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Guidance for an Effective, Equitable Heat Strategy in California

While California is planning for rising temperatures with its new Extreme Heat Action Plan, the state has not historically treated extreme heat as a social equity and public health crisis — a crisis that requires targeted and robustly funded action to save lives. The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation has released two policy briefs that can help inform upcoming policy and budget decisions leading to an equitable and effective state strategy:

  • Protecting Californians From Deadly Heat summarizes five recommendations to advance an equitable, evidence-based approach to heat mitigation and adaptation, including an “all-of-government” approach that coordinates California’s current patchwork of regulations and funding sources.
  • Protecting Californians With Heat-Resilient Homes spotlights three recommended actions to protect people at home, including policies and programs to make residential cooling strategies more accessible and expansion of community resilience centers to protect the unhoused and other vulnerable populations.

Read more about the Center for Innovation’s research into climate solutions.


 

Climate Change Action at the Community Level

A Streetsblog Cal article highlighted reports published by the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation that evaluate the effectiveness of the state’s Transformative Climate Communities (TCC) program in five different communities. The TCC program helps fund the development and implementation of community-defined, neighborhood-level plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “The most transformative element of TCC may also be its most foundational: the community engagement and collaborative processes that anchor each neighborhood’s efforts,” according to the reports. So far, the TCC program has been implemented in Fresno, Ontario, Stockton, and the Watts and Northeast San Fernando Valley neighborhoods of Los Angeles, and 18 more communities have received planning grants. “The TCC award not only brings a significant influx of financial resources to the community, but also reinforces the cross-sector partnerships that were built before and during the TCC application process,” the Center for Innovation found. “Empowering members of historically underserved communities can catalyze change for the long-term.”


Climate Disasters Are Intertwined With Policy, Goh Says

Kian Goh, assistant professor of urban planning, was mentioned in a KCET article about the misleading language surrounding extreme weather events. In recent years, harmful events including heat waves, wildfires and floods have been called “climate disasters,” and many politicians have pointed to them as proof of the dire need for urgent action to address climate change. However, some experts have argued that the focus on climate in the phrase “climate disasters” fails to acknowledge the role of policies that make certain communities more vulnerable to disasters in the first place. Goh explained that many disasters are “completely intertwined” with how cities are planned and governed, down to where neighborhoods were built in the first place. The international “No Natural Disasters” campaign rejects the idea that natural hazards are the sole cause of disasters and seeks to reframe the conversation around social and political factors.


Classrooms Need Cooling, Park Says

Assistant Professor of Public Policy R. Jisung Park was featured in a Marketplace report about the impact of air conditioning on student performance. Park has conducted several studies investigating how heat affects student performance in the classroom, and his research shows that students learn less overall when they experience more hot days. “It’s a slow, hidden burn,” Park explained. “These little disruptions to learning, maybe we don’t notice them on a day-to-day basis, but over time they appear to add up to something meaningful.” Many of America’s school buildings do not have air conditioning, and some have no cooling at all. “The Goldilocks zone seems to be somewhere in the mid-60s” to achieve optimal learning outcomes, Park said. Now, many public schools are choosing to use some of their federal COVID relief funds to upgrade air conditioning, which improves air quality and should also improve student academic and health outcomes.


Every Project Impacts Climate, Goh Says

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Kian Goh spoke to Architectural Record about addressing social inequities in the work of climate justice. “Almost anywhere we look, the places architects practice have histories of injustice,” Goh said. “A core part of our practice is to be accountable to the fact that these are not neutral places.” She explained that built-environment professionals need to be more attuned to injustices within their own ranks, as well as to the embodied struggles that have given rise to the climate-justice movement. “So how do we not talk over or otherwise speak for these front-line vulnerable communities?” Goh asked. “And what practices can we embrace that take their claims for justice seriously, at the same time as we need to do big projects fast?” Goh hopes that urban planners will be able to use their expertise to contribute to and advance these movements for climate justice.


In the Fight for Climate Justice, Let the People Lead Front-line communities are mobilized and making gains. It's a matter of survival, says advocate and activist Elizabeth Yeampierre

By Mary Braswell

In the fight for real climate justice, the smartest strategy is also the simplest: Listen to the people on the front lines.

That was the core message of attorney, environmental advocate and community organizer Elizabeth Yeampierre during a May 3 online dialogue with a UCLA audience.

“The path to climate justice is local,” said Yeampierre, executive director of the New York nonprofit UPROSE and co-chair of the national Climate Justice Alliance. “We don’t need people to helicopter in and determine what’s in our best interest. We know. And we’re really sophisticated at getting this done.”

Communities around the country that stand to bear the brunt of climate change are forging vast coalitions and getting results, she said.

“We’re organizing, base-building, getting policy implemented and putting down infrastructure. …  Big stuff that people think is not even possible is happening,” she said.

Yeampierre spoke about the trajectory of UPROSE, which came together in 1966 as a grassroots effort led by the Puerto Rican community of Brooklyn’s industrial Sunset Park. Now, she says, the nonprofit mobilizes residents of all races and every generation who are working to secure their own futures by restoring balance to the planet.

“It means returning the sacred to the mother,” she said, describing a distinctly spiritual and matriarchal dimension of climate adaptation. “Land, air, water, animals, plants, ideas and ways of doing things and living are purposefully returned to their original purpose.”

The movement is powered by young people of color motivated not by a “woke moment,” she said, but because “it was a matter of survival for them to organize.

“Climate change is like nothing we’ve ever experienced. We need to approach this with deep humility, and hold on to each other, share information and build from the bottom up.”

That has not been the approach of government officials, corporations and even the Big Green environmental organizations that use a top-down approach to drive the climate agenda, Yeampierre said.

“It’s easy for people to put a green patina on something … to satisfy their liberal guilt,” she said. “But you don’t get to speak for our communities. How dare you? …

“When you compromise justice, you’re literally compromising our lives. You’re basically saying how many of us can live, how many of us can get sick, and how many of us will die. And I don’t think that the privileged have a right to do that.”

Yeampierre’s UCLA talk was part of the University of California Regents’ Lecturer program and the Harvey S. Perloff Environmental Thinkers Series. The lecture was part of a weekslong commemoration of UCLA Luskin Urban Planning’s 50th anniversary, including appearances by several thought leaders on sustainability. Upcoming speakers include Robert Bullard of Texas Southern University, often described as the father of environmental justice, and Dolores Hayden of Yale University, a scholar of the American urban landscape.

Urban Planning faculty member Kian Goh, who researches social movements and climate change in cities around the world, moderated the conversation with Yeampierre. Goh is associate faculty director of the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy, which co-sponsored Yeampierre’s lecture.

During the talk, Yeampierre stressed that the United States is at a crossroads as civil rights enshrined for half a century are under attack.

“Whether it’s our voting rights, our reproductive rights, or even our ability to save ourselves from the impact of extreme weather events … we’re here this evening because we know we’re in a moment of deep reckoning, and that the lives of our people are at stake.”

Watch the lecture on Vimeo.

Callahan on Expanding Access to Clean Vehicles

Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation,  spoke to ABC7 News about expanding access to clean vehicles in rural communities in California. Electric vehicles are an important strategy to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change, but zero-emission car sales have largely been clustered in wealthier, urban areas. Many rural communities that would benefit from increased investment of clean energy lack the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles, such as charging stations. “The same Californians who tend to live in communities most affected by air pollution — including pollution from trucks and cars and other kinds of on-road sources — they’re the same ones that you’d think should be getting the access to the clean vehicles, but that’s not always the case,” Callahan said. She also highlighted the importance of lowering the cost of clean vehicles through rebates and raising community awareness about the benefits of zero-emission vehicles.


Callahan on Pursuing Clean Energy and Equity in California

LAist spoke to Colleen Callahan, co-executive director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, about the California Climate Credit, one piece of the state’s larger strategy to address the climate crisis. Under the program, many consumers received a credit on their utility bills, funded by a cap-and-trade system that requires industries to pay for the pollution they emit. The credit is meant to offset the costs that fall on the public as California transitions from energy generated by fossil fuels to cleaner energy like wind and solar. Callahan said it may be time to rethink a universal credit, especially as low- and middle-income Californians continue to be disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation. “If the goal is to increase energy affordability for low-income Californians during a transition to a clean, low-carbon economy, then other strategies that the state are using should probably receive more emphasis in the future,” she said.

Millard-Ball on Moving Past Easy, Cheap, Quick Climate Fixes

Associate Professor of Urban Planning Adam Millard-Ball was featured in a CapRadio article about Sacramento County’s in-progress climate action plan, one of many plans adopted by California cities to combat climate change at a local level. Several of the plans have been criticized for sticking to safe solutions and failing to address equity. ​​“Cities aren’t really getting outside of their comfort zone,” Millard-Ball said. “They don’t force the city to do something it wasn’t already going to do.” Radical change will be required for these plans to be effective in the future, he said. “In order to make change, there’s not going to be 100% agreement on these difficult decisions if cities are serious about reducing emissions,” he said. “We’ve already done most of the kind of easy, cheap, quick fixes that everyone can agree on.” The article cited research co-authored by Millard-Ball on equity in urban climate planning.


Turner on Framing the Heat Narrative to Find Solutions

Assistant Professor of Urban Planning V. Kelly Turner explored the question “How do we change?” as a guest speaker on an episode of the UCLA lecture series “10 Questions: If not now, when?” Turner discussed her own work on cool pavement, climate change, and the way that different narratives surrounding heat can point to different solutions. “I never thought that cool pavement would be the most political thing that I would study,” Turner said. She highlighted the importance of incorporating equity into the conversation about heat and climate change, noting that only about 25% of city plans use an equity narrative. “We know that heat is one of the most inequitable consequences of climate change,” she said. Turner also explained that “changing the problem framing can unlock new legal doors.” For example, she pointed out that there is no government entity that regulates heat the way that air and water pollution are regulated.