It is not normal to feel hot in your home

It is not normal to feel hot in your home
Many people do not have electrical appliances to cool at home when the heat is intense in the summer / Getty Images

“I, the fan, own it to make it beautiful.” Olga repeated this phrase several summers in a row. Olga was incredibly resilient when she arrivedAlliance Against Energy Poverty He had been living without electricity for almost a year. No wonder he didn’t even use a fan on hot summer nights.

In our fight against energy poverty, we have been insisting for many years that access to water or energy cannot be a privilege. The speech was insightful, but in the collective imagination, when we talk about energy poverty, we still think of winter and cold. It seems that we have finally accepted that it is not normal to be cold at home. But what about the heat? Increasingly, due to the climate emergency, summers are getting warmer and heatwaves more frequent. Yet energy poverty is not usually associated with summer. Although data is scarce, some indicators should alert us. Deaths linked to heatwaves are just the tip of the iceberg. And on days when temperatures are higher, the death toll is rising, according to the Climate Research Foundation. More than 11,000 deaths could be attributed to heat in Spain in 2023. However, we must keep in mind to understand this number, that these deaths are not directly caused by heat strokes (of which, fortunately, there are few), but are due to the fact that heat can aggravate symptoms and cause fatal seizures in people. People. Suffering from some diseases.

The deaths are the most obvious part of the problem, but what we should ask is what happened beforehand. The main difficulty is that there is a significant lack of data. One of the most widely used indicators to measure energy poverty is the ability to keep the home at a comfortable temperature, but major surveys (such as Eurostat or the Survey of Living Conditions) only ask whether this happens during the cold months. The case of the Barcelona Public Health Agency is an exception, as it differentiates its questions between winter and summer, and the data is interesting. In 2021, 13.9% of women living in the Catalan capital (11.3% for men) were unable to keep the home at a comfortable temperature in summer, while in winter the figure was 10.9% (8.8% for men). So, There are more people in Barcelona who cannot keep their homes at a comfortable temperature in the summer than in the winter..

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In cities like Barcelona, ​​these indicators are often linked to phenomena such as heat islands. At night, the temperature drops in non-urban areas. On the other hand, in city centers, buildings and asphalt give off heat accumulated during the day and do not allow it to cool down. Therefore, in those neighborhoods where there is a high population density, where a lot of human activity is concentrated, the streets are narrower and there are fewer green spaces, this is where the temperature accumulates the most. In Barcelona we can see this clearly in the city center neighbourhoodswhere the vulnerability index is particularly high as well as energy poverty.

A report from Barcelona’s Public Health Agency warns that the number of households suffering from energy poverty increases in the summer

Another issue to consider is the energy efficiency of residences. In Catalonia, 60% of our housing stock pre-dates 1980 and therefore predates the beginning of the mandatory regulatory framework for thermal insulation. a result, More than 81% of homes in Catalonia have an EG energy certificate (On the AG scale, where A represents “most efficient” and G, “least efficient”).

The Barcelona Public Health Agency has already warned in the report: Climate change and city healththat the increase in temperature, frequency and intensity of heat waves, coupled with rising energy prices and decreased energy efficiency of housing in the city, could increase significantly The number of families who cannot meet their energy needs in the summer.

Olga had experienced firsthand the pain of not being able to pay her bills. Nine years ago the electricity went out and he didn’t want to go through the same situation again. For that reason, I didn’t even want to hear about using the fan for many summers.

The effects of this situation on physical health are obvious. We must keep in mind that heat, moreover, does not affect everyone equally. The elderly are most at risk, especially those who suffer from chronic diseases. Children and pregnant women are also two groups at risk during hot periods. However, the effects on mental health are often forgotten.. Extreme weather events or high temperatures can lead to post-traumatic stress, acute stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health problems, and often more than one problem can occur at the same time.

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When I asked Olga how she got through those summers without turning on the fan, she told me that the heat was unbearable, and that one day she became dizzy. He tried to spend the hottest hours in the nearest mall or bookstore.

From a social justice perspective, you have to consider whether it makes sense that only those who can afford it should have access to air conditioning.

It seems obvious to think that everyone should have the right to put a fan in their home; but when it comes to air conditioning, do we think the same? It is clear that air conditioning improves the comfort level in the home; but at the same time it also contributes to the greenhouse effect, generating emissions and contributing to the appearance of heat islands. On the other hand, it is also true that when the temperature in the room is above 30 degrees Celsius, the fan does not have the capacity to reduce the thermal sensation and only produces the movement of hot air. Spanish State It is one of the European countries with the largest number of air conditionersbut where more people Cannot maintain proper temperature in winter/summer. So, to the housing situation in Catalonia, we must add the idea that it is not just about having the infrastructure, but about using it. Many people, like Olga, are afraid to cool themselves with a fan or air conditioning and then not be able to pay the bills.

From a social justice perspective, it is important to consider whether it makes sense that only those who can afford it and who may live in more efficient homes have access to air conditioning, whether because they already have to leave or because they can afford it. Relevant retrofits adapt it to climate needs. From a rights perspective, there should be more focus on the right temperature that everyone should be able to maintain in their homes, not just on technology. Clearly, energy consumption must be reduced on a global scale if we are to protect the sustainability of the planet. Do we really need to start with those who consume less than we would consider worthy? In any case, it is necessary to ensure that this radical reduction in energy consumption is carried out in accordance with social justice standards.

It’s good to have climate shelters in the city, but few people know what they are and where they are.

Public policies that have so far taken summer energy poverty into account have focused on solutions from urban planning, but not from the home. More and more are being talked about. Climate shelters and public spaces that remain open during the summer Such as libraries, civic centers, schools, swimming pools, etc. They are air-conditioned spaces that residents can access to get good cooling. The main problem with climate shelters is that they are not well communicated and few people are aware of the concept and know about their existence.

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The climate emergency scenario tells us that energy poverty in the summer will increase more and more. The truth is that the heat advances towards spring and extends towards autumn. People with fewer resources will have more difficulty retrofitting their homes, insulating them, and accessing technology that improves temperature; That is, their ability to adapt will be less. Therefore, several steps must be taken to address this problem. It must be understood that energy poverty occurs throughout the year and that safeguard measures are needed to ensure that the most vulnerable groups have access to energy.

However, something seems to be changing. Olga, who has been enjoying the light for years, as long as her health allows, does not miss any group consultation or any action of the Alliance Against Energy Poverty. He told me one day that when the heat came back on, he would take down the cabinet fan and use it.

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