Can energy poverty lead to sustainable living?

της Αντωνίας Κρυστάλλη,

How the economic crisis triggered sustainable living in Athens.

The economic crisis that has been upon our country since 2008 has changed the Greek lifestyle in various ways. Since the very beginning, the most affected, by the crisis, part of Greece was its capital, Athens, with its citizens having to make effective alterations on the way they spent their income. Among them was the amount of money each household had to spend on energy, such as heating oil and electricity. Since having to cut down on energy expenses, the majority of people tried to find alternative, more economical, resources to replace the existing ones.

In this essay, it is important to explore how the economic crisis affected the energy consumption habits of Athenians, as well as, what other sources of energy appeared in their life. Through data we can find answers to the questions above and, at the same time, understand how law enforcement works, which legislation would be the most effective in the case of Athens and the problems this region is facing. In my opinion, the minimization of energy consumption in Attica can be done by identifying energy-poor households/regions. In this way, we could provide aid to those in need and with financial incentives for those who have a more flexible income. Simultaneously, it is of profound essence to raise awareness through education and campaigns, in order to ensure the cooperation of citizens with the government’s future plans on the matter.

Reading up on the bibliography, we see that some questions are more persistent than others, focusing the analysis on specific areas of interest. To start with, multiple questions arise on how the economic crisis and the regression of household income have changed the energy consumption and how the latter was affected by the introduction of different sources of energy, such as gas and photovoltaics in the Greek community. It is also investigated how imports and exports affect the carbon footprint of our country, as well as how fast the supply and manufacturing sector react to the changes in the field of energy. In addition, a lot of attention is drawn to the ways that governments measure energy poverty, identify the most vulnerable people and act in order to support them (Ntaintasis, 2019 and Bouzarovski,2017). Last but not least, there is an extended analysis of health issues regarding the damage caused by air pollution in Athens, answering to how many years of our lives are “lost”, because of how much we are exposed to this environmental problem (Kassomenos, 2013).

Having a look at the statistics available, we assume that during 1995-2008 the elevated carbon footprint in Athens was attributed to the economic growth, while in 2008, after imposing legislation over renewable sources of energy mainly to the manufacturing sector of the country, a 38% fall on the general carbon footprint is noticed. The response of the supply sector was instant, as it is considered to be a vulnerable sector to changes in the economic variables (Markaki, 2017). At the same time, 50% of the houses were built during the 80 ́s – where insulation was minimum to non existing -, while, in the period between 2010-2017, households’ ́average income was declined by 35% with the prices on fuels for space heating radically increased (Ntaintasis, 2019).

Moreover, there are some aspects of energy poverty, social inequalities and climate change that should still be under more investigation. As far the climate change is concerned, it is important to study upon data on how the Greek government and the public investments on energy were affected by the economic crisis, as well as what regulations were made because of the extended damage of the environment in the region of Attica. Another interesting aspect of research is the level of education that people have, focusing on the population of the declared energy-poor areas.

In this way, an analysis with political and historical context is presented, where geography and history can partly reveal the ongoing circumstances that keep away some specific areas and parts of the population from evolving. In the end, I would be intrigued to assess the impact that social media and trends have on the behavior of people who are of a lower income, their way of communicating their energy inefficiency as well as how open they are on receiving help from public services and charity.

A paper and any scientific research on that matter, in order to be considered valid and accountable for further surveys, has to identify the specific parameters that are the most valuable for each case. Concerning climate change and energy poverty as well as applying the environmental justice frame that can be built around this problem, the true variables that should be under the microscope are revealed. The prices of the different sources of energy, as well as the income of households, are two critical parameters in categorizing the type of the household. According to data, the proximity of houses located to mountains and to areas that are proven to be energy-poor should also be taken into consideration as they are considered to lack insulation and most of the time they do not follow the practice of central heating. Another variable that should also be examined is the minimum amount of energy every household requires. How their lifestyle is shaped and what are the needs that should be fulfilled so that people in that household live sufficiently. All in all, each and every one of the aforementioned parameters should be able to define how vulnerable every Athenian house is to energy poverty, information that can help to target and providing for those in need the essential changes, turning their lifestyle from what it is to what it should be.

Having that in mind, the process of identifying the vulnerability and needs of households as well as the government’s responsibility towards them should be integrated into a specific environmental justice framework, so that the most suitable policy is proposed. In this way, evaluating the elements of claim-making by finding relevant evidence and examine them, overlooking the legislation enforcement and providing access and participation in the decision-making process to citizens would be a way to ensure justice among civilians. In addition, avoiding modernization of specific situations and dealing with misrecognition is a way to ensure justice as recognition, cope with social stigmatization and make sure that environmental racism is not part of any environmental legislation. Furthermore, it is important to have in mind the concept of both distributional justice (Walker, 2012) and environmental debt (Agyeman, 2017) when introducing new legislation, because risks and resources should be distributed according to the structural imbalances of our community.

In this part of the paper, it is useful to compare these findings with the very recent energy crisis that Pakistan dealt with (Aman, 2017). In 2017 the country of Pakistan came against an electricity power problem, where the electricity distribution system could not bear with the load. Hence a big part of the population did not have access to this source of energy. This fact triggered scientists to come up with solutions. After data analysis, technical findings as well as damage control they provided ways so that Pakistan not only overcame this unfortunate crisis but also evolved on the field of energy production on a global scale. The huge resources that this country has in renewable energy, such as wind, solar power, and biogas can (with the appropriate technology) replace thermal power fuel and mark a path to a more sustainable way of producing and consuming power among their nation.

To sum up, the economic crisis affected on a great scale the way Athenians understand and manage the available resources of energy. According to surveys, they minimized energy consumption, eventually limiting their carbon footprint. However, climate change is still an eminent problem for our country and especially for Athens, where levels of pollution seem to be higher than ever. Uncountable health problems and social decline are some of the challenges that the state has to face in order to overcome the problem of energy poverty in the long run. Can the government deal alone with such a political and economic problem? Is law enforcement the only way for people to understand and act against climate change? Is it that Athenians don’t realize how extensively damaged the environment around them is or is it that there is no effective legal framework supporting any lifestyle change?

REFERENCES

  1. Markaki M., Belegri-Roboli, A., Sarafidis, Y., & Mirasgedis, S. (2017). The carbon footprint of Greek households (1995–2012). [online] Energy Policy, Elsevier, 100 (C), p. 206–215, DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2016.10.031. Available here [Accessed 08 Jan. 2020].
  2. Ntaintasis E., Mirasgedis S. & Tourkolias C. (2019). «Comparing different methodological approaches for measuring energy poverty: Evidence from a survey in the region of Athens, Greece. [online] Energy Policy, Elsevier, 125, p. 160-169, DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2018.10.048. Available here [Accessed 08 Jan. 2020].
  3. Kassomenos P.A., Dimitriou K. & Paschalidou A.K. (2013). Human health cause by particulate matter PM10 and ozone in urban environments: the case of Athens, Greece. [online] Environ Monit Assess, 185 (8), p. 6933-6942, DOI : 10.1007/s10661-013-3076-8. Available here [Accessed 08 Jan. 2020].
  4. Bouzarovski S. & Simcock N. (2017). Spatializing energy justice. [online] Energy Policy, Elsevier, 107, p. 640-648, DOI:10.1016.j.enpol.2017.03.064. Available here [Accessed 08 Jan. 2020].
  5. (ed.) Julian Agyeman, Robert D. Bullard & Bob Evans, (2003). Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World. MIT Press.
  6. Gordon Walker, (2012). Environmental Justice: Concepts, Evidence and Politics. Routledge.
  7. Aman M.A., Sanaullah A., Munir M. & Ali, (2017). Solutions of Current Energy Crisis for Pakistan. [online] IQRA National University, Pakistan, DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.30226.56002. Available here [Accessed 08 Jan. 2020].
  8. Dagoumas A., Kitsios F. (2014). Assessing the impact of the economic crisis on energy poverty in Greece. [online] Sustainable cities and society, 13, p. 267-278, DOI: 10.1016/j.scs.2014.02.004. Available here [Accessed 08 Jan. 2020].

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