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A LASER to Battle Climate Change?

The adage “think globally but act locally” had new resonance for me on a recent trip to rural Wisconsin. At the time, I was putting the finishing touches on the Los Angeles Solar and Efficiency Report (LASER). Debuting last week, LASER is a data-driven mapping tool designed to help communities identify opportunities to save households money, create clean energy jobs, and strengthen climate resiliency in vulnerable communities. While this report focuses on the Los Angeles region, reoccurring conversations around dinner tables, fire pits, and lakes in the rural Midwest reminded me that the same concerns and hopes of families in Los Angeles, are relevant throughout the nation: jobs, climate, and health.

Created by partners of the Los Angeles Sustainability Collaborative—the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation and Environmental Defense Fund—LASER tells a story of risk and opportunity. It contains maps that translate scientific studies into powerful visualizations of the harmful effects of climate change, while highlighting the potential for jobs and healthier communities. Designed to help policymakers and the public prepare for a warmer future, the maps demonstrate estimated temperature increases, current environmental health risks, and climate change vulnerability in various parts of the region. In addition, parcel-level analysis and maps gives planners and property owners detailed information about which buildings and other spaces across L.A. County are ripe for solar panel installation and energy efficiency measures. Taken as a whole, the project paints a comprehensive picture of clean energy opportunities in Southern California, and demonstrates the potential economic benefits of sustained investment in these strategies.

A call to action

The data is at a very local level, throughout and specific to the Los Angeles region. But most noteworthy, similar efforts to leverage public data are being completed throughout the nation. We can learn from each other by thinking globally and acting locally.

The LASER maps are a response to President Obama’s Climate Data Initiative, a call to action to leverage public data in order to stimulate innovation and collaboration in support of national climate change preparedness. A recent White House announcement featured LASER as an example of efforts advancing the Climate Data Initiative.  Alarming scientific findings from the National Climate Assessment show that climate change is already impacting all parts of the United States.  Climate resilience planning and other adaptation measures are necessary. And so is more local data that policymakers and other stakeholders can use to help guide climate planning and resilience efforts.

The risk: Is your neighborhood among the most vulnerable? 

LASER begins by highlighting results of the groundbreaking study “Mid-Century Warming in the Los Angeles Region” by Dr. Alex Hall and his colleagues at UCLA. The scientists find that by mid-century, the L.A. region could experience a tripling in the number of extreme heat days in the downtown and urban core, and a quadrupling in the number of extreme heat days in the valleys and at high elevations.
The report focuses on the 38 percent of L.A. County residents (3.7 million people) living in environmentally-vulnerable communities currently burdened by air pollution and other risk factors, as identified by the California Communities Environmental Health Screening Tool (CalEnviroScreen). The environmental health risks in these communities will be exacerbated by climate change. Based on analysis of CalEnviroScreen data, the report highlights that fully 50 percent of the state’s most vulnerable population lives in L.A. County. The State of California is expected to use the CalEnviroScreen to identify disadvantaged communities for the purpose of prioritizing billions of dollars from the state’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund. The Luskin Center is advising the State on implementing the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund to maximize the local economic, environmental, and health co-benefits of investments that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The opportunity: Jobs and healthier communities

This brings us into the “opportunity” part of the story. The project is timely because with new state funding sources becoming available, LASER can help inform how the region invests resources to address pressing environmental challenges while providing job opportunities in its most impacted communities.

For instance, the report illustrates that Los Angeles County is currently leaving around 98 percent of its solar capacity untapped. Achieving just 10 percent of its rooftop solar potential could create 47,000 jobs and slash nearly 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually — the equivalent of taking about half a million cars off the road.

Jobs, climate, and health. Addressing climate change is about so much more than emission reductions, it is about preserving and enhancing the quality of life in communities from Los Angeles, to rural Wisconsin, and beyond.

My comedian husband described my latest project as “a LASER to battle climate change.” Guess we’ll leave it at that.

One Comment

  1. Great piece, Colleen. I’d like to see thousands of workers up on the roofs of LA homes!