Centering Equity in the Discussion on Green Energy

Digital Landscape
A digital artwork portrays a city running on renewable energy, trees amidst the buildings and windmills in the foreground. Photo Courtesy of IRM India

“Equity is different from equality, and often the two get conflated,” explained Humaira Falkenberg. While equity “parses resources based on need,” equality gives the same resources to everyone regardless of need.

Falkenberg, who has extended experience both as a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) consultant and in the power and energy supply industry, says that the work she does acts at the crossroads of climate justice and DEI work. On Thursday, April 11, she presented her lecture, “The Clean Energy Transition Must Prioritize Equity,” as the next installment of Western Washington University’s Environmental Speaker Series.

Beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Zoom and on WWU’s campus, Falkenberg introduced herself and invited attendees to expand their perspectives on renewable energy. As she began the lecture, she highlighted intersectionality as the lens through which she views equity work — in the hydroelectric industry and beyond.

One of Falkenberg’s most notable insights was that West Coast states, including Washington, have the greatest rates of hydropower production in the country. She stresses that as Washington ramps up its hydropower production, we must acknowledge the disproportionate impact of rising costs of electricity on minority and low-income communities by already; they carry an “energy burden.”

Falkenberg cited the work of professor and engineer Jesse Jenkins throughout her lecture. Jenkins claims that a net-zero, decarbonized economy can only become a reality if it includes stable, low substance, affordable substitutes to climate-harming resources.

“Don’t overlook equity in favor of urgency, but we do need to complete ‘the team’,” said Falkenberg – ‘team’ in this case referring to a pair of three key ideas for an equitable clean energy transition: fuel-saving renewables, balancing of resources, and holistic energy substitutes.

In the final minutes of her lecture and during the post-lecture Q&A, Falkenberg reiterated the importance of centering Indigenous communities in discussions of climate justice. She acknowledged the negative impact the energy industry and its practices have had on the First Nations and their land and waters for centuries now.

Although the Zoom event ended around 5:25 p.m., the conversation continued informally in the physical space for a while afterwards. For more information on sustainability and climate justice work on Whatcom Community College’s campus, visit the college’s sustainability page

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