Climate Change and Social Justice

Climate Change and Social Justice

Climate change is a global challenge, but it affects people in different ways. Some groups, such as Indigenous Peoples, people of colour and the low-income, are at a higher risk of suffering its impacts.

We have a responsibility to ensure that we are doing all we can to mitigate and adapt to climate change in the best way possible. That means ensuring that the climate crisis doesn’t make existing inequalities and injustices worse.

Disparities in Energy Access

Energy access is an issue that can disproportionately impact vulnerable communities, especially those in low-income and racial/ethnic minority neighborhoods. These communities often experience deferred infrastructure maintenance and a slow transition to clean energy systems, making it difficult for them to access affordable clean energy sources.

NREL is committed to expanding access to energy for all people and to addressing inequities. We support research, projects and partnerships that promote equity and justice in energy systems around the world.

Our researchers explore a variety of measures to address energy poverty and inequities, including income, socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, geography, education, employment, housing age and tenure type, and energy efficiency and conservation efforts.

We also examine energy use by household type, which reveals disparities across different economic classes and racial/ethnic groups. For example, we find that compared to homeowners, renters have higher energy costs, but a lower Nh value (Nh = 37 for homeowners versus Nh = 39 for renters).

Disparities in Health

In the United States, racial and ethnic disparities in health status are rooted in historical and ongoing institutional and societal structures, policies, practices, and norms that oppressively shape the experiences of groups and communities.

Disparities in the quality of health care and treatment, along with access to medical services, result in higher rates of illness, death, and disability among racial and ethnic minorities than Whites. Even when income, health insurance, and access to care are accounted for, disparities remain.

Many of these disparities are linked to socially constructed conditions and can be addressed through policy change and social interventions. For example, a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that improving social and economic opportunities can reduce chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer in some populations.

While addressing the root causes of disparities can be challenging, a wide range of policies are available that can help to close the gap in health care access and treatment for all Americans. These policies can include:

Disparities in Education

Education is an important lever for addressing many disparities, including those rooted in climate change. For example, higher levels of education for currently disadvantaged groups could lead to lower rates of disease and lower health care costs (Putnam 2015).

Disparities in access and outcomes to education by socioeconomic status, race, gender, and other factors are long-lasting and persist throughout students’ K-12 years and beyond (Coleman et al. 1966).

In addition, inequalities in the education system also have negative impacts on student outcomes, from test scores to graduation rates. These inequalities are especially large in the United States.

In order to address these disparities, states should eliminate the property tax as a key funding source, stop the expansion of charter and private schools that are unaffordable for all kids, and deprioritize test-based financing. These policies would reduce class inequalities and provide all students a fair share of the pie.

Disparities in Economic Opportunity

There are significant disparities in economic opportunity across the United States. These differences affect the ability of people of color and women to earn a living wage, access to credit, and their own economic growth.

These disparities are also tied to racialized wealth, which is concentrated in the hands of white Americans. This wealth was accumulated through a history of discrimination and slavery.

We can address these disparities by investing in programs that increase access and participation in the economy for Black workers, consumers, and business owners. This includes a focus on building community-driven strategies that promote diversity, equity, inclusion, and allyship.

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