Ending the Energy-Poverty Nexus: An Ethical Imperative for Just Transitions

Journal Article
Science and Engineering Ethics, vol. 28, iss. 4, 2022
Saurabh Biswas, Angel Echevarria, Nafeesa Irshad, Yiamar Rivera-Matos, Jennifer Richter, Nalini Chhetri, Mary Jane Parmentier, Clark A. Miller
AbstractArguments for a just transition are integral to debates about climate change and the drive to create a carbon-neutral economy. There are currently two broad approaches rooted in ethics and justice for framing just energy transitions. The first can be described as internal to the transition and emphasizes the anticipation, assessment, and redressing of harms created by the transition itself and the inclusion in transition governance of groups or communities potentially harmed by its disruptions. In this article, we propose a second approach to ethics and justice in an energy transition, which we describe as systemic or societal in scope. This approach complements attention to the proximate dynamics and impacts of the transition process with a focus on the distant societal and economic outcomes the transition brings into being and how they compare to conditions prior to the transition. It poses the question: do the transformative social, economic, and technological changes wrought by energy systems create more just societies and economies, or do they instead reinforce or recreate long-standing injustices and inequalities? We illustrate this approach with an assessment of one of the most significant existing forms of energy injustice: the energy-poverty nexus. We argue that the energy-poverty nexus reflects configurations of socio-energy systems that create complex, extractive feedbacks between energy insecurity and economic insecurity and, over time, reinforce or exacerbate poverty. We further argue that just energy transitions should work to disentangle these configurations and re-design them so as to create generative rather than extractive feedbacks, thus ending the energy-poverty nexus and creating long-term outcomes that are more just, equitable, and fair.