Blog Archives

Can Sustainable Jobs Programs be Sustained?

Green JobsOne often-cited benefit of a sustainable economy is the creation of a new class of green jobs, but creating these jobs has proven to be difficult. First, there’s no clear consensus on what makes jobs “green.” Second, efforts to encourage green jobs are complicated by the need to satisfy both environmental and economic objectives, which often conflict.

Louise Yeung (MCP ’13) evaluated two green jobs programs—the Oakland Green Jobs Corps and the Baltimore Center for Green Careers—to see how they were handling the tension between these policy priorities. She found that they were taking significantly different approaches.

In Oakland, the Green Jobs Corps takes  a supply-oriented approach to filling jobs by partnering with unions to move green jobs through existing employment pipelines. The Corps trains workers in a broad set of environmental practices, and then inserts them into traditional trade positions. While this approach has given the Corps good access to new positions, the resulting jobs are not always as “green” as might be hoped. Because of union partnerships and other constraints, the program places a high emphasis on employment priorities.

The Baltimore Center for Green Careers, meanwhile, takes a demand-oriented approach. It has encouraged the growth of a new green industry—home energy efficiency contracting. This has led to a somewhat smaller programmatic impact, and the program is dependent on other policies that offer generous incentives for energy efficiency.

The varying tactics that the two programs have adopted—and the pros and cons of each—demonstrate continued uncertainty in how best to fashion green jobs policy. Read more about these programs and the lessons that they offer in Louise’s thesis.

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Updating Planning’s Qualitative Methodologies for a Digital Future

“The future has always been an integral concern for urban planning,” Noah Raford (PhD, ‘11) notes in his dissertation. One tool that planners have long used to help communities envision the future is qualitative scenario analysis. This involves having skilled experts help participants delineate the many possible futures that a community may face, the key factors that might lead to each, and the ways of ensuring that the most desirable futures can be realized.
 
Scenario analysis has long been a useful tool for planners, but it resides in a toolbox that is rapidly changing. As planners increasingly utilize digital technology and the connectivity provided by the online world to do their jobs, what implications will this have for more traditional methods like scenario analysis? Put more succinctly, what is the future of telling the future?
Future_Scaper
 
Noah delves into this question by testing the first generation of “participatory online collective intelligence systems.” He creates two web-based tools that replicate the key elements of scenario planning using a digital, online format. One tool helps to assess and visualize the linkages that changes in climate around the world might have on our lives. The second asks users to submit personal stories about the problems facing cities. He then shows how they can be coded using predefined variables. This allows them to be combined into cohesive scenarios.
 
In his dissertation, Noah compares the results and effectiveness of these methods to traditional scenario analysis. He confirmed that web-based participatory methods were valuable in helping participants envision the linkages underlying scenario analysis. The planning field could build on this initial foray into web-based scenario analysis to create most robust ways of charting a shared future. Read more about it in Noah’s dissertation.

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

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.

Vancouver 2010 – A Lesson in Olympic Sustainability

The London games began with a quirky opening ceremony on July 27, 2012, and will wrap up August 12. Ever wondered whether the new Olympic stadiums are LEED certified, or what happens to the city on August 13? Have the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) done their jobs with long-term sustainability principles in mind?

Photo credit: Carri Hulet

The answer is mostly, yes (you can download the LOCOG’s sustainability plan here), but how well the plan will play out over time in London remains to be seen. It appears that Vancouver, when it hosted the 2010 winter Olympics, set a high bar in this arena, according to DUSP 2012 graduate Ksenia Mokrushina. She studied Vancouver’s sustainability plans and practices in order to draw lessons for future host cities, including Sochi, Russia (2014), where Ksenia is from.

As Ksenia points out in her thesis, since the late 1960s, Olympic organizing committees have given varying degrees of attention to questions of environmental impact, community involvement, and development versus growth strategies. These are big challenges. The planning takes place in an accelerated timeframe, and in countries with vastly different commitments to basic sustainability principles. Ksenia concludes, for example, that when developing countries host the games, the IOC should be prepared to provide extra support for the planning and execution of the games if they expect sustainable practices to be taken seriously.

Hosting the Olympics gives cities an unprecedented opportunity to experiment with an “urban laboratory” of sorts. How have they done? Are the costs (financial, social, and environment) too high? Should we support one critic’s suggestion to stop moving the Olympics around the world and instead invest in a single site that can host the games repeatedly? Please comment and share your thoughts!

Collaborative Adaptive Management in the Southwest

Since the 1970s, some natural resource practitioners and academics have argued that natural resource management should be collaborative and should be adaptable over time in the face of new information and changing environmental and social conditions. Collaborative adaptive management, or CAM, is a natural resource management approach in which a diverse group of stakeholders iteratively plan, implement, monitor, evaluate and adjust management actions to reduce uncertainty and improve decisions over time. While promising in theory, few examples of successful CAM have been identified in practice.

Photo credit: Bruce Chackerian

Jenna Kay (MCP ’12) looked at three relatively effective CAM efforts in the southwestern United States to find out what CAM looks like in practice and what is enabling these efforts to be successful over time. Specific tools, such as the use of a trained mediator and joint fact-finding, were introduced in the cases to address process deficiencies interfering with the group’s ability to collaborate or test management strategies. Factors such as effective long-term leadership, committed and enthusiastic participants, and strong organizational partnerships have also promoted the implementation of these programs.

More lessons from Jenna’s research in the field can be found in Jenna’s thesis.

Using Community Meetings to Recruit Households into Home Energy Upgrades

Around 65 million homes in the USA could benefit from comprehensive upgrades to save energy. Serving these homes can decrease emissions, create jobs, stimulate local economies, and improve the health of indoor environments. However, marketing upgrades has proven difficult; households typically do not understand energy saving opportunities, are hesitant to take on financing to realize small net energy savings, and distrust programs and contractors.

Photo credit: PorterSIP (cgulyas2002)

Faced with these challenges, many upgrade program administrators have experimented with marketing upgrades via different community networks, such as neighborhood associations, churches, civil society organizations, common employers, or informal acquaintances. In his Masters thesis, Brendan McEwen (MCP 2012) explores the community based outreach strategies that can realize greater participation in upgrade programs. Brendan’s research suggests that hosting meetings that bring together a group of recruits, past participants, upgrade contractors, and program personnel, is an effective marketing mechanism, capable of providing a rich introduction to the concept of upgrades and fostering a sort of “peer pressure” to sign on for a home energy assessment. Brendan suggests program administrators should tap many different community networks, to recruit households into such meetings. More strategies and lessons from the field can be found in Brendan’s thesis.