Caregiving and Climate Change

As we grapple with the reality of climate change, the recent destructive storms in Houston and Iowa offer more reminders of the disparities in our preparation for such events. The economic divide determines the quality of life in everyday circumstance, but also magnifies the severity of hardships during increasingly common weather-related crises.

Depending upon who is doing the reporting, over 50 million people in this country are providing care for another person at home. I was one of those caregivers, and day-to-day challenges took precedent over creative problem solving.

My own research coupled with lived experience indicates that economically depressed areas are least likely to have backup plans for the increasingly threatening climate. Further, it is well documented that when storms strike, restoration of services is often slowest in such areas. It is not a generalization to point out that generators are considered a luxury in many areas regardless of race. Residents struggling to keep a roof over their heads, food on their tables, and utility bills paid cannot afford the added expense of emergency preparedness.

Destructive storms do not discriminate based on economic status. Not to assign blame – but we should admit that assistance and evacuation efforts often do, leaving those in poorer neighborhoods at greater risk due to aging infrastructure and fewer resources.

The impact of storms and other climate threats extends far beyond the inconvenience of sitting in the dark. If you will, consider the life-threatening situations faced by those who are reliant on life supporting medical equipment in the home, such as CPAP machines, oxygen concentrators, dialysis equipment, and other medical devices. Seasonal sweltering heat that follows a storm often
exacerbates health issues, and that predicament can be deadly for vulnerable populations.

This goes well beyond one person’s opinion. An internet search yields many reviews like the May 2023 article in IOPscience, “Understanding the social impacts of power outages in North America,” which underscores these concerns. I am definitely no energy expert. I have simply been thinking about how energy needs impact the lives of caregivers and care recipients. This is my wheelhouse.

We must focus on how individuals are impacted and agree that our collective intellect and efforts must address family caregiving needs, the effects of power disruption on the rapidly changing healthcare system generally, and home-based care specifically, as well as the awesome potential of clean energy solutions like solar power to provide on-site electrical backup for persons receiving home-based care.

Imagine how family caregivers, who are otherwise capable and competent in providing safe environments, might be completely flummoxed and distraught with power outages, streets littered with debris, closed pharmacies, spoiling food, not to mention a lack of transportation and intense cold or heat.

If energy equity is even a concept, it is not just about ensuring electricity for everyone, it is about protecting those who feel powerless – the sick, aged, and poor – the most vulnerable among us. It is not too extreme to say our lives literally depend on adopting common-sense solutions that benefit not only the inhabitants but the planet itself.

We cannot afford to leave any community behind.

– Willetha