Human-caused climate change and the war in Ukraine are fruit of the same tree: fossil fuels.
With Russia being the world’s largest natural gas exporter and second largest exporter of crude oil (behind the US), Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will send shock waves to economic conditions worldwide. With gas markets more global and more commoditized, US natural gas prices in 2021 experienced growth that led to 35% inflation in energy prices. As many have already seen and felt, energy prices in general have increased causing communities experiencing high energy burdens to fall further into energy poverty. Energy burden is the percentage of household income spent on utility costs. Households across the US face a high energy burden if they pay more than 6% of their income on energy bills, and are severely energy burdened if paying over 10% of their income on utility bills. Energy burden is particularly notable for its spillover impact on health, wealth, and housing:
A third of American households skipped a meal or medicines in the past year to pay a utility bill
The number one reason people take out a short term loan like a payday loan is to pay a utility bill
Energy burden has been a leading indicator of evictions and displacement and is correlated with negative affordable housing outcomes
As the US also experiences national security and defense pressures to export more natural gas to Europe making up for the loss of Russian supplies alongside the lingering price effects from 2021, global energy prices will likely feel upward pressure, with short run impacts growing as international economic sanctions against Russia grow due to its invasion of Ukraine.
Given the core necessity and dependence on fossil fuels in maintaining a high quality of life in most American households, these price outcomes are likely to exacerbate energy burdens across the nation. And as with most things, those already struggling will be impacted the most.
The long-term consequences of Russia’s war in Ukraine not only impact Europe’s energy supply, but also our energy supply across the US. Halting Russian oil and natural gas imports to the US would create market pressures to increase prices which in turn would exacerbate energy burdens already felt in vulnerable communities across the country.
With the current state of the world, it is evident more than ever before that reliance on fossil fuels is not only environmentally destructive and unsustainable, but also politically unstable, a threat to our national security, and harms equitable development efforts. Wars like this one will continue to destroy economies and livelihoods as long as we remain dependent on these fuels.
Using tools such as the Greenlink Equity Map can help community leaders and policy makers understand how energy inequities are spread across neighborhoods in the US and where some of our biggest opportunities to move away from fossil fuels lie. GEM is an online map allowing the visualization and analysis of over 30 equity related issues at the census tract level. Having access to accurate environmental and equity data significantly advances community collaboration in achieving climate and social justice for a new way forward in the wake of global wars and economic instability.