Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov was featured in a Katie Couric Media article about the growing threat of climate change. Many regions are already experiencing the consequences of climate change through frequent wildfires, long periods of drought, and increased frequency and severity of tropical storms. Rising temperatures and humidity have also prompted concerns about the health risks associated with climate change, including heat stroke and heat illness as well as exacerbation of chronic illness. While some changes such as rising sea levels are irreversible, there is still time to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing five different climate futures depending on human action to reduce emissions and shift away from fossil fuel use. “There’s so much action happening to try to really transform these conditions,” Koslov said. “If anything, COVID showed us the power of mobilizing on a vast scale.”
A Science News article on the effects of extreme heat on human behavior cited research by R. Jisung Park, assistant professor of public policy. As temperatures rise, violence and aggression also go up while focus and productivity decline, the article noted, adding that lower-income people and countries are likely to suffer the most. “The physiological effects of heat may be universal, but the way it manifests … is highly unequal,” Park said. The article described Park’s research into the impact of hot days on student performance on standardized tests. One of his studies found that students in schools without air conditioning scored lower than would have been expected, and that Black and Hispanic students were more likely to attend school and test in hotter buildings compared to their white counterparts. A separate study by Park, described in Safety+Health magazine, found that hotter temperatures are linked to a significant increase in the risk of workplace injuries and accidents.
Research into the effects of hot weather on workplace injuries, led by Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park, drew widespread media attention. Park’s study found that extreme heat causes many times more workplace injuries than official records capture and that those injuries are concentrated among the poorest workers — the latest evidence of how climate change worsens inequality. Hotter days lead to an additional 20,000 workplace injuries each year in California alone, not just among people who work outdoors but also for indoor workers, endangering those employed in manufacturing, warehousing and wholesale, the study found. High temperatures were linked to injuries from falling, being struck by vehicles or mishandling machinery, in addition to heat stroke, suggesting that heat makes it harder to concentrate. “Hotter temperatures … appear to have hidden costs,” Park told the Los Angeles Times. Several other news outlets also showcased the research, including the New York Times, the Guardian, Marketplace and Vox.
The research of Urban Planning Assistant Professor V. Kelly Turner has helped to create a colorful gift for the children of Fernangeles Elementary School. A new mural melding art with science, and reflecting inspiration from youth in the community, was installed on the school’s Sun Valley campus this spring. Called “Beat the Heat,” the mural depicts a park with shade trees and a large purple paleta melting under a bright sun — all painted with a solar reflective coating that reduces surface temperatures up to 30%. Turner conducts research into the effectiveness of this coating as a climate change intervention that cities can use to combat the “urban heat island effect.” At Fernangeles Elementary, schoolchildren watched as Turner “took the temperature of the building” with a thermal camera that demonstrated the effect of the cooling paint. Turner then used the camera to measure the heat signatures of walls, the ground and a picnic table on campus, giving the students a real-world lesson in climate science. Artist Kristy Sandoval designed and painted the mural based on ideas conceived by youth from the environmental justice nonprofit Pacoima Beautiful. Mural collaborators include Dora Frietze-Armenta, Yesenia Cruz, Nicole Martinez, Diego Ortiz and Veronica Padilla of Pacoima Beautiful; Fernangeles Elementary Assistant Principal Carolina Gonzales; art historian Lizy Dastin; and Creative Paving Solutions, which manufactured the solar-reflective paint. The mural is the second spearheaded by Turner as part of a “green intervention” aimed at starting a conversation about climate change. The first, a massive rendering of the Greek god Zeus, was installed in South Los Angeles in 2019.
Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville spoke to KCRW’s Greater L.A. about the return of traffic in Los Angeles. While streets and freeways were empty at the beginning of the pandemic, traffic levels have returned to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels in the region. According to Manville, L.A. needs to go much further when it comes to alternatives to driving. “As someone who studies this, but also as a cyclist and a pedestrian, Los Angeles has a very long way to go,” he said. “We are not a bold-moving city in this regard at all.” He pointed to efforts to create more space for bikes, pedestrians and buses in cities including Portland, Seattle and San Francisco. Local residents and politicians are the biggest barrier to changing the transportation industry, Manville said, but he hopes politicians will consider the needs of the overwhelming majority of residents instead of focusing on the loudest voices on both sides.
Daniel Coffee MPP ’20, associate project manager at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, was featured in an Orange County Register article about new legislation to address plastic pollution. There are a dozen state bills in California proposing reduction of single-use plastics and refilling of returnable beverage bottles, as well as a federal proposal that would place the responsibility for plastic reduction and recycling on companies that make and utilize single-use plastics. “In the past few years, we’ve had a breakthrough in terms of public awareness, but I don’t think we quite have the political will yet,” Coffee said. “The plastics industry and the fossil fuel industry aren’t shy about pouring money into influencing policymakers.” The state proposals, which are more incremental, are more likely to become law than the landmark federal proposal. “If SB 54 passes, then other states could see what’s possible and follow suit,” Coffee said. “California is often the leader in this type of legislation.”
Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner spoke to Popular Science about local government campaigns to plant trees to mitigate rising urban temperatures. In Los Angeles, for example, Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Green New Deal” from 2019 calls for the planting and maintenance of 90,000 trees by this year. Turner said the effectiveness of this type of climate intervention depends on many factors. “I think that there’s typically this sort of blind faith that we place in trees, that they will provide all of these wonderful social benefits,” she said. “But the environmental benefits that trees provide are entirely context-dependent.” It takes years for trees to mature into full-fledged shade-providers, so there is much to learn about the success of this type of initiative. In the future, Turner said, cities will need to ask not only if they hit a numerical goal for planting trees but how well those trees brought about the cooling benefits that the community needs.
A team of 10 UCLA professors has earned a $956,000 award for a project that will combine their expertise in engineering, urban planning, public health and environmental law to address the rapid increase in the number of extreme heat days in Los Angeles.
The prize is funded by a 2015 donation from the Anthony and Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation.
The project, called Heat Resilient L.A., will over the next two years determine where and when people moving around the city are most vulnerable to the effects of extreme heat — a problem being caused by climate change — and assess which communities most need cooling interventions.
Based on their findings, the team will design new cooling structures and work with local stakeholders to determine where they should be installed. The team has designed a prototype structure that resembles a bus stop shelter, but in addition to a roof that provides shade, it also uses a combination of radiant and evaporative cooling technologies to provide “passive cooling” for those nearby.
Throughout the project, the researchers plan to engage directly with communities to produce the best possible design for the cooling structures and choose the best possible locations. Among the elements that helped the project stand out: its focus on equity and community engagement, and its use of devices other than shade and trees to provide cooling for local hot spots.
“What’s unique right now is that we have access to a portfolio of solutions and technologies that hadn’t been either thought of as plausible solutions or, frankly, available even just a few years ago,” said Aaswath Raman, a member of the Heat Resilient L.A. team and an assistant professor of materials science and engineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. Raman, who is designing the cooling structures using technology that has been developed in recent years at UCLA and elsewhere, said the project is an opportunity to explore the real-world use of emerging cooling technologies and materials.
That should not only help Los Angeles communities but also provide insights that he and others can use to continue building better technologies.
‘We wanted to bring together brilliant minds at UCLA who had never collaborated before, and push them to bring fresh ideas to the table.’ — Cassie Rauser, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge
The winning project was chosen through a new UCLA initiative that upended the traditional model for conceiving and funding research projects. The program, called the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge Sandpit, emphasized connection, experimentation and blue-sky thinking.
In all, eight teams made up of more than 60 faculty members from 27 UCLA departments participated.
The program culminated in December with an online pitch event that worked more like the TV show “Shark Tank” than a typical call for proposals. Instead of preparing dense written submissions, the teams had to sell their research projects — all focused on sustainability — to a panel of jurors that included UCLA deans as well as chief sustainability officers from the city and county.
The Heat Resilient L.A. pitch was led by Raman; V. Kelly Turner, an assistant professor of urban planning at UCLA Luskin; and David Eisenman, a professor in residence at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
The other members of the winning team are Cara Horowitz, co-executive director of the UCLA Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment; Sungtaek Ju, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and of bioengineering; Travis Longcore, associate adjunct professor at the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability; Juan Matute, deputy director of the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies; Gregory Pierce, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation; Kirsten Schwarz, associate professor of urban planning; and Walker Wells, lecturer in urban planning.
“The sandpit was definitely not business as usual, and that was the point,” said Cassie Rauser, executive director of the UCLA Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, a campuswide initiative to help transform Los Angeles into the world’s most sustainable megacity by 2050. “We wanted to bring together brilliant minds at UCLA who had never collaborated before, and push them to bring fresh ideas to the table. This type of interdisciplinary problem-solving is absolutely critical for addressing Los Angeles’ complex sustainability challenges.”
Competitors were invited to develop projects that directly address goals outlined in sustainability plans put forward by Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles, while paying particular attention to environmental justice and equity. The “sandpit” name was meant to encourage participants to bring a childlike sense of curiosity, openness and possibility into the process.
Teams and research concepts formed over the course of three months of online workshops designed to push participants out of their disciplinary bubbles and intellectual comfort zones — a critical aspect of the experience, according to Turner, who has studied what makes interdisciplinary collaborations work.
“So often it is about the informal interactions that get folks comfortable with being uncomfortable with each other, so that they can come up with the really innovative ideas,” she said.
The seven teams that did not win the grand prize will each receive $25,000 in seed funding from the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge, which will also provide continued research development support to help the teams further develop their ideas and pursue full funding from external organizations.
“One of the most exciting aspects of the sandpit is that we heard eight fantastic pitches,” said Eric Hoek, a UCLA professor of civil and environmental engineering and director of the Sustainable LA Grand Challenge. “Any of those projects could make a significant, tangible contribution toward our city’s and county’s sustainability goals, and we’re excited to help them all realize their potential.”
R. Jisung Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to KJZZ’s The Show about his research into the link between hotter temperatures and the racial achievement gap in U.S. schools. Park’s study, which measured the impact of heat exposure on reduced learning, found that the negative effect of heat is more pronounced in school districts serving underrepresented minorities. “Over time, if you experience more hot days during the school year, and especially if you go to school in an area that doesn’t appear to have adequate school facilities, for whatever reason, those small cuts do seem to add up in a way that actually ends up being measurable in your standardized achievement,” said Park, an assistant professor of public policy. “To the extent that education is such an important component of economic mobility, one would be concerned about the cumulative nature of these cuts.”
Extreme heat deepens educational inequities for students around the world, according to new research by R. Jisung Park, associate director of economic research at the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Just published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, Park’s study analyzed standardized achievement data for more than 144 million 15- to 19-year-olds in 58 countries, as well as detailed weather and academic calendar information. The findings showed that the rate of learning decreases with an increase in the number of hot school days. “Temperature is a surprisingly disruptive factor for students — both for high-stakes test-taking and for learning over the longer term,” said Park, an assistant professor of public policy specializing in environmental and labor economics. The new study broadens Park’s body of research into the effect of extreme heat on learning. Previous analyses of U.S. data showed that high temperatures can diminish student performance on standardized exams. In addition, minority and low-income students who attend U.S. schools that lack air conditioning are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of heat, the research found. The latest study measured the effects on a global scale, showing that “heat disrupts learning across a wide range of climates and levels of development,” Park said. The research underscores the importance of policies aimed at improving physical learning environments. More broadly, it demonstrates that the impact of climate change on personal development can add up over time, possibly putting a brake on national economic growth and individual economic mobility.