By Matthew Kredell
In April, people around the world commemorated the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which gave a voice to the emerging public consciousness about the state of our planet. Professors at the USC Price School of Public Policy carry on this message through research and practical work related to climate change and environmental policies.
The Price School’s faculty are in good company. In her inaugural speech, USC President Carol Folt proclaimed the compelling need for thinking and acting more sustainably as one of her major goals for USC.
Creating a working group on sustainable education, research and operations for USC, Folt tabbed Prof. Dan Mazmanian, former dean of the Price School, to bring together faculty representatives, staff and student leaders to develop recommendations on how USC could prioritize sustainability in education, research and campus operations.
Throughout his career working on the environment and sustainability, Mazmanian has taught classes on sustainable communities and environmental policy and planning for a number of years at the Price School.
“I take very seriously the projected consequences of the existential threat of climate change,” Mazmanian said. “I’ve been dedicated to bringing attention to the disruptions this will cause to people and the environment if we don’t mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and develop adaptive strategies for the effects we are already beginning to experience. When President Folt announced her goal of making USC a sustainable university and leader in this field, I readily accepted her request to chair the working group.”
The working group is making recommendations for the sustainability master plan that will guide USC operations, facilities and systems management through 2028. The year was chosen to join in the City of Los Angeles’ efforts to improve sustainability by the 2028 Olympics. Central to the 2028 Plan is identifying ways USC can operate the campus in a way that gets it as close as possible to carbon neutrality and zero waste.
Major recommendations have also been made to incorporate introductory level courses and experiential learning experiences in sustainability into the student curriculum as well as coordinating sustainability across all realms of university life.
Prof. Marlon Boarnet serves as the Price School representative within the group. Nathaniel Hyman, a junior majoring in public policy at USC Price, is one of the undergraduate representatives.
“Environmental sustainability and particularly the climate change challenge will be so central to everything our students see in their careers that every student should have education that introduces them to that challenge and prepares them for it,” Boarnet said.
In his research, Boarnet focuses on the potential for infill development to reduce driving and greenhouse gas emissions. State models show that if driving is not reduced on a per capita basis, California will not reach its 2030 greenhouse gas goals until 2060. However, infill development and providing the right incentives help people change their driving behavior. By providing people options to live in a more central part of the L.A. metro area, Boarnet’s research shows it would reduce driving by at least 15% and in some circumstances more than 50%.
In other research, Boarnet is collaborating with the USC Lusk Center for Real Estate on affordable housing near rail transit. He’s also looking at how more frequent bus service in southeast Los Angeles could increase job access from transit, and how technology can improve access to the public transportation system.
The USC Center for Sustainability Solutions formally launched this spring with the mission of bringing scholars from all over the campus to develop a new paradigm to protect the environment, promote clean-energy economic growth and foster social justice.
Prof. Detlof von Winterfeldt, who holds a joint appointment at USC Price and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, co-chairs the Center, which focuses on the areas of sustainability in the areas of CO² reduction and climate change adaptation, transportation, energy systems, water and agricultural systems, and cities and their built environment.
USC Price Prof. Antonio Bento helped form the Center and serves on its research advisory board. Bento is prolific in his research with a focus on environmental and energy economics. He is also one of the organizers for the Global Open Series in Environmental Economics (GoSee), which offers regular workshops featuring international scholars on issues such as inequality in environmental access and outcomes.
Bento won the Price School’s High Impact Research Award last year as lead author of a paper that showed how the Trump Administration’s justification for a rollback of fuel economy standards had fundamental flaws and inconsistencies.
He spoke on the topic last November at a Symposium on Climate Change Policy and Transportation hosted by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute in collaboration with Stanford University’s Energy Modeling Forum, the USC Center for Sustainability Solutions and the METRANS Transportation Center at USC.
Energy and the environment are one of the five main policy areas tackled by the Schwarzenegger Institute. Arnold Schwarzenegger was instrumental in the passage of California’s groundbreaking energy policies as governor of California, and two of the California legislators most responsible for the state’s nation-leading fight against climate change – Fran Pavley and Kevin de Léon – hold positions in the institute.
At the METRANS Transportation Center, Prof. Genevieve Giuliano specializes in looking at climate change policy as it applies to transportation. She is currently involved in a multi-university international research project that will explain approaches to transportation policy in different countries and states. Currently, Giuliano is focusing on the California case study, looking at the role of transportation modeling and forecasting in how policies are identified and included into long-range plans.
At the Schwarzenegger Institute symposium, Giuliano spoke about her work on moving toward zero-emissions vehicles. The ongoing research has a particular focus on heavy trucks used for freight transportation.
“What we’re finding is that it’s going to be a while before we have vehicles with enough power and range to be able to carry a large proportion of these very heavy loads,” Giuliano said. “So what we’re doing now is looking at hybrids and making comparisons of how much CO² savings we can realize if we were to go to hybrid vehicles, which basically have the same performance characteristics of diesels.”
As USC and the world reflected on Earth Day, and the modern environmental movement to rally against the deterioration of the environment – born of an idea from U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson to create a unified effort with a particular focus on college campuses – Price Prof. Adam Rose, an expert in energy and environmental economics, emphasized its importance.
“Earth Day was a watershed moment in the battle against environmental problems. It coincided with the ascendance of environmental economics,” Rose said. “The economics profession increasingly brought forth alternative policy instruments, called incentive-based, that provide flexibility and more freedom of choice to enable a significant lowering of the cost of complying with regulations.”
Over his career, Rose has analyzed these approaches to climate change mitigation, such as tax subsidies and cap-and-trade systems. In the 1990s, he did a lot of work on fair burden sharing across countries, including helping the UN design the first formal policy proposal for a system of globally tradeable emission allowances. The following decade, he advised several states and regional governments about setting up cap-and-trade systems of their own.
As director and senior research fellow at the USC Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), Rose now focuses on assessments of natural disasters that climate change is likely to cause at an increasing rate and more devastating scale. These include hurricanes, floods, droughts and wildfires. Much of the Center’s work focuses on resilience, recognizing that a lot of climate change is inevitable.
Rose summed up the path forward succinctly, saying, “We can mitigate some more – but we have to face what is going to happen and we need to adapt to it.”