In a 2019 climate change research role, I assessed extreme weather and household energy demands by assisting low-income families with rising consumption costs. The project recommenced two years later, and energy-debt is much worse in 2021. Retirees, single women, women with children, immigrants, and grandparents raising grandchildren continue to be the most stressed. Covid’s economic impact skews the stats, but energy consumption and climate change are just the tips of the iceberg.
Within our neighborhoods, thousands of people are suffering from extreme loneliness, and the key to combatting social issues like climate change is community cohesion.
Power bills are the biggest expense after rent or mortgage. Operating fossil-fuel power stations is expensive and corporate ownership of an essential service increases the consumer’s price. The socio-economic effects of climate change impact low-income earners first, but wealth no longer safeguards against extreme weather conditions. Texas’ tragedy exemplified our vulnerabilities to climate disasters, but Texans demonstrated the single most crucial component to our survival; community.
The older, computer illiterate generation is alienated, hungry, broke, and suffering. Many retirees haven’t spoken to anyone for weeks — maybe longer, and every day, at least two people cry while discussing their bills with me (a stranger). The interaction is a reminder of the intimacy they live without. Expecting to be judged and wanting acceptance, they explain the circumstances that caused their financial situation and assure me things haven’t always been this way.
After living expenses, retirees don’t have enough money for food, and this generation forbids “taking handouts,” but worse than hunger and debt is the lonesomeness. Eager for a conversation, a woman in her eighties shared stories about her childhood, marriage, and conservative parents. We spoke for almost two hours, and as the conversation was ending, she mentioned being in prison sounded ideal because she wouldn’t have to worry about bills, getting fed, and there would be people to talk to.
Disengaging from the workforce is disconnecting from society. Lives are valued by the amount of revenue produced and contributed to the nation’s global wealth figures. Capitalist culture ostracizes the unprofitable because life’s purpose is generating wealth. Society is structured for productivity and output — inactivity is a loss. Retirees paid and continuing paying their dues, but they aren’t actively producing goods, and this is all that matters.
Life is exhausted by working, and jobs decide our community. We’re condemned to achieve financial security through a wage, and most of us won’t. Repaying debt, saving for a thirty-year home loan deposit, reserving funds for retirement, and paying for living expenses is emotionally and physically draining. Visiting family and friends feels like a chore, and doing much more is nearly impossible.
People aren’t innately individualistic — we are forced to be. Our economic framework restricts the ability to be human and feel. The emotional and physical effort to engage with the community is extraneous because we’re too busy working. Who has the capacity for people we aren’t obliged to have relationships with? If time is money and money is the only value we create, loneliness is inevitable.