President Obama doubled down on climate and clean energy Monday saying, “No challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change.” Speaking at the eighth Clean Energy Summit, in his first public appearance since vacation, President Obama launched an 11 day climate barnstorming campaign.
His blunt speech directly challenged climate sceptics as ignoring the new logic of the market, saying that now clean energy was cheaper, fossil interests still refused to embrace change. Obama asserted, “We believe we can do good while doing well at the same time.” He laid out a series of policy initiatives—the most important a long overdue message to federal banking regulators to get out of the way on programs that help homeowners bring down their energy bills by making their buildings less leaky.
President Obama begins speaking at 44:00.
The 11 days—yesterday in Las Vegas, next Thursday in New Orleans, the following week to the Arctic—were a prelude, the President promised, to a 100 day long marathon leading up to the Paris Climate COP. The overall campaign will continue through the National League of Cities Convention in Nashville in November, culminating at the UN Summit. In Obama’s mind, it is a campaign “between those who fear the future and those who are eager to see the future.”
The opening salvo was buttressed by the two key dynamics that the President expects to drive an ambitious if incomplete climate deal over the Paris finish line: city leadership and clean energy economic clout.
While the formal negotiations between UN member states drag and lag at a lowest common denominator pace, the real front line warriors, cities, are crowding into an international diplomatic space long closed to them. As former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg signaled in his Foreign Affairs manifesto this month, the world’s first Metropolitan Generation has been handled the climate challenge, and it is going to meet with an urban strategy: diverse, bottom up and profitable.
Yesterday, the White House challenged America’s cities to turbocharge the Compact of Mayors. “The Compact is an initiative supported by Mike Bloomberg, the UN and global city networks—C40, ICLEI, UCLG—coming together to create a measurable accountable reporting platform through which cities say to their nation-states, in effect, “You Mr. Prime Minister may be forced to hesitate and equivocate, but we will lead. And you can measure our results—so the world will know what can be done.”
Fifteen new American cities joined the compact yesterday, almost doubling the membership—Atlanta, Austin, Bridgeport, Camuy (PR), Chicago, Chula Vista, Grand Rapids, King County, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Seattle, West Hollywood, West Palm Beach. And a 12 city Leadership Circle chaired by Salt Lake City made it clear that urban voices would be in Paris in force.
It is clear that the administration understands that cities and the mayors who lead them need to have its back in the two key arenas: internationally where other nations wonder if Congress will let Obama deliver, and domestically, where Big Carbon’s hopes rest on a blocking minority of governors and attorneys general thwarting the national consensus that carbon pollution needs cleaning up. By acting independently and visibly, cities show the world that the U.S. is cleaning up its act.
Nevada was the perfect showcase for the second of the forces the President and his climate team are counting on to deliver success in Paris—the dynamism of clean energy. As Sen. Reid reminded the audience, eight years ago—in the first of these summits—former President Clinton challenged Nevada to produce more clean energy than it uses.
Today, the Silver State on a per capita basis is already capturing more electrons from the wind, sun and geothermal than any other state, and has announced the retirement of all its coal fired power. Now it is about to experience the first true clean energy boom, in the form of 6,500 manufacturing jobs and 9,000 construction jobs being added in Washoe and Storey Counties (Reno and Sparks) by Tesla Motors EV batteries Gigafactory. (This one project will employ 1/5 of the number still working to mine coal in the U.S.).
— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) August 24, 2015
The media had largely missed this until Obama arrived Monday. But Hilary Clinton’s campaign had not—she signaled Nevada as her Western fire-wall state. Democrats took a huge bath in 2014 because the state’s construction-juiced economy had not recovered from the Recession. But Tesla plus clean power equals recovery, and makes Nevada a dismal prospect for a Republican Presidential candidate determined to trash clean power. (Neither Nevada’s Republican Governor nor its Republican Senator, Dean Heller, have ever joined the “clean power means socialism” caucus—but virtually every Republican Presidential candidate has).
Reid, who is retiring, paid tribute to the progress America’s electricity sector has made—but reminded us of how many miles we have yet to go, and how mired in the past much of the utility industry is. In inimitable Harry Reid fashion, he treated us to a long analogy between the clean energy revolution and the arrival of sabermetrics in baseball. Reid recounted that before Manager Billy Bean and the Oakland A’s of 2002, baseball teams just bought the highest batting averages, and assumed that would yield the most wins. That, Reid told us, is yesterday’s utility model: build enough big coal and nuclear power plants, and you’ll always have a (wasteful) surplus to meet your customers' needs. But, Reid said, customers wanted something less wasteful, something cheaper—better, not just bigger—and clean energy is providing it.
So Obama came to Reno yesterday to energize his two secret climate progress weapons—cities and profits. And both of them seem ready to accompany him, not only for the next 100 days on the road to Paris, but after than on the road through Paris.
(PS: When Harry Reid’s political career began, Nevada economy’s was still rooted in the mining past of his own home town, Searchlight. Las Vegas thrived—well, because the rest of the country valued a safety valve from legacy Puritanism to gamble. When Reid retires in January 2017 his state will stand out as one of the nation’s most successful innovators. Rarely has a Senator done so much for his state and the nation together).
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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.