People’s Climate March: Frontlines of Crisis, Forefront of Change

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On September 21, 2014, 400,000 people converged on the streets of Manhattan for the People’s Climate March (PCM), making it the largest climate change demonstration in U.S. history. The PCM was led by low-income people of color and indigenous people — those most likely to be affected by the health, environmental, and economic impacts of climate change.

Lisa Young, MCP 2015, begins her thesis by telling the story of the “climate movement” starting in the early 1990s. This leads her to expose a deep division between two streams of the movement: the mainstream Climate Action (CA) camp, led by privileged white environmentalists, and the more radical Climate Justice (CJ) camp, led by communities of color. Their ultimate partnership offers an example of how the competing movements were able to developed a collaborative framework by conftonting issues of trust, leadership, funding, framing, and strategy. To learn the full story of how the CA and CJ camps were able to overcome the barriers between them, and grow the size and diversity of the climate movement, you can read Lisa’s thesis here.

Time for a change in Utah: conquering nature or living within its bounds

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More than 150 years ago, the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley and immediately set to work digging irrigation ditches and canals to harness water for their farms. Since then, Utah water managers have solved water supply problems by building large infrastructure projects. Unlike many other states in the region that have implemented aggressive demand-side measures to conserve water, Utah’s conservation efforts have been relatively minimal. At this point, demand-side measures are a tough sell as a way of addressing water needs in Utah. At the same time, supply-side projects are costly for taxpayers and for the environment, take decades to complete, and are based on unreliable forecasts of future water demand and uncertain water sources. Chloe Schaefer, MCP 15, provides a critical comparison of these two traditional strategies and makes a case for water conservation as the best option for the state. She points out that this would require a big shift on the dominant water planning mindset. While behavior is a hard thing to change, Chloe points out ways of encouraging this shift. You can see more at the following link, here.

From good intentions to meaningful actions: CSR in the Electric Power Sector

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Providing data to CSR rating schemes may signal that a company is prepared to take responsibility for its environmental, social, and economic impacts, but the correlation between responding to CSR rating schemes and taking meaningful action to minimize impacts is not entirely clear. Elisabeth Rutledge, MCP 15 focuses on the electric sector to learn more. The two most widely using rating schemes in this industry are the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) and the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI). Based on interviews with key participants she concludes that these CSR rating schemes have succeeded in encouraging companies to disclose corporate sustainability data voluntarily, but given certain perverse incentives, reporting does not necessarily motivate appropriate action. Elisabeth highlights some positive effects that CSR reporting does have on internal corporate policies.

What do you think are some of the features of CSR assessments are that companies are ignoring? How can we ensure better standardization and more trust in CSR scores? Elisabeth suggests a number of ways of restructuring current CSR rating schemes. You can find these recommendations in the full version of Elisabeth’s thesis here.

The role of Massachusetts in making a case for the adoption of a nationwide carbon tax policy

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Massachusetts’ Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) passed in 2008 committed the state to reducing carbon emissions 25% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. Progress towards meeting these targets has been uneven, especially when it comes to transportation improvements and land use policy. This is especially worrisome given that transportation emissions are likely to rise over the next few years. One possible solution, supported by much of the environmental community, is the adoption of a revenue-neutral carbon tax or carbon fee. This would levy an additional fee on fossil fuel consumption, but distribute the revenue back to the state’s residents instead of adding it to the state budget. MCP 15 Elizabeth argues that this would be a mistake. She draws from a spatial analysis of passenger vehicle driving patterns in Massachusetts, a case study of British Columbia’s successful revenue-neutral carbon tax, and analysis of the current political landscape in Massachusetts to make her case. What are the flaws in this potential strategy? How do the state’s efforts relate to nationwide efforts to adopt a carbon tax? You can find the answers to these questions and more by downloading Elizabeth’s thesis in the following link:

 

The power dynamics behind mitigation and adaptation in Somerville, MA

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The impacts of climate change are driving cities to adopt both preventive and reactive measures. With increasingly constrained resources, cities seem to be pushed in two different directions. MCP 15, Mia Goldwasser argues that integrating both preventive (mitigation) and reactive (adaptation) measures is necessary to achieve the most important political, community, and sustainability goals. Mia uses the case of Somerville, MA’s experience — developing their first climate change plan – to substantiate her premise. She developed recommendations for Somerville based on what other cities’ have done. What does it takes for such integration to succeed? To read more about this you can access Mia’s thesis in the following link: https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/98936

Assessing Cal-Adapt, California’s climate adaptation tool

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In light of the different kinds of impacts that climate change might cause, it is imperative not only to learn about local risks but also to think about how to respond effectively to climate-induced changes. In the last few years, there have been many tools created to generate climate change forecasts and provide guidance to communities trying to understand their vulnerabilities. One of these tools is Cal-Adapt, produced by the State of California. MCP student Melissa Deas examines both the practicality and value of this tool for communities in California. She specifically explores whether the information provided by Cal-Adapt is helping communities increase their resilience. Melissa assesses the collaboration that brought together decision-makers, stakeholders and scientists. She concludes that collaborations like this can be a powerful way to create legitimacy for climate action. To learn whether Cal-Adapt is making a difference in the state of California, see the following link:

 https://dspace.mit.edu/handle/1721.1/99075

Civic spaces and brownfield redevelopment, a case study of the Social Innovation project in Somerville, MA

art_culture_scribed_imageFormer brownfield sites offer opportunities for economic growth. How can industrial cities dealing with legacy of contained areas promote neighborhood-scale arts-oriented development? Can such sites benefit from policy integration? MCP Allegra Fonda-Bonardi did a yearlong study of the ARTFarm for Social Innovation in Somerville; Massachusetts to better understand how one city tried to find the right balance between environmental clean-up, real estate reinvestment and neighborhood control of the development process. She starts of with the premise that integrating city-wide environmental, social, and economic sustainability is possible, and that civic spaces that aim to meet multiple objectives are more likely to succeed than those that don’t. Allegra also discusses in her thesis the importance of demanding accountability from developers who offer to fund remediation, to ensure that a portion of the remediated land is used to meet neighborhood priorities. Did the ArtFarm create a precedent? You can find the answer to this question and more in Allegra’s thesis, here.

How can private interests as well as federal and local governments interact to promote climate change adaptation?

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Many coastal and riverine communities in the United States face serious flooding risks from sea level rise and increased frequency of severe storms. From a municipal perspective, planners and elected officials must decide what tools they will use to help private property owners adapt to climate change impacts. In her thesis, Julie Curti (MCP ’15) evaluates how two communities in Rhode Island, Cranston and Westerly, have utilized buyback and elevation programs to adapt to future flooding risks.

Julie was especially interested in how federal and local governments interact, planners prioritize and fund projects, and equity considerations are incorporated into local-level decisions. While exploring these questions, she identified the danger of merging hazard mitigation programs with climate change adaptation efforts. Julie argues for an approach to adaptation planning that balances justice-oriented distributional and procedural equity at the local level. She also suggests ways in which state and federal agencies can facilitate stronger adaptation planning at the local level. To read more about Julie’s observations, analysis, and findings, click here.

Female Entrepreneurs, the Building Block of a New Economy?

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In her 2015 thesis, MCP Ellen Chen, studied how female “social entrepreneurs” have spurred micro-level reforms, and how their efforts have fueled broader institutional changes in Malaysia. These innovators are working on topics ranging from transportation safety to sex education. Most have left lucrative professional careers to pursue causes that are important to them, either as organizers or volunteers. From what Ellen was able to document, policy changes at the national or regional level are not enough. Widespread action by risk-takers on the ground is essential to realize greater sustainability. On the other hand, fighting for the rights of disadvantaged groups or using the media to lift up voices for change are also important to achieving sustainable development.

Ellen investigated the proposition offered by political economists that nations can grow their economy more rapidly if they are willing to break with past institutional patterns. Ellen’s research suggests that this has been difficult to do in Malaysia, especially with regards to women’s roles. The state-influenced system of education continues to promote Islam’s gender-specific norms of virtuous behavior. While Malaysia has embarked on an aggressive effort to promote economic growth and launched multiple programs to encourage female entrepreneurship, there is still a prominent cultural aversion to risk-taking. Ellen’s thesis consists of both a traditional written portion, available here, and a video presentation, viewable here.

 

Short term gains, but long term inefficiencies? A case study of smart thermostats in residential buildings.

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Smart technologies, such as smart thermostats, appear to offer a cost-effective approach to transitioning to a cleaner electricity grid. That is to say, they can balance real-time supply and demand for electricity, making it easier to integrate intermittent renewable energy sources into the grid. Brian Bowen (MCP’ 15) offers a case study of Austin Energy’s demand-response thermostat and their Wi-Fi connected smart thermostats. He analyzed the ability of these thermostats to reduce energy consumption during the summer of 2013. While he affirms the success of smart thermostats during peak demand, he also lays out a convincing case for the limited long-term energy efficiency potential of smart thermostats. To read more about Brain’s analysis and findings, please read his thesis here.