Park on California as Ground Zero for Climate Disaster

Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park spoke to the New York Times for a story about the engineering and land management innovations that led to California’s tremendous growth but also left it vulnerable to climate disaster. For generations, the state has moved vast quantities of water and suppressed wildfires to transform its arid and mountainous landscape into the “richest, most populous and bounteous place in the nation,” the article noted. While these accomplishments reflect the optimism that defines California, Park said, they were not designed to accommodate the increasingly harsh extremes of climate change. “The shocks are outside the range, in many cases, of historical experience,” he said. Park also noted that California’s engineered landscapes are not the only factor behind its high-impact disasters. The state’s size, geographic diversity and large population also expose it to an unusually wide range of extreme climate events.

Park on the Visceral Impacts of Climate Change

Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was featured in a Sustainable LA Grand Challenges Spotlight article discussing his research on the links between heat and student performance. Park analyzed New York City standardized test scores over 20 years and found that students taking an exam on a 90-degree day do a “10-15% of a standard deviation worse than they would have otherwise.” He explained that the impacts of heat are disproportionately high for underrepresented minorities, who are significantly less likely to have air conditioning at school and home. “I would hope that this kind of research can at least help us make more visceral the impacts of climate change and make it less of a ‘other people over there 100 years from now’ problem and more of an ‘all of us today’ problem,” Park said. He stressed the importance of developing a short-term policy portfolio in addition to a long-term carbon mitigation plan.


Park on Unintended Consequences of Development Restrictions

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jisung Park spoke to the New York Times about potential unintended consequences of climate change development restrictions on poorer communities. A new study found that many Americans support aggressive government regulation to fight the effects of climate change, including mandatory building codes in risky areas and bans on building in flood- or fire-prone areas. While development restrictions could reduce disasters in the future, Park noted that they could also hurt low-income and minority families who can’t afford to live elsewhere. If local governments follow public opinion and impose new restrictions on development, it’s important that they consider the effects of those changes on poorer communities, including communities of color, Park said. He suggested that governments could make it more expensive to live in vulnerable neighborhoods, but subsidize low-income residents who want to move. “Doing both is certainly possible,” he said.


Park on Health Risk of Rising Temperatures for Essential Workers

Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park spoke to NBC News about the high risks of illness and injury associated with working in hot environments. As temperatures rise across the country, essential workers face increased risk of heat illness, a common problem for delivery workers that has been exacerbated by the pandemic. An increase in the volume of packages being sent during the pandemic has stepped up pressure on delivery workers to work harder and avoid taking breaks. Many delivery vehicles and warehouses are not air-conditioned, and mandating masks can make it more difficult for the body to cool down. Experts have found that high temperatures can have devastating effects on the body. “Heat illnesses, heat cramps — these can be deadly,” Park said. “But there’s evidence that finds that hotter temperatures raise the risk of other injuries, too,” with instances of fatigue or fainting sometimes leading to organ failure.


Park on Schools, Extreme Heat, Racial Equity

A Guardian story on the harmful impact of extreme heat on communities of color cited research by Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park. Data from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that U.S. counties with large Black and Latino populations experience a disproportionately high number of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the article said. Research by Park, an environmental economist at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, focuses on the effect of extreme heat on students’ ability to learn. His analysis of data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years found that minority and low-income students who attend schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable. “Adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” said Park, who also discussed his research in an interview with America Adapts, beginning at minute 3:18.

Park Studies Effects of Global Warming on Student Learning

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jisung Park discussed the effect of warming global temperatures on student learning in an NPR interview. Park and his colleagues analyzed data from 10 million U.S. students over 15 years to explore the relationship between climate change and student academic performance. Park found that “students who experience a hotter than average year —  let’s say a year with five more school days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit — appeared to experience reduced learning.” A one-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average temperature in a given year reduces learning on average by around 1%,  he said. But his research showed that the same temperature change disproportionately impacts underrepresented minorities by closer to 2% or 3%. Park added that infrastructure affects student academic performance, explaining that “the effect of heat on learning is much smaller in schools that report having adequate air conditioning.”


Park Links Heat to Test Performance in Classrooms

An article in the Hechinger Report highlighted Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research findings on the relationship between heat and student test performance. Air pollution and heat are becoming increasing concerns as a result of climate change, and research indicates that these factors may inhibit student performance in classrooms. In a study conducted in New York City, Park found that hot testing days reduced students’ performance on Regents exams, which are required for graduation in New York, thus decreasing the probability of a student graduating from high school. He found that students are 10% more likely to fail an exam when the temperature is 90 degrees than when it’s 72 degrees. Park also co-authored a study that examined PSAT scores across the country and found that students “had lower scores if they experienced hotter school days in the years preceding the test, with extreme heat being particularly damaging.”


A Spotlight on Park’s Research on Heat, Learning

PBS NewsHour took an in-depth look at Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park’s research linking extreme heat and students’ ability to learn. Every 1-degree-Fahrenheit increase in average outdoor temperature over a school year reduces student learning by 1 percent, a team of researchers led by Park found. The team’s analysis of weather data, test scores for 10 million students, and access to air conditioning in classrooms across the country point to a “Dixie divide”: In hotter counties in Florida, Texas and other Southern states, test scores were lower than those in the North, even after controlling for factors such as family income, a county’s economic status or local pollution. “The causal effect of any given 90-degree day was much larger for lower-income students and racial minorities,” added Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation. The study puts a spotlight on the nuanced ways that developed nations will be influenced by global warming.

 

Park on Hot Classrooms and the Achievement Gap

R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy, spoke with KPCC’s “Take Two” about his research linking extreme heat with the racial education achievement gap. Students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams, Park and his colleagues found. In addition, black and Hispanic students are 9 percent less likely than white students to attend schools with functioning air conditioning, they found. “We know that that can have effects on the economic opportunities that these students can have access to,” Park told “Take Two” in a segment beginning at minute 23:40. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy. “In the meantime,” he said, “we need to protect the most disadvantaged communities from the effects of climate change that are already coming down the pike.” Park’s research was also highlighted in USA Today and the Washington Post.


 

Park Researches Unequal Learning in a Warming World

Extreme heat and a lack of air conditioning in classrooms contribute to the nation’s racial education achievement gap, according to research by R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy. His study, forthcoming in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, is the first peer-reviewed paper to put dollar figures on the costs and social benefits of air conditioning in schools. Using data from more than 10 million middle- and high-school students across the United States, Park and his colleagues found that students who experience more hot days during the school year perform worse on standardized exams. Up to 40 percent of U.S. schools may not be fully air conditioned. Although black and Hispanic students overwhelmingly reside in hotter locations than white students, they are 9 percent less likely to have school air conditioning, the researchers found.  In hot places such as Houston and Atlanta, each additional year of sufficient school air conditioning could boost collective future earnings by up to $2 million in any given high school of 1,000 students, the study found. Park, associate director of economic research for the Luskin Center for Innovation, advocates for air conditioning powered by clean energy that does not contribute to climate change. “We must recognize that adapting to climate change is a matter of racial and economic justice, especially in schools,” Park wrote in a USA Today op-ed. Keeping students cool could be a cost-effective way to boost climate resilience, promote learning and economic mobility, and narrow the gap between our nation’s haves and have-nots.”

Read more about Park’s research and past work.