The eyes and the hopes of climate advocates everywhere should be focused for the next two weeks on California.
Interstate 80, seen here in Berkeley, California, is a freeway with many lanes and heavy traffic.Wikipedia
Our prospects for breakthrough climate progress rest on five global theaters of war:
1. Curbing and then ending reliance on coal as a source of electricity.
2. Ending oil's monopoly as a transportation fuel.
3. Accelerating—dramatically—the replacement of HFC refrigerants by safe alternatives.
4. Bringing transparency and the rule of law to local and global timber markets, particularly in Brazil and Indonesia.
5. Infusing manufacturing everywhere with new levels of technology and capital to end the reliance on low cap ex but inefficient and carbon wasteful factories as an economic development strategy.
Coal is still a behemoth and Southeast Asia is considering a new coal investment boom that could dramatically increase climate risk—but there is a strong, vibrant global movement to curb its destructiveness.
The world community is moving on HFC's and their end seems in sight.
Deforestation, as always, depends heavily on better governance in complex and diverse societies—it's a slow slog, not a breakthrough game.
Manufacturing—well, we are just really beginning to wrestle with its transformation.
But oil—oil is on the edge of a major event and it is going to happen or not, in a few short weeks in Sacramento.
In 2007 Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger mandated that the oil industry diversify and decarbonize the state's fuel supply, gradually replacing oil with alternatives—electricity, natural gas, biofuels. Oil could produce these alternatives itself or buy them on the market, but by 2020, the carbon content of fuels had to be reduced by 10 percent.
Oil's fuel monopoly is the leverage that enables a barrel of crude to fetch—in tight markets—the $75-$125 the industry profitability requires. No monopoly, no profits. (No profits and oil's power to block climate progress withers).
Oil threw everything it could to combat this existential threat: multiple lawsuits in state and federal courts, massive lobbying and campaign investments seeking rescue from the legislature, even a ballot measure seeking the repeal of California's entire global warming solutions framework.
Nothing stuck. Neither Schwarzenegger or his Democratic successor, Jerry Brown, flinched. Courts upheld the low carbon fuel regulations. Gushers of money could not line up the necessary legislative majorities, the initiative was decisively slapped down at the polls and the public continues to embrace the program.
As a result, the low carbon fuel regulations are now poised to be the biggest single contributor towards California's efforts to reduce climate pollution.
But the litigation did slow the start of the program. The ramp up of fuel diversity was correspondingly been sped up, because the 10 percent by 2020 mandate remained. Meanwhile, the oil industry chose not to invest in making its own lower carbon fuels even though Chevron admits it could have done so at a profit. Now oil companies must pay others whatever the market demands for the non-petroleum fuels the industry should have been gearing up to supply on its own.
The economic impact on the oil industry is big. By 2020, the oil industry will have to offset (by purchasing low carbon fuels) a ton of CO2 for every 30 barrels of oil. That's projected to cost about $2/barrel, only a nickel a gallon—but it adds up to $1.5 billion a year. Worse, the program will reduce demand for oil in California's transportation sector by at least 10 percent. California refiners enjoy a monopoly within a monopoly. No out of state refiners produce the special blends of gasoline required by California's special unique air quality needs and the state's refiners, during the summer months, don't produce quite enough to meet demand. That tight market allows oil companies to jack up prices. So every summer gasoline prices in the state rise often by $1.00/gallon. With demand for gasoline falling because of an increasingly large percentage of non-petroleum based fuels in the market, that price gouging opportunity will vanish—and refining in California becomes vastly less profitable. Indeed, the reduction in gasoline demand from more efficient vehicles has already led Exxon to complain that there is "too much" clean gasoline being made in the California market. (Losing that premium for, say, four months a year, would slash another $4 billion from the oil industry's profits on refining).
Oil's alternative is to roll the dice on politics again, this time giving its operatives a truly unlimited campaign budget and trying to force Brown to restore oil's monopoly future in California. After all, if you stand to lose $5.5 billion—and if the rest of the world is poised to copy California—you can easily afford to invest a few hundred million in buying politicians or influencing elections.
The new strategy involves holding as hostage California future ability to finance clean energy with revenues from the state's cap and trade program. New litigation claims that these revenues turn cap and trade into a tax which requires a new 2/3 vote of the legislature. Clean energy advocates would like to extend the program—which currently expires in 2020—to give investors and businesses certainty about future markets. Republicans oppose the extension—period. The oil industry is hoping to persuade enough petroleum Democrats in the legislature to vote "no" on an extension that it can force California to exempt oil from clean energy requirements in exchange for extending the program. Brown wants an extension—but wants a 2/3 vote to protect it against future legal rulings and challenges and it doesn't seem plausible he can get such a super-majority.
Climate advocates may not even, given oil's extravagant spending on legislative races, muster a majority in the Assembly to extend AB32. Facing that possibility, Brown announced that he might leave the extension of the program in the hands of the voters in a 2018 ballot measure, rather than calling the question in the next two weeks.
That would be an enormous mistake. California votes in 90 days. Voters deserve to know which members of the legislature listened to their sentiments—2/3 support the state's climate efforts—and which listened to the siren song of oil campaign money. And the oil industry needs to be held accountable for its hostage taking. Those things can only happen if the legislature votes—so that if the extension of the climate program is blocked, that can become a major campaign issue in this election, rather than waiting for two more years for California to take the next step.
This is especially true because, with the whole world watching, oil will spend hundreds of millions of dollars against Brown's proposed ballot measures—and initiatives are particularly vulnerable to such mega-spending.
Brown and the leaders of the California legislature need to put a simple majority vote extension of the state's climate commitments to the vote. If it passes, they can move on to deal with the issue of authorizing the spending. If it is blocked, they can focus on electing new legislators who are not in oil's pocket.
It's time to call the question.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.