Energy Consumption and Social Inequality. Fuel Poverty As a Socio-Ecological Problem

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal BIG 2 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Karl-Michael BRUNNER, Institute for Sociology and Social Research, Austria
Sylvia MANDL, Austrian Institute for Sustainable Development, Austria
While (unlimited) availability of energy is the norm for some social groups in industrialised countries, other parts of society are faced with the problem of not being able to afford energy in sufficient quantities or having to limit their use of energy services. In recent years, the analytical focus has shifted from global inequalities towards inequalities and vulnerabilities in the Northern countries, bringing forward evidence that financially weaker households are more vulnerable to climate change than better-off households, although – compared to the more affluent – their contribution to climate change is usually lower (e.g. due to lower mobility rates). What is more, socially less privileged groups are notably more frequently hit by fuel poverty. Fuel poverty arises from the interaction of low incomes, high energy prices and energy inefficient homes or appliances. It is characterized by high costs of energy, energy debts, disconnections, restrictions on fuel consumption at the cost of health or by choice coercion whether disposable incomes are spent in food or for heating. Fuel poverty touches questions of socio-ecological inequalities, power relations within the energy system and society, but also questions of how to transform energy systems towards sustainability in a fair and just manner. But so far, fuel poverty has rarely been discussed within an environmental sociology framework. The proposed paper will do so in discussing recent theoretical developments in the study of fuel poverty. Results from 2 research projects on fuel poverty in Austria will form the empirical basis.