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Goh Explores Urban Climate Justice in New Book

A new book by Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh explores the politics of urban climate change responses in different cities and the emergence of grassroots activism in resistance. “Form and Flow: The Spatial Politics of Urban Resilience and Climate Justice,” published today by MIT Press, traces the flow of ideas and influence in urban climate change plans in three key city centers — New York City; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Rotterdam, Netherlands. In the book, Goh analyzes major climate adaptation plans and projects such as Rebuild By Design in New York, the Giant Sea Wall masterplan in Jakarta and Rotterdam Climate Proof. Goh also discusses the rise of social movements and efforts among community organizations to reimagine their own futures in response to historical injustices and present-day challenges. Many groups of marginalized urban residents have pushed back against city plans and offered “counterplans” in protest against actions that they feel are unjust and exclusionary. Goh investigates how historically uneven development and global connections between cities have shaped the politics of climate urbanism, and her analysis provides insight on how to achieve a more just and resilient urban future. “Form and Flow” sheds light on the new wave of urban climate change interventions driven by environmental urgency, developmental pressures and global networks of expertise. Yale Professor Karen Seto called Goh’s book “a must-read for urban climate scholars and practitioners,” and Cambridge University Professor Matthew Gandy added that Goh’s “comparative global framework advances the field of political ecology in innovative directions.”


Turner on Challenges of Regulating Urban Heat

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner joined the Talking Headways podcast to discuss different ways to regulate urban heat. The regional urban heat island effect is a climate phenomenon affecting urban areas with buildings and pavement that absorb and radiate heat, making these regions hotter than surrounding areas. However, Turner noted that thermal images that show land surface temperature can be misleading because they don’t illustrate how people are actually exposed to heat. “When I see interventions being proposed like tree-planting programs, I think we need to be careful and say, yeah, we might be providing shade that will be good for pedestrian thermal comfort — shade’s super important — but we’re not addressing the urban heat island,” Turner said. “What we’re doing is just a drop in the bucket, shifting from one climate zone to a fundamentally different arrangement of trees and buildings that would actually be cooler.” 

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Koslov on Preparing for More Flooding in NYC

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning Liz Koslov spoke to the Literary Hub about New York City’s response to flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy and implications for the city’s future. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy caused 10 feet of flooding into the estuary, and researchers predict more frequent and severe flooding on the Eastern Seaboard as sea levels continue to rise. After Hurricane Sandy, then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg promised not to abandon the waterfront and pledged millions of dollars to fortify existing infrastructure instead of taking the opportunity to reshape the shoreline based on anticipated sea levels. Meanwhile, the state government bought property along the coast, demolished houses and refused to allow future development. “Everyone was working at cross purposes,” said Koslov, who saw how funding and bureaucracy slowed down post-Sandy infrastructure projects. “People are not demanding change, so there is no real desire to reverse course,” she added.

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Spotlight on Research Into Heat-Triggered Injuries

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.


 

High Temperatures Increase Workers’ Injury Risk, Whether They’re Outdoors or Inside The finding reflects another consequence of climate change, according to new study led by R. Jisung Park of UCLA Luskin Public Policy

A UCLA study published today shows that hot weather significantly increases the risk of accidents and injuries on the job, regardless of whether the work takes place in an indoor or outdoor setting.

The report is based on data from California’s workers’ compensation system, the nation’s largest.

“The incidence of heat illnesses like heat exhaustion and heat stroke definitely go up on hotter days,” said the study’s lead researcher R. Jisung Park, an assistant professor of public policy at UCLA Luskin. “But what we found is that ostensibly unrelated incidents — like falling off a ladder or being hit by a moving truck or getting your hand caught in a machine — tend to occur more frequently on hotter days, too.”

By comparing records from more than 11 million California workers’ compensation claims from 2001 to 2018 to high-frequency local weather data, Park and his co-authors isolated the impact of hotter days on the number of injury claims.

The study shows that on days with high temperature above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, workers have a 6% to 9% higher risk of injuries than they do on days with high temperatures in the 50s or 60s. When the thermometer tops 100, the risk of injuries increases by 10% to 15%.

Those findings are particularly alarming in the context of climate change, which is expected to produce more high-temperature days each year. The researchers estimate that high temperatures already cause about 15,000 injuries per year in California.

“Heat is sometimes described as a silent killer,” said Nora Pankratz, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar. “But if you look into the data and do the statistical analysis, you find that heat has a significant impact on mortality and health outcomes.”

 

It’s not surprising that hot weather would lead to injuries and illness among workers in predominantly outdoor industries such as agriculture, utilities and construction. But the data consistently show that industries in which most people work indoors are affected as well. In manufacturing, for example, days with high temperatures above 95 degrees have an injury risk that is approximately 7% higher than days with high temperatures in the low 60s.

“A lot of manufacturing facilities are not air conditioned,” said Stanford University postdoctoral scholar A. Patrick Behrer, the study’s other co-author. “Because you’re inside, you don’t necessarily think about the temperature as being a major threat.”

The reality is that overheated workers face numerous risks, regardless of where the work occurs.

“Heat affects your physiology,” Park said. “It affects your cognition. It affects your body’s ability to cope. It seems possible that what we’re observing in the data for these workers is that they’re more likely to make mistakes or errors in judgment.”

The researchers found that heat-related workplace injuries are more likely to be suffered by men and lower-income workers. In addition, younger people suffer more heat-related injuries, possibly in part because they’re more likely to hold jobs with greater physical risks on construction sites, in manufacturing plants or at warehouses.

For an office worker at a computer desk, nodding off on a hot summer afternoon is unlikely to cause an injury. “But if you have a huge chainsaw in your hand, you’re not in a great situation,” Park said.

Among the paper’s other conclusions:

  • The number of heat-related injuries actually declined after 2005, when California became the first state to implement mandatory heat illness prevention measures for outdoor workplaces on days when temperatures exceed 95 degrees.
  • The financial costs of heat-related injuries may be between $750 million and $1.25 billion per year in California alone, considering health care expenditures, lost wages and productivity, and disability claims.
  • Inequalities in the labor market are exacerbated in part by the fact that low-income communities tend to be situated in hotter parts of the state. People in the state’s lowest household income tier are approximately five times more likely to be affected by heat-related illness or injury on the job than those in the top income tier, the study found.

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, where Park is associate director of economic research, provided funding for the study. It is available now through the Institute of Labor Economics, which disseminates working versions of potentially influential research prior to publication in academic journals. Park previewed the findings  July 15 during testimony at a Congressional hearing organized by the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.

The new study echoes the results of a 2019 study that focused on how extreme temperatures raise injury risk in Texas and in the U.S. mining industry. Park, whose prior research includes a finding that student learning is negatively impacted by warm temperatures, said there has been “an explosion of research just in the last five to 10 years that illustrates, using data, the serious consequences of climate change for health, productivity and economic growth. This likely adds to that urgency of reducing greenhouse gas emissions now.”

Pankratz got involved in the study while working at UCLA Luskin as a postdoctoral scholar, having previously researched the impact of heat on businesses while working toward her Ph.D. in the Netherlands. 

Worldwide, she said, there is growing interest in the concept of adaptation — the pragmatic changes that can be made by governments and businesses to cope with the reality of climate change.

“For a long time, the focus has been on mitigation — what can we do to prevent climate change,” she said. “But as it becomes more and more obvious that there is policy inertia on mitigation, it’s important to think about what we can do to adapt and to work as well as possible in a warmer world.”

The study authors, all of whom have backgrounds in economics, realize that the desire to protect workers from heat may be complicated by economic reality. 

Behrer said policymakers could stipulate that workers not be exposed to the heat on days above 100 degrees, for example, without proscribing a specific strategy to be used by individual business owners.

“Then firms have the option either to use air conditioning or come up with some other method of climate control for their facilities,” he said, noting that some might change work hours or shorten the work day during heat waves. “It allows them to decide the most cost-effective way for them to meet the objective of reducing workplace injuries.”

 

Turner on Increasing Opportunities for Shade

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner was featured in a National Geographic article about the importance of shade in cities like Los Angeles that are growing hotter due to climate change. Urban design in Los Angeles has prioritized access to the sun, with many city codes determining how much shadow buildings can cast. However, climate change has increased the frequency and severity of heat waves, increasing the risk of heat-related death and illness. Furthermore, predominantly Black and brown neighborhoods have fewer parks and trees and less access to shade than white neighborhoods. While asphalt and concrete absorb and release captured heat, contributing to the urban heat island effect, planting trees and creating shade can keep buildings cooler, lowering the risk of heat-related illness. “The really simple thing, if you care about making people more comfortable, is just to offer more opportunities for shade,” Turner said.


Manville on Proposed Per-Mile Driver Fees

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Michael Manville was mentioned in a San Diego Union-Tribune article about the city’s proposed road fee, which would charge drivers a set price for every mile traveled. The road charge would help pay for San Diego’s $160-billion proposal to expand rail, bus and other transportation services throughout the region. It would also help replace the revenue from the current gas tax as fossil fuels are phased out in efforts to combat climate change. “The gas tax, regardless of how much revenue it raises, is in fact a climate tax, a carbon tax,” Manville explained. “We probably shouldn’t just throw that out the window.” A statewide pilot program is also testing the road charge strategy. Experts are debating whether to adopt a flat per-mile fee or charge more to drivers with less fuel-efficient vehicles. While the second option would be more complicated, it would incentivize drivers to adopt cleaner vehicles.


Heat Exacerbates Educational Divide, Park Finds

Assistant Professor of Public Policy Jisung Park spoke to the Guardian about his research on the relationship between heat and student learning. Park’s studies have shown that students learn less when there are more hot school days, yet many American classrooms lack air conditioning, especially in neighborhoods of color. In one study, Park found that in years with more hot school days, students tend to do worse on state standardized exams. He also found that, on hot school days, Black and Hispanic students lost the most learning while white students were able to mitigate nearly all of the effects. In another study, Park found that central air conditioning mitigates the effects of heat by about 73%. “It’s not that we don’t understand atmospheric effects or don’t have technology to cool a room,” Park said. “So why is it that the plurality of U.S. classrooms don’t appear to have working air conditioning?”


It’s Time to Protect Cities From Extreme Heat, Turner Writes

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner wrote a Next City op-ed about the need for federal regulations to address extreme heat in urban areas. The urban heat island effect makes cities warmer than surrounding rural areas by up to 22 degrees. “Cities are hotter because of how we build them, and they can be cooler if we build them differently,” she explained. Heat waves have become more frequent and severe, and Turner noted that they disproportionately affect low-income communities and communities of color and reduce educational achievement for Black and Hispanic students. Turner proposed a Cool Communities Act that would regulate the production of urban heat by setting standards for building materials and rules for land use. For example, cool roofs that reflect sunlight instead of absorbing it can be up to 50 degrees cooler than standard roofs. “We may not be able to change the weather,” Turner wrote. “But we can turn down the heat through sensible cool communities standards.”


Schwarz on Disproportionate Impact of Heat Islands

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kirsten Schwarz was featured in a Pasadena Star-News article about her work on urban heat islands and public policy. Asphalt and concrete structures in urban areas absorb and radiate more heat than less developed and better landscaped areas with more shade and greenery. Schwarz, part of a UCLA team awarded $956,000 to research heat solutions in Los Angeles, explained that racially motivated policies established in the past impact how people today experience the same weather differently. “There is an uneven distribution of trees across the city, and that can result in an uneven distribution of heat across the city as well,” Schwarz said. “Areas that have uneven impacts are low-income areas and areas of long-term disinvestment.” According to Schwarz, formerly redlined areas are hotter due to less municipal investment in planted streetscapes and parks. She said an interdisciplinary approach is key to understanding and addressing extreme heat in Los Angeles.