Due to various historic reasons, the residents most affected are often low to moderate income households or people of color. They suffer the brunt of our unsustainable practices, either the “drill-baby-drill” or the “produce-consume-waste” models. This is why lot of groups have been raising awareness about so-called environmental racism. The term is scary, it speaks to unhealed wounds, and unfortunately summarizes the reality pretty well. A responsible society cannot turn a blind eye on the social dimension of environmental impacts.
Not only are these communities often disadvantaged, they are also shut out of the clean energy revolution that is sweeping our nation. In fact, if we truly care about the environment, we need to make sure that solutions are inclusive and suitable for every demographic group. Until now though, most answers to environmental issues have not targeted the whole population equally, thereby perpetuating the foundations to environmental racism. It’s clear that we can’t go on like this.
Let’s take for example clean, renewable energy generation. Although its price has decreased consistently, it continues to be considered a luxury service, for which you have to pay a premium price. That market has targeted the affluent or at least those in the middle class. As if avoiding pollution is a treat that some of us can indulge in. As if not getting asthma or lung cancer would be a service for fortunate ones. How did we happen to accept the idea that this is the way it should be? Does clean energy really have to be more expensive than dirty fossil fuels or nuclear power? I don’t think so.
Similarly, getting solar onto the rooftop of a household is another “niche” market. Pretty much any solar installation implies that the homeowner has a good credit score, a roof in good condition (new or refurbished), south oriented, not shaded, and most of the times the upfront capital to spend. It’s definitely not something that a person with a working class wage can afford. It’s also not for people that live in apartments or rent a house. Because of these prerequisites, we believe, only a household with stable assets and good income could take advantage of solar.
Now, don’t misunderstand me: those who have already chosen clean energy are helping the environment, the climate and the society they live in. They should be applauded. Now we need to step up and create a marketplace in which everyone can participate. In fact, this is all about to change in Maryland, as it has already happened in other states (Massachusetts, Colorado, and Minnesota are the best examples so far).
Part 2 of this post can be read here!
We also had the pleasure to publish this article on Progressive Maryland blog.