Energy Justice & Access

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Energy justice should be reframed to understand hidden and distant energy injustices as they emerge from extraction, processing, transportation, and disposing of energy resources (Healy et al., 2019). It would be important to look at chains of energy injustice, such as the ones in the extraction differences between La Guajira, Colombia’s open-pit coal mine and Pennsylvania’s gas fracking, as generators of solidarity movements on national, regional, and global energy politics (Healy et al., 2019). Those who are further up or down the supply chains are not considered in socio-environmental energy justice and considering how fossil fuel extraction comes with many violations of human rights, human and ecological disasters can generate discussions on ‘consumer blindness’ in high-income countries as one of the factors reproducing these levels of energy injustices (Healy et al., 2019).

Several injustices produced by energy extraction pertain to water and air pollution, and landscape destruction (Healy et al., 2019). As such, it is crucial to recognize how energy decisions, projects, production and consumption may negatively impact the wellbeing of social realms and also influence how energy justices or injustices are distributed (Healy et al., 2019). When we think of energy injustices, then, we should think more specifically about how disparate environmental contamination, environmental health disparities, or subsistence severance relate to construction, emissions, imported goods, climate regulations, as sources of both energy access and energy justice (Healy et al., 2019). Energy injustices are universal and do not exist simply within single country contexts (Healy et al., 2019). Looking at local injustices and thinking about them through a COVID-19 framework, one should ask what kind of injustices specifically related to the extraction, production, distribution, and consumption of energy are being exacerbated during and as a product of the pandemic?

In terms of energy access, reflections should be made on the intersection between energy access (or lack thereof) and the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact (Puliti, 2020). As has been highlighted since the pandemic began, electricity is needed for individuals to conduct work or schooling while confined to their homes (Puliti, 2020). Where electricity does not reach or is not installed, COVID-19 can seriously endanger populations (Puliti, 2020). There is no time like the present that is more apt at highlighting how essential energy (particularly electricity) systems and services are needed to provide care and maintain social distancing (Puliti, 2020). Energy access should mostly be thought of as the provider of health and sanitation services but it should also allow for governments to serve its most vulnerable populations and guarantee access to provide safety nets to poorer households (Puliti, 2020). For example, in sub-Saharan Africa remote learning is still a far concept, where only 43% of the population is connected to electricity (Puliti, 2020). Because many Africans lack access to clean cooking technology, they may be exposed to household pollution and are vulnerable to respiratory illnesses that put them at higher risks of contracting COVID-19 and pneumonia (Puliti, 2020). In this sense, energy access intersects with concepts of energy vulnerability. Some research questions to look into are: how is energy access, and its emergent insecurities, being exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic? What insecurities or negative impacts does lacking energy access reproduce or exacerbate?  How are different energy technologies differentially vulnerable to pandemics like COVID-19? What sorts of energy-related problems are imagined to be in/solvable with or through the development of new technologies?  How have the logistics of efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 been complicated by landscapes soiled by enduring legacies of energy pollution?

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May 20, 2020 - 1:02pm

Critical Commentary

This text discusses the literature at the intersection of energy justice, energy access, and the COVID-19 pandemic.