Cultural impacts on fuel poverty
Mahmuda Begum Meem |
Oct. 10, 2021, 8:22 p.m.
Climate change and rising energy prices have highlighted the importance of energy poverty. But what is fuel poverty? In general, it is a shortage of energy, prices and income. However, the crucial component of energy poverty lies in access to energy resources. Developed and developing countries face energy poverty in the form of energy efficiency and affordability, but energy poverty has dire consequences in developing countries, especially in the regions of East Asia , South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. To reduce energy poverty in developed and developing countries, energy services are inadequate and vulnerabilities must be understood for policies to work.
The contributing factor to energy poverty is a combination of factors such as inefficient energy resources, affordability and income. However, the impact of different dimensions of culture on energy poverty has often been overlooked. Projects implemented by various development aid fail to provide sufficient access to energy resources because the technology is replicated and does not take into account the different cultures in different regions. A recently published research paper co-authored by Dr Muhammad Shafiullah, Bangladeshi Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia, analyzed the effect of various cultural dimensions on energy poverty across the world.
Culture can contribute to energy deprivation in a number of ways. It has an impact on the decisions of individuals and households regarding the use of energy and obtaining clean and secure sources of energy. In addition, it has influenced the shaping of preferences and attitudes of policy makers to create policies that have an impact on energy poverty. Additionally, risk averse crops can encourage their citizens to maintain the status quo and discourage them for citizen empowerment and public discourse that limits the creation of appropriate policies regarding energy concerns. These further aggravate fuel poverty.
Several identified cultural dimensions are identified by this study as having an impact on energy poverty. The uncertainty of the economy leads households to accumulate money instead of investing in energy consumption. Therefore, energy consumption may increase in the short term but in the long term it may decrease. In addition, electric distance exacerbates energy poverty. Hierarchical distance is an accumulation of wealth and power in societies. Societies with a greater level of power create social stratification, inequalities and a decrease in social trust. A decrease in social trust creates limits on obtaining long-term loans from financial institutions as the transaction cost increases. Hierarchical distance also creates internal conflicts and lowers the level of education which is essential in creating a public goods policy. These factors decrease energy consumption and access to technology to improve energy resources. Additionally, studies have shown that (toxic) masculinity increases energy poverty as it monopolizes energy resources and leaves little or no resources for other groups. Male cultures prefer success to cooperation, heroism to modesty, assertiveness to caring for the weak, and tangible rewards to quality of life. Male cultures are considered “strong” while female cultures are considered “weak”. This availability of masculinity interferes with the investment of technology for energy development and clean energy, thus weakening the quality of life.
However, beliefs such as pragmatism and individualism have a positive impact on fuel poverty. Cultures that value individualism encourage individuals and the well-being of their families. People are confident and invest in an optimistic future and prepare for current and future challenges. They adopt pragmatic actions such as persistence and hard work rather than traditional, conservative myopic actions. They are also considered to be financially literate because they think about their business long-term survival strategies and refrain from borrowing in the short term. In addition, they place great importance on climate, environmental sustainability and policies that have implications for energy use. Individual merit is also valued in individualistic cultures promoting higher human capital. These cultures encourage freedom of expression related to energy and environmental issues. Thus, policies are made to address the problems, therefore, exhibiting lower levels of energy poverty.
Cultural traits such as hierarchical distance, masculinity, and individualism are ingrained in societies, and policy makers can create policies to address these traits for maximum optimization. Preferences and attitudes are the channels through which cultural traits affect energy poverty. Therefore, policies that include women, minimize power distance, and collectively address institutions for policy making to alleviate energy poverty.
As a rapidly developing economy, societies in Bangladesh face massive pressures. It is important that societies focus on cultural traits that enhance energy deprivation and discourage those that make it worse such as excessive power distance, toxic masculinity, the hierarchy of rights, etc. However, cultural traits are immersed in societies, and it will take time to adopt any currency. Therefore, policies should be targeted at both the micro and macro levels.
At the micro level, the education curriculum should be tailored for the inclusion of women and reduce the stress that prevents them from getting the education they need. At the macro level, policies should be changed to promote cultural values that are better for society such as balance of power and gender equality by sharing responsibilities and cooperating. Additionally, with technological advancements and accelerating globalization, multinational technology companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc., can help promote policies and values that benefit corporations. This is aimed more at the younger generation due to their interest and familiarity with technology, therefore more likely to be influenced by tech companies.
Mahmuda Begum Meem is an undergraduate economics student at the University of Nottingham in Malaysia.