Headshots of Alec Castellano and Diamond Spratling
UC Davis Environmental Justice Leaders Alec Castellano (left) and Diamond Spratling.

Reducing Energy Burden and Creating Just Energy Futures

With summer here, many are dealing with rising gas prices and high electricity bills. This is particularly stressful for families on a tight budget who can’t afford electric vehicles or new energy-saving appliances. Alec Castellano and Diamond Spratling, two participants in this year's UC Davis Environmental Justice (EJ) Leaders cohort, are working towards electric vehicle adoption and combating rising energy costs within communities of color.  

As the Coordinator for the Environmental Justice Program under Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton, Alec works on transitioning away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles. The California Central Valley has unfavorable economic indicators, nationally ranked levels of particulate and ozone pollution, and some of the highest rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease in the country. Alec works to advocate for electric trucking fleets, specifically pertinent in California’s Central Valley, which grows 25% of the country's food. Alec has also worked on advancing behavioral change by connecting people to ride share, to career opportunities through Grid Alternatives, and by hosting car shows. Alec specifically thinks that car shows are a valuable and engaging way to pinpoint the social and cultural role that cars play, especially in the Central Valley where low riders and hot rod car culture are widespread. Through his work, he demonstrates how electric vehicles are relevant and attractive, while also advocating for their adoption in commercial trucking. This leads to a future where cleaner air, improved health outcomes, and CO2 emissions are reduced. 

Diamond, located in Atlanta, works on minimizing energy burden, the percentage of a household income spent on electricity and gas bills. Energy burden disproportionately harms Black, Hispanic, and Native American households, who pay up to 45% more of their household income on energy bills than that of white non-Hispanic households. Atlanta is especially vulnerable to this, ranking 4th highest in the country in median energy burden levels according to Georgia Tech. Diamond founded the nonprofit Girl + Environment to educate, empower, and activate Black and Brown women and non-binary people on such issues. One of the manifestations of this work is an in-person series, the Protecting Our Energy Project, in which Girl + Environment educates Black women in Atlanta on energy burden and how they can reduce the energy burden in Atlanta. Finding that only 6% of Black women in Atlanta were aware of rate increase issues, this series educated 25 women on energy policy and connected people to resources to pay for energy bills, and advocate against rate increases. The first cohort was a huge success, with 89% of participants feeling confident enough to talk to their communities about energy policy. The program is continuing again this year. 

Alec and Diamond do valuable work addressing how rising energy costs can be avoided, while also reducing local and global pollution. To stay up to date on the work they do, you can find Alec at http://ejstockton.org or http://bit.ly/AXCVIDEO. Diamond is active on Girl + Environment’s website, Instagram, or by email at diamond@girlplusenvironment.org.

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