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Key Concepts for Energy Equity and Public Health

Learning Objectives
1. Identify health problems exacerbated by climate change
2. Describe why some communities are impacted by climate change more than others
3. List some of the causes of heat islands
1 Credit
Video 1
The Communities Most Affected by Climate Change

Climate change exacerbates health inequities, disproportionately harming the most vulnerable among us. This video examines how climate change impacts specific groups and communities, highlighting which groups are most vulnerable and what steps can be taken to improve conditions in affected communities.

Video 2
Structural Racism and Climate Change

Structural racism, especially the historic practice of redlining, has resulted in many Black and low-income neighborhoods experiencing energy burden, energy injustice, and other barriers to maintaining good public health. This video will elaborate on this crucial phenomenon.

Video 3
Heat Islands

The concept of Heat Islands is a crucial example of how energy inequity targets and affects low-income and primarily Black communities, causing a variety of health problems. Understanding Heat Islands will improve any physician's big-picture view of climate change and its effects on public health.

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The Communities Most Affected by Climate Change

[0:00] This video will introduce physicians to the effects of climate change on public health, and which communities carry most of the burden.

[0:08] Climate change exacerbates health inequities, disproportionately harming the most vulnerable among us. Climate vulnerability can be inherent for groups such as children and pregnant women, the aged and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses who may need assistance accessing resources evacuating during a storm. They are also more likely to have preexisting conditions that are made worse by the extreme heat or increased air pollution that results from climate change.

[0:40] Climate vulnerability can also be circumstantial, like for outdoor workers that have a harder time finding relief during heat waves.

[0:49] But often climate vulnerability is the result of a lack of access to resources and power due to barriers like structural racism. People that deal with this type of vulnerability include some communities of color, indigenous people and tribal communities, immigrants, people with low income, and marginalized people of all races and ethnicities.

[1:13] Difficulty in accessing the political, economic, social and environmental resources that enable people to cope with climate threats, such as extreme heat and natural disasters, and in some cases, lack of investment in communities can contribute to a potentially unmanageable energy burden as climate change worsens.

[1:34] US communities that lack accessible affordable household energy services often have poor health, fewer educational and economic opportunities, limited political representation, and inadequate access to health care.

[1:51] One potential way to improve energy access is increased investment in renewable energy sources. As climate change worsens, alternative energies such as solar or wind are becoming competitive at similar or even lower prices than fossil fuels, like coal and natural gas, and could help fill some of those gaps in access.

[2:13] Alongside community leaders public health professionals have a role to play in monitoring, evaluating and supporting this transition to a healthier energy supply. A thoughtful energy transition provides opportunities for mitigating climate change and promoting health equity at the same time.

[2:34] Energy insecurity, an inability to adequately meet basic household energy needs, such as gas, appliances, plumbing, heating and cooling.

[2:45] In 2020, 27% of US households reported difficulty paying energy bills, or maintaining adequate heating and cooling in their homes. One in five households reported reducing or forgoing basic necessities like food and medicine to pay an energy bill. 10% of households reported keeping their home at an unhealthy or unsafe temperature.

[3:12] Energy justice is the principle that all people should have a reliable, safe and affordable source of energy. The health of low income, chronically ill, indigenous and communities of color are the most impacted by climate change. Continue to the next course for broader context and some clear ways to help the situation

Structural Racism and Climate Change

[0:00] This video will elaborate on the many ways structural racism has forced low income, primarily Black and brown communities to endure the brunt of health issues caused by climate change.

[0:13] In the same way that climate change disproportionately affects certain populations energy is a health equity issue. For over 60 years, the environmental justice movement has raised awareness that people of color, and low-income communities often bear the brunt of brown environmental issues. Meanwhile, white and more affluent communities enjoy green environmental benefits.

[0:40] Green benefits come from investments and things like vegetation, shade trees, parks, cool pavements, and surfaces that reflect heat instead of absorbing it, choices that put people in their health first.

[0:56] Brown conditions like lower air quality, industry center development, and toxic pollution come from deferring to fossil fuel interests and ignoring the negative environmental effects or effects on public health.

[1:11] In the context of the energy sector, race even more than class is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country. Housing in general is one of the best known and most well documented social determinants of health. The affordability, location, and quality of housing all have been independently linked to health.

[1:34] For example, households without access to hot water, quality ventilation, or proper food storage, are prone to bug infestations, mold, infections, and long-term health issues like asthma.

[1:47] On top of this, it is important to acknowledge the effect that historical practices of redlining and discriminatory mortgage lending have had on our nation. Black and brown communities were specifically singled out as unsafe investments in the 1950s. And the lack of both public and private investment in infrastructure continues to this day.

[2:10] Energy equity, fair distribution of benefits and burdens from energy production and consumption.

[2:17] Energy equity requires equitable distribution of risks and hazards as well as available and affordable energy sources. While unfamiliar to many residents, equity centered energy and utility policies significantly enhance household economic stability, and improve the overall quality of air, water and other natural resources that affect our health and wellbeing.

[2:44] Working directly with communities to build their capacity around energy planning and decision making is key to advancing equity, environmental justice, all people in communities have the right to equal environmental protection under the law, and the right to live, work and play in communities that are safe, healthy and free of life-threatening conditions.

[3:06] Environmental Justice is often associated with environmental racism, in which whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, actions and decisions results in a disproportionate exposure of people of color to environmental hazards and environmental health burdens.

[3:25] Just to transition, a set of principles and practices focused on changing the energy industry from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources, which ensures workers' rights and offers economic opportunities for affected communities. This cultural as well as economic shift emphasizes sustainability in the face of climate change.

[3:48] Now that we've covered some of the top contributing factors to climate change related health inequity, the next video we'll elaborate on a more detailed phenomenon called heat islands.

Heat Islands

[0:02] Heat islands have a major impact on low-income communities. This video will give you a full overview of the health impacts of extreme heat and the urban heat island phenomenon.

[0:14] Treeless streets, seas of heat absorbing pavement, and lack of green spaces in many urban areas are major contributors to what are known as heat islands, cities that experience higher temperatures than outlying areas. This heat island effect leads to increased energy consumption, air pollution levels, and heat related illnesses and mortality.

[0:38] Hospitalizations due to heatstroke are more likely to occur in these areas. And the physiological stress on the body due to high temperatures can exacerbate some of the top causes of death globally, including respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and renal disease.

[0:59] Heat is not distributed evenly across a city. Many people of color and low-income communities in urban areas are exposed to higher temperatures in their neighborhoods. This is because they have been excluded from infrastructure investments for things like green spaces, which are critical in cooling urban heat islands through a process called evapotranspiration when water is transferred into the atmosphere, through evaporation from the soil, and by transpiration from plants.

[1:30] Without green spaces and other adaptive solutions, neighborhoods will continue to get hotter and hotter, impacting not only the health of the residents, but also financially straining an already overburdened community.

[1:44] Residents who rent their property lack the long-term incentive to invest in costly air conditioning units for short term residents. In most states, there is no law requiring landlords to provide air conditioning the way they must provide heat. This places renters at a higher risk through ongoing racial discrimination, and worsening climate change.

[2:07] Communities of color face increasingly impossible tradeoffs when managing the cost of their undue energy burden, and other household needs.

[2:16] Energy burden the proportion of a households monthly income that is spent on home energy costs. Low-income households often face an energy burden that is three times higher than other households.

[2:30] Heat equity, the development of policies and practices that mitigate heat islands and help people adapt to the impacts of extreme heat in a way that reduces the inequitable distribution of risks across different populations within the same urban area.

[2:48] Understanding heat islands and their effect on individual health will make any physician more prepared to help patients from these types of backgrounds.

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