Blog Archives

How does a divided workforce translate into impacts on workers, the California fire management system, and criminal justice policy?

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In her thesis, Anna Doty (MCP ’17), examines the history and effects of a large portion of California firefighters’ status as incarcerated people working in a prison labor program called the Conservation Camp Program. Despite incarcerated firefighters providing approximately three million person hours per year, these individuals are paid between $2 a day or $2 per hour if they are actively fighting a fire. Doty, interrogates labor market dynamics contributing to organized labor’s compliance with the incarcerated labor program and the implications of a divided workforce, both for the workers themselves as well as the larger system of California’s fire management system and it’s criminal justice policy.

To read her full thesis, now available on Dspace, click here.

 

Image credit: Andrea Booher via Wikimedia Commons and FEMA

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How Can Cities Fund Themselves for Adaptation to Climate Change?

SuratDespite a growing acknowledgment for need for cities to adapt changes presented by climate change, the question of adaptation finance remains uncertain. Often unable to access global climate funds, cities must seek out alternative sources to support their adaptations to climate change.

In her thesis, Toral Patel (MCP ’14) examines the particularly challenging environment for local governments in India, where incomplete fiscal decentralization resulted in developmental deficits and resource constraints. Using Surat, Gujarat, as a case study, her research examines how cities in India might fund climate adaptation despite limited fiscal and administrative autonomy. It furthermore explores how the urban finance system might affect the implementation of climate adaptation strategies at the city level.

The study of Surat suggests that cities can effectively marshal funds from international, national and state sources to invest in climate adaptation. However, relying on external sources for funding has required trade-offs between policy agendas, resulting in a fluid understanding of “climate adaptation” on the ground. While the urban finance system appears to have encouraged experimentation in Surat, it may constrain the effectiveness of climate adaptation at the city level.

In addition, limited fiscal autonomy has hindered access to alternative sources to finance, such as public-private partnerships and municipal bonds. Combined, these factors have contributed to a project-based approach that may compromise longer-range and comprehensive adaptation plans.

To further cities ability to adapt to climate change, Toral identifies experimentation and innovation in financing climate adaptation as the crucial elements. Read more about Toral’s work in her thesis.

Preparing for the Storm: Contingent Climate Adaptation in South Asian Mega-Cities

1755814917_09ecb0f051_oSouth Asia’s coastal mega-cities are at risk. With staggering populations and high probabilities of flooding related to climate change, these cities face an extreme adaptation challenge. Distressingly, these cities often lack formal processes for enhancing climate resilience, focusing their planning efforts instead on broader economic development goals. What steps can these cities take to enhance their resiliency and increase their safety from the effects of climate change?

Madhu Dutta-Koehler (PhD ’13) examines this problem in her dissertation. Madhu looks closely at the capacity for adaptation planning in Dhaka, Bangladesh and Kolkata, India. She finds that these cities are remarkably constrained in the resources and attention that they are able to dedicate to climate adaptation efforts explicitly, but that they have nonetheless implemented a series of tangible projects related to enhancing resilience.

The cities have done this by aligning adaptation efforts with broader development goals. As part of a comprehensive effort to improve Dhaka’s future water supply, for example, planners have taken steps that will also mitigate the impact of climate-related flooding in the city. These “no regrets” moves that embed climate planning within broader policy goals have allowed the cities to make progress on climate adaption even though it is not being an explicit planning priority.

Madhu provides a helpful way of thinking about adaptation efforts like this, labeling them as “contingent planning.” Contingent planning postulates a loose approach to climate change mitigation. It builds gradually towards long-term adaptation goals, but allows the details of implementation to conform to overall development goals. This sort of informal climate planning may not be ideal, but it might just be what saves the coastal mega-cities of South Asia. Read more about Madhu’s work in her dissertation.

Planning Beyond Coal

Our nation’s energy infrastructure is at the beginning stages of a massive transition as we come to terms with and address the implications of our reliance on fossil fuels. The first stage of this transition will be the retirement of AdiNochurmuch of America’s fleet of coal plants, due both to more stringent environmental regulations and the increased competitiveness of natural gas. Beyond environmental and climactic benefits, the shutdown of these plants creates an interesting planning opportunity to consider how lands previously used for energy generation from coal can be redeveloped and put to new uses.
Adi Nochur (MCP ’13) confronts these questions in his thesis. He considers the cases of three Massachusetts coal communities—Salem, Somerset, and Holyoke—that must make decisions about plant shutdown and reuse, with a primary focus on the ways in which the planning process has or hasn’t opened up opportunities for concerned stakeholders and the public to get involved.
There has been little consistently in the ways that Massachusetts towns plan for the transition from coal, Adi finds. Salem has been a leader among the three, as town officials have aggressively considered options for reuse and have given environmental advocates and the public seats at the table. Adi also notes differences in state leadership and the level of funding granted for reuse planning efforts amont the three towns. He presents Chicago as a model for Massachusetts coal communities to follow. Officials there have emphasized stakeholder engagement and strong government leadership in coal plant transition planning.
In general, Adi’s thesis raises questions about the appropriate uses of former coal sites. Often, as will likely be the case in Salem, shuttered coal plants get a second life as natural gas facilities, though this outcome may not be in the best interest of communities that have long dealt with the local health and environmental consequences of fossil fuel energy production. Adi is hopeful that Massachusetts and other states will consider a broader range of ideas and stakeholder views as they make plans for a post-coal energy sector. Read more about Adi’s findings and conclusions in his thesis.

A Business Model for a Constrained World

Our natural systems are increasingly threatened by climate change, droughts, increasing population, and related crises. These coming crises will have massive economic impacts, and firms will soon need to learn how to operate in a setting where resources are constrained and old business models are no longer competitive.Image

Aleyn Smith-Gillespie (MCP/SM 2001), now an associate director at Carbon Trust, recently contributed to an Economist report on the future of business models in a constrained world. Aleyn notes that, for many products where the cost of ownership is high and the rate of utilization low, businesses have an opportunity to recognize resource constraints by shifting away from an ownership economy and towards a sharing or subscription-based one.

Many proactive businesses have already begun to move in this direction, by emphasizing shared ownership of under-utilized resources (like cars and industrial machinery) and advertising services over products.

As these new business models succeed and resource constraints continue to strangle the old economy, Aleyn expects this shift to become more pronounced. Read more about Aleyn’s take on his guest blog at the Economist, or download the full Economist report, Supply on Demand.

Governing International Climate Risk in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Ntondo Village WomenClimate change is expected to have particularly adverse effects on developing countries for a host of reasons. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, where MCP ’12 Ian Gray did his thesis research, people are at risk because of the high percentage of the population that is subject to subsistence living and complete dependence on forest resources for survival.

The DRC, along with other countries facing similar challenges, is expected to grow its economy and stabilize carbon emissions at the same time. While the country works to develop policies that meet each objective individually, Ian argues that they tend to fall into a process that Sheila Jasanoff calls “co-production,” or a dialectic in which efforts to change the natural order depend on unquestioned ideas about the social order, and vice-versa.

After spending three months doing ethnographic work in the DRC’s Ministry of Environment, Ian came to the conclusion that the instrumental goals of making carbon governable in the DRC ran a high risk of reproducing embedded inequities found at the local level. Ian argues that if REDD* architecture is to live up to its stated goal of protecting forests while improving livelihoods, it must engage in more explicit co-productionist politics of carbon management. He says this means developing overt mechanisms that provide more continuous interactions between different epistemic communities in the REDD eligible countries (including international experts, national administrators, land users and local communities) and linking local level institutions with larger scales of administration to set rules for carbon management. Ian also suggests strengthening community control of resources so local groups play a larger role in defining for whom, and for what, carbon sequestration is good. Read Ian’s full thesis here and share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group.

*UN-REDD is the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries

Planning for Climate Change Induced Resettlement: Learning from Contrasting Approaches in China and the USA

Climate change induced resettlement is a reality some communities are already facing, and may become increasingly necessary as the planet warms and weather patterns change. The ways in which communities plan for and conduct resettlement are likely to be consistent with the ways in which they have traditionally made decisions, reflecting their disparate socio-political and economic dynamics. It is, therefore, instructional to consider how communities have responded to similar situations in the past so we can understand how they might respond in the future. By better understanding the various paths followed in similar situations, but under very different regimes, we can identify the strengths and weaknesses of various governance models, extracting lessons for resettlement planning.

This thesis research examined cases in two very different places: The resettlement of Tibetan nomads in Qinghai, China, and the resettlement of some New Orleanians post-Hurricane Katrina. The approach in China might be described as authoritarian, favoring scientific management by a cadre of professional central government planners. The American approach is more market-oriented, with less government involvement.

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A qualitative examination of these two cases suggests that each approach offers strengths and weaknesses. For better or worse, the Chinese approach tackles the resettlement question proactively, using information to make decisive decisions. The government provides a standard level of support for all families and holds itself responsible for what happens. In contrast, uncertainty around the impacts of climate change, the inadequate dissemination and consideration of information, resource constraints, and resistance to government intervention make proactive decision making in the American context difficult.

The Chinese approach has some serious shortcomings – resettlement plans are largely generic and thus insensitive to individual needs and preferences. Officials hold a great deal of authority that can be used nefariously. The American approach allows for a much greater diversity of responses and leaves choices to those with the ability to marshal resources, but often neglects those who have traditionally been marginalized. Non-governmental organizations are left to fill the void in the American context. They have their own strengths and weaknesses. Read Todd’s full thesis here.

No Perfect Prediction Regarding Climate Change Risk? Plan for It Anyway.

Climate change science is improving, but the relevant predictions are far from ideal. If you are a City Planner in a coastal city, a 60 cm rise in sea level over the next 20 years will present very different problems from a 130 cm rise. But, that range might be the best that science can provide at the moment. How should you proceed?

Melissa Sapuan (MCP ’12) looked at climate adaptation planning in New York City and Rotterdam with this question in mind. She found that one way to handle uncertainty is for cities start with what they do know, and take steps to reduce the vulnerabilities they already face. She also emphasizes the need for flexible risk management strategies that can be adapted over time as projections improve, or conditions change. Melissa notes that stakeholder interests ought to set the agenda for climate adaptation planning. A dynamic exchange among policymakers, the public, and scientists is required. Check out Melissa’s full thesis, “Using uncertain sea level rise projections: adaptation in Rotterdam and New York” and share your thoughts on this topic in the EPP Facebook Group.

A Way Forward for Hydroelectricity in South America

In recent years, governments in South America have turned to large-scale hydropower as a cost-effective way to improve livelihoods while addressing the energy “trilemma:” ensuring that future energy technologies provide effective solutions to climate change, environmental degradation, and supply security.

Patricio Zambrano-Barragan (MCP ’12) explored the rapidly-changing context for hydropower in South America by looking at three flagship projects: Ecuador’s Coca-Codo-Sinclair (1,500MW), Chile’s HidroAysén (2,750MW), and Perú’s Inambari (2,000MW).

Photo credit: Jorge Uzon

Patricio makes three claims:
1) Large-scale hydropower projects are evaluated against a small universe of alternatives. The projects are not considered among a variety of potential plans, but rather with respect to one plan’s possible iterations vis-à-vis a specific political goal, such as security and sovereignty, fast GDP growth, or regional integration. This approach has resulted in considerable social and environmental conflict.

2) State mediation of conflict has been further complicated by the presence of new sources of financing for large infrastructure development – what Patricio calls “south-south development ventures” – through which national governments spearhead domestic infrastructure development that does not rely on “traditional” financing sources from multilateral organizations. The prominence of these money sources denotes a clear historical departure away from universal standards and toward bilateral management of decision-making processes.

3) Regardless of the regulatory framework governing energy planning, the state creates makeshift regulatory or judicial solutions to deal with the overlap of diverse ecosystems and settlements on and around hydropower sites. Public opposition resulting from these solutions reveals clear inadequacies in the way these countries plan and develop high-interest infrastructure projects.

The implication in Patricio’s findings is that opportunities exist to make hydropower a credible option to meet the energy trilemma if state actors are willing to think beyond the “decide-announce-defend” model of decision-making, and if South American countries can set up a regional, independent, third-party oversight body to mediate between the state, project sponsors, and civil society actors. Read more in Patricio’s thesis.

Do Renters Miss Out on the Benefits of Energy Efficiency?

Increasing energy efficiency is a popular notion. It garners support from environmentalists to economists to every person who pays a utility bill. But when it comes to retrofits, more homeowners are benefiting from energy efficiency than renters. Patrick Coleman (MCP 2011) thinks this a problem worth looking into.

To do this, Patrick analyzed local city ordinances that aim to enhance the energy efficiency of rental properties in California, Wisconsin, Vermont, and Texas. He found that the barriers to energy efficiency improvements are significant, but the potential in rental housing looms large. The lack of information, fragmentation of housing and energy markets, and misaligned incentives, however, challenge retrofits. Also, the diversity of property owners, from individuals to multinational corporations, presents policymakers and program administrators with varied motivations and interests and makes coordination of resources extremely difficult.

Despite this, Coleman found that well-designed ordinances can 1) establish a minimum standard of energy efficiency in rental properties, 2) enable energy efficiency program administrators to focus their attention beyond basic measures to deeper retrofits, and 3) facilitate the valuation of energy efficiency in housing markets.

Coleman recommends partnerships between local governments, community-based organizations, and utility companies to motivate better energy efficiency in rental units. You can read more by checking out Patrick’s thesis.