Expensive utilities and pests are deeply intertwined. Why is no one talking about it?
When I tell people I study the relationship between energy justice and wildlife, a look of confusion usually appears. “What does energy have to do with wildlife and justice?” they ask.
My response is always the same: think about how rodents and other pests get inside your home. Broken windows, gaps under doors, crumbling foundation, little to no insulation – the same features that make efficient heating or cooling difficult.
Minority communities, I then tell them, often don’t have the money to improve their homes, which leads them to struggle to pay expensive utilities bills. Crumbling homes also means residents are disproportionately exposed to rodents and other pests, alongside the pathogens they carry –from Hantavirus and Leptospirosis to Typhus.
This essay is also available in Spanish
Confusion turns to frustration. How could something so intuitive go unnoticed? Can families living in inefficient housing do anything to protect themselves?
As a trained ecologist with experience in energy and housing, I’ve seen how allowing pest species to proliferate in homes where energy use is inefficient further jeopardizes the health of people already experiencing cardiovascular and pulmonary disease. Buildings that are either too hot or too cold and expose people to disease from rodents are linked to poor health, and families often have to choose between food and medicine or paying high energy bills to keep living in that sickening environment.
Ecologists and energy researchers have yet to come together to study these links. The siloed thinking stagnates our understanding of these issues and stops us from designing complex and adaptive solutions to rodent infestations.