Reporting that seeks to empower

We are delighted to bring a new guest post by Marylin Smith – the Executive Director of EnAct, a new global project focused on radically changing the manner in which knowledge on energy poverty is produced and disseminated.   

Around the world, diverse actors are engaging in innovative efforts to secure a more sustainable future by transforming energy production and consumption. Coupled to this are strategic efforts to provide universal access to clean, affordable energy – or put another way, to eliminate energy poverty.

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The Energy Action Project (EnAct) believes it is time to transform energy reporting.[1] EnAct’s tagline Reporting that seeks to empower reflects two social issues related to energy and society.

First, almost half the people in the world live in energy poverty, their lives undermined by energy systems that are inadequate, unreliable or unaffordable. In many contexts, women face higher risk of impacts from low energy access and warrant focused attention for empowerment. The second issue is extremely low levels of energy literacy: a US study carried out in 2002 found that only 12% of people could correctly answer half of 18 basic energy questions.

EnAct wants people to ‘get’ energy, whether that means gaining access to clean, reliable sources or better grasping how individual choices influence the energy system. An underlying aim is to prompt people to think about energy, every day. By exploring the personal impacts and underlying causes of energy poverty, EnAct will promote shared responsibility and collective action to boost energy access. By educating people about how energy use drives everything from production to pricing, it will prompt conscientious consumption where energy is, at present, abundant.

EnAct sees ’empowering’ people as the final step in a process that requires effort to ‘engage, explain and inform’. To this end, the project uses diverse media: web documentaries and podcasts, news stories, feature articles and editorials, and interactive/infographic content. A strong social media (SoMe) element will draw followers along a path that explores diverse facets of complex topics. With this model, EnAct will test whether the media can become an active partner in boosting energy access and energy literacy.

COLD@HOME: The pilot package

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Credit: P Madsen/EnAct

In February 2016, EnAct launched its pilot project, COLD@HOME, which investigates fuel poverty in Europe and North America. The package opens with a web documentary from Ukraine, where Katia, Stephan and Masha are among the millions facing their first winter after gas prices spiked by 280% on 1 April 2015. This provides a unique opportunity to explore how national policy – and indeed international negotiations – play out in the households of people. The dramatic increase reflected the removal of natural gas subsidies that were costing the government EUR 3.6 billion per year (4% of GDP). The International Monetary Fund made bringing prices to retail levels a condition of receiving loan assistance to deal with the ongoing economic crisis and the war in the Donbass region.

The package Features (to date) also explore the question of how much cold homes cost the National Health System in the United Kingdom and reveal levels of fuel poverty across Europe. A parallel blog, Inside, is the core of COLD@HOME: regular entries in ‘The Basics’ explain briefly key concepts such as what fuel poverty is and what impacts it has on people and society. ‘Indepth’ offers more detailed versions, authored by energy experts.

Over 12 weeks, COLD@HOME will report on the causes and impacts of fuel poverty, as well as the technology, policy and finance solutions needed to address it. Two additional elements also seek to empower followers. An Energy Diary lets people living in fuel poverty share their own stories, bringing the harsh realities they face on a daily basis into clear focus. Act Now (launching week of 14 March) will provide tips on how to save energy in the home and where to go for help, as well as suggestions for others to help those living in fuel poverty.

Next on the editorial calendar

EnAct is keen to explore energy poverty in other contexts, and is currently developing three proposals:

  • Cooking with biomass as the cause of poor health for women and children, a major driver of deforestation and the source of the upswing in the illegal charcoal trade.
  • Microgrids and other solutions for empowering remote areas – going beyond light to deliver energy for productive use.
  • How unreliable energy in urban areas undermines the success of small businesses, and thus economic and social development.

We welcome inputs for COLD@HOME, particularly blog contributions and images/stories to add diversity to the Energy Diary. We also welcome ideas for future packages.

EnAct often tells energy experts ‘think of us as the online resource that will help your friends and family begin to “get” what you do’. We have an active Facebook page with daily posts drawing attention news stories about energy and energy access; ‘Liking’ us is an easy way to add a bit of energy to your News Feed and start building energy literacy among your personal networks. We are active on Twitter as @EnActNow.

Finally, with a growing list of professional photojournalists contributing, @everyday_energy on Instagram provides high impact images of how people interact with energy on a daily basis, all over the world. With this, EnAct is building an energy image bank that it will make available to others.

[1] For a full description of EnAct’s aims and approaches, visit www.en-act.org.

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