Climate change, social inequalities and cities

July 15, 2021

Studies are increasingly showing a connection between climate change and social inequality.

But a new study goes one step further by offering a roadmap for cities to address inequalities in energy use. The researchers provide a fine-grained method for measuring both income and racial disparities in energy use intensity that can be applied to a wide range of cities. 

The researchers compiled data from two cities: Tallahassee, Florida, and St. Paul, Minnesota. They found that households in low-income non-white neighborhoods report higher energy-use intensity. The data further suggest that this higher usage can be attributed to the lower energy efficiency of the buildings these populations typically inhabit, as well as lower participation in rebate programs. The study is especially important because the researchers applied a very fine-grained analysis of the data and were able to unravel the independent effects of race and income by partitioning the energy use of different racial groups within different income brackets.  

“We don’t think it’s only these two cities,” said Anu Ramaswami, Princeton’s Sanjay Swani ’87 Professor of India Studies and a professor of civil and environmental engineering and the High Meadows Environmental Institute. “These effects are probably happening everywhere.”

The work could guide the equitable distribution of rebates and other measures that decrease energy costs and increase efficiency.