By Ingrid Wadman
As part of Bristol Healthy City Week 2016, Bristol Energy Network held a panel discussion on health inequalities and climate change. Simon Roberts from Centre for Sustainable Energy (CSE) was the chair for the evening and Sado Jirde from Black South West Network and Laurie King from The Bristol Pound were invited to the panel.
To introduce the topic, Simon exposed some alarming facts on energy inequality in the UK, which can be read in full in the report “Distribution of carbon emissions in the UK: implications for domestic energy policy” by CSE.
One remarkable fact was that the top 10% earners emit more than three times as much CO2 as the bottom 10% earners. Yet, the top earners benefit most from energy policies and get a larger reduction on their energy bills, actually 12% compared to 7% for the bottom earners. Enhancing the inequality, the top earners spend on average 1,3% of their income on fuel, whilst the comparable figure for the bottom earners is 10%.
A problem relating to fuel poverty is the health risk of people living in cold homes. NICE (the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence) reveals that the death rate rises with 2,8% for a 1°C decrease of the external temperature in the coldest 10% homes, compared to 0,9% in the warmest 10% homes. As a reaction to this, there is a new policy coming into place to make the health sector consider the living conditions of people with illnesses relating to cold homes, to change the focus from treatment to prevention of poor health.
Lastly, Simon recommended the website climatejust.org.uk where you can have a look at the vulnerability of your own local area to climate change impacts.
The following panel discussion focused on inclusion, with Sado introducing the topic by talking about the need to improve communication with vulnerable communities. The climate change debate has generally excluded people from these communities, who are actually worst off by the consequences. This has led to many people not realising that their behaviour has an impact on climate change. For many people in these communities, saving energy is not a prioritised issue, since there are much more urgent issues. Therefore, it is essential to provide easily accessible information and to consider this shortage of time when designing projects. Further, to create a successful project it is important to focus on solving things together with the community and to value the knowledge and experience the community can provide and to genuinely let people’s voices come through.
Following the same topic, Laurie talked about how the Bristol Pound supports inclusion. By opening up an account with Bristol Credit Union, you can help the local economy and thereby support a lot of people’s lives. There are also environmental benefits that comes with spending money in the local economy, such as reducing food miles and it leads to business to business connections when local shops need to find local suppliers. Since small companies usually have a flatter structure, spending money locally can reduce the wage gap. Choosing where we spend is at least one way of having an impact.
The evening ended with a workshop where we discussed in smaller groups over the topics local economy, inclusion and housing. The inclusion group discussed the importance of being culturally relevant. For instance, to not recommend crowdfunding to people who don’t have access to internet and to choose exhibitions in art spaces that are relevant for the people you want to come and visit. The local economy group discussed how community hubs could provide a space for discussion and services to connect. Another idea that came up was that students could connect to impact landlords on energy issues. Finally, the housing group discussed how we could take something that we learned from the event back home and we came up with personal goals on how to have an impact.
About the author
I’m a MSc student studying environmental policy and management at University of Bristol and I will be posting about activities in Bristol Energy Network, as a way to spread the word about community energy projects. I’m sure there are people out there who would be interested in getting involved in projects and I hope this blog will bring some inspiration to you.