share data to improve urban infrastructure.