March 5, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 99—Energy insecurity, and gratitude

The month of February saw a polar vortex that resulted in millions losing power for extended periods of time, facing freezing temperatures in their homes. During the massive outages, marginalized communities were hit especially hard by the conditions. Researchers from Indiana University say energy insecurity, or the state of not being able to pay one’s energy bill or not having access to affordable energy services, is a reality for millions of Americans. IU professors Sanya Carley and David Konisky have tracked rates of energy insecurity among low-income households over the course of the pandemic and found that, just within the first month of the pandemic, 2.4 million households were unable to pay their energy bills and almost a million households had their power shut off. After a few months of the pandemic, these rates got worse. The Texas electricity blackout in February 2021 is a catastrophe many years in the making, due to under-investment in and under-appreciation of fragile infrastructure, but it also shines a light on the more chronic problem of energy insecurity, the researchers say. And like many other problems in the U.S., energy insecurity is characterized by enormous racial and income disparities. Research shows that households of color are significantly more likely to be energy insecure than white households. Similarly, low-income households are much more likely to be energy insecure than high-income households, a phenomena at least partially explained by the quality of housing conditions. And strategies for staying warm in the absence of electricity can have dire consequences. Households that suffer from energy insecurity tend to use space heaters for warmth, which can be a fire hazard. Energy insecurity poses other risks to households as well. When a family cannot afford to keep the heat on, or avoid utility disconnection, children are at risk of being removed from the home due to neglect. Without electricity, a household is also not able to keep perishable food or power e-learning devices for children who are schooling from home during the pandemic. Carley and Konisky say the financial implications of energy disconnections are also problematic. Utilities often charge extra fees for disconnection and reconnection, thereby increasing the financial burden faced by energy insecure households.

In other news, there is no doubt, the past year has been difficult on everyone. It also has left people looking for ways to feel better. IU researcher Joel Wong says one way to make yourself, or someone else, feel better is to write a letter of gratitude. In fact, a study by Wong found participants receiving psychotherapy and participating in gratitude-letter writing reported significantly better mental health than those receiving only psychotherapy and those receiving psychotherapy and participating in expressive writing. So, how does you go about writing a letter of gratitude? First, determine your letter’s recipient. Look for someone in your life who you don’t credit or thank enough. Next, gather supplies such as stationery or notecards or grab your computer. Use whatever resource works for you to help express gratitude. Next, think about your recipient. Think about how you met, what the recipient has done for you and how they have helped you in your life. Then sit down and writer in your own style. Don’t worry about crafting each sentence just so, they say. You’re trying to get to the meaning behind the words. Finally, end with gratitude or a compliment. Say it explicitly with the final ‘thank you’.