⚖️ Equitable Electrification & a Just Transition

by | April 25, 2023

Today we’re talking about why equity is critical to decarbonization and ways to center it.

As I’ve before:

“Decarbonization in and of itself isn’t necessarily good enough because how we do it matters a hell of a lot.

Different decarbonization pathways have varying:

  • Levels of harm to communities and ecosystems.
  • Timelines to get to zero emissions.
  • Costs.
  • Amounts of resources required.
  • Geopolitical implications.
  • Impacts on the quality of our lives, vibrancy of our communities, and levels of equity.”

Last week we hosted a panel to explore what a just transition might look like more deeply. We were joined by four fantastic experts:

There were a lot of insights and ideas for action shared so I highly recommend you check out the full conversation on Youtube or wherever you !

Key Takeaways

The following are some of the key points, paraphrased, that our wonderful panelists shared. But again, I recommend you listen to the full conversation and hear it in their own words 🙂

We won’t hit our climate targets without equitable policies

Not only is a just transition the right thing to do – it’s actually the only way to hit our climate targets because getting to zero emissions means we need everyone to transition off of fossil fuels in a certain amount of time.

So we need to have a plan to make sure everyone has access to, and is able to afford, these better, sustainable technologies like solar, heat pumps, induction stoves, etc.

That means investing in low-income communities and low-income countries around the world to support them in making this transition faster.

It also means investing in public transit and active transit because it will be hard to decarbonize fast enough if we maintain an over-reliance on personal vehicles. More cars and bigger cars lead to the extraction of far more materials, supply chain vulnerabilities, and, ultimately, longer timelines to meet everyone’s transportation needs sustainably.

4 Big Pillars of Equitable Electrification & a Just Transition

Increasing Accessibility

Outreach and engagement are crucial to make sure people are aware that these exist and, where applicable, that discounts are available.

These technologies also need to be affordable for everyone at the point of sale.

If people do not know about these sustainable technologies, or they aren’t able to afford them, they won’t implement them. And the longer it takes to implement climate solutions, the longer people will be stuck with fossil fuel appliances that are harming their health, their pocketbooks, and our collective future.

Planning, Coordinated Action, and Intentional Policies

If we don’t have a plan, the transition will exacerbate existing inequalities and cause unnecessary harm to vulnerable communities and ecosystems.

It’s important that we think through the 2nd and 3rd order effects of policies and investments to make sure this transition is done fairly (e.g. incentives often benefit homeowners or car owners more than they do lower-income people who are more likely to rent and rely on public transportation. Or as more people switch from gas to electricity, the cost for people remaining on gas infrastructure goes up, so those who can’t afford to make the switch are stuck with paying even higher energy bills.)

It’s also crucial to map out the various pathways forward and coordinate action to move toward the best ones. For example, the amount of lithium needed for US vehicles could be reduced by up to in 2050 depending on the level of car dependency, battery size, and recycling. The scenario with the least lithium is also the most equitable and conducive to people’s well-being.


A key ingredient to well-designed policies is collaborating with the people who will be affected by them.

Engaging with communities is key to designing effective policy because it allows you to meet people where they are and learn how to overcome any hurdles that are preventing them from adopting sustainable technologies.

Collaboration is also important when it comes to building the broad coalitions needed to overcome the political power of the fossil fuel industry and others who are working to delay climate action.

Investing in Communities and Countries That are the Most Marginalized

Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are far more likely to be living and working next to fossil fuel combustion and extraction sites across the country and the world. The negative health and economic impacts of that are massive. They have a right to clean air and clean water.

A ripple effect of investing in these communities and electrifying everything is that people will increasingly have their health, safety, and economic needs met. When those basic needs are met, they have more time and bandwidth to think about the future, instead of just trying to make it through another day or month. And when more people have their basic needs met, there will be a lot more innovation, civic action, and, ultimately, better long-term prospects for humanity.

It’s also important to understand that transitioning off fossil fuels will be a global effort with many raw materials coming from low-income countries. That means it’s important to invest in these countries in ways that enhance socio-economic stability without repeating extractive colonial patterns.

It’s the right thing to do, can be a start to making up for climate harm caused, and will help to increase stability, peace, and supply chains which are all important for making any transition at all.

Most important actions people can take

Lead by example

Take stock of appliances in your home that burn fossil fuels and to transition to its more efficient electric counterpart so you’re ready to make the switch when your fossil-fueled machine dies, if not earlier.

Also, behavior changes like not buying what you don’t need, reselling electronic waste, and leaning into the sharing economy (cars, tools, etc.) helps as well.

Focusing on what’s most immediately within your control makes a difference, especially when you talk about the action you’re taking. Talking about these things and the “why” behind them increases the likelihood that others will follow suit and adds to cultural change.

Organize your community and influence local officials to take justice-centered action

Taking action in your community is extremely effective because it’s a sphere in which you have some of the highest potential to achieve systemic impact. It’s where you live, play, vote, and know people who do the same.

You can talk to the people you know, organize, build coalitions across labor and community lines, and collaborate to get things done.

There is strength in numbers.

And there is also minimal separation between you and the people in local government – you may know them or know someone who does.

So meet with your elected officials, follow public hearing calendars, and show up to those meetings. Policy and investment decisions are going to happen. Each one is an opportunity to push your town onto a more climate-positive and justice-centered path.

Final messages

“The way the global economy operates right now is part of the reason why we have the climate crisis. We have an opportunity to reorder our economic systems to actually care for community, care for the climate, and care for people.” – Johanna Bozuwa

Keep on organizing.

Keep on fighting.

And keep increasing hope with every action you take.

All the best,


This post originally featured in the Crowdsourcing Sustainability newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter below!

What others are saying:

“Strikes the perfect balance between smart, understandable, funny, and compelling.” – Jackie

Share This