Your local park has a hidden talent: helping fight climate change

Read the full story from NPR.

City parks are crucial precisely because they are mundane. Their accessibility is what gives them their power. There are about 2 million acres of public parkland in the 100 largest cities in the United States, according to the Trust for Public Land.

All that parkland helps protect millions of Americans from the effects of global warming. Pools and splash pads offer a place to cool off on dangerously hot days. Trees provide shade, pull carbon dioxide out of the air and even lower the temperature in nearby neighborhoods. Marshes, ponds and meadows soak up water when it rains to help keep roads and homes dry.

Innovative partnerships bring community solar to low-income households in the US

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Over the last 15 years, community solar in the United States has grown dramatically: Installed community solar capacity increased almost 700 percent between 2006 and 2019.

But these gains have not always translated into access for low- and moderate-income (LMI) customers. To support LMI participation in the clean energy economy and broader uptake of community solar, the development of catalytic partnerships — dynamic relationships that link utilities, non-profits, financial institutions, developers and other stakeholders to ease financial impediments — will be critical.

These affordable apartments are designed to use almost no energy

Read the full story at Fast Company.

By using ‘Passive House’ standards, the apartment building uses less energy and saves on operating costs—helping to make units affordable for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Costs associated with carbon emissions three times federal estimate: study

Read the full story in The Hill.

The social cost of carbon is significantly higher than the federal estimate, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Nature. 

Researchers put the financial toll associated with projected future carbon emissions at $185 per ton of carbon pollution added to the atmosphere, more than three times the federal government’s figure of $51.

They arrived at the conclusion in part by using a lower discount rate, or the cost-benefit analysis of reducing emissions now versus the future impacts of inaction. Lower discount rates result in higher estimates for the price of inaction. 

In a New Orleans ward ravaged by climate change, leaders nurture the next generation

Read the full story in the Washington Post.

The Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development was founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Now these community leaders are changing the way the Lower 9th Ward can become resilient to natural disaster — and inspiring the next generation along the way.

As extreme heat grips the globe, access to air conditioning is an urgent public health issue

Read the full story from the Brookings Institution.

Through indoor air conditioning, the U.S. is much better equipped to keep people safe during periods of extreme heat compared with a century ago. Nationally, about 70% of homes now have central AC, while about 10% of households have no air conditioning. But the presence and type of home AC varies considerably by geography. Like exposure to other climate risks, protection from extreme heat also varies by income, tenure, and race. 

Xcel Energy to test resilience hubs in three Minneapolis neighborhoods

Read the full story at Energy News Network.

The utility will spend nearly $9 million integrating solar, batteries, and microgrid technology at three community sites as part of a broader grid modernization plan recently approved by state regulators.

The UN just declared a universal human right to a healthy, sustainable environment – here’s where resolutions like this can lead

A young protester in India makes a statement about dangerous levels of air pollution. Prakash Singh/AFP via Getty Images

by Joel E. Correia, University of Florida

Climate change is already affecting much of the world’s population, with startlingly high temperatures from the Arctic to Australia. Air pollution from wildfires, vehicles and industries threatens human health. Bees and pollinators are dying in unprecedented numbers that may force changes in crop production and food availability.

What do these have in common? They represent the new frontier in human rights.

The United Nations General Assembly voted overwhelmingly on July 28, 2022, to declare the ability to live in “a clean, healthy and sustainable environment” a universal human right. It also called on countries, companies and international organizations to scale up efforts to turn that into reality.

The declaration is not legally binding – countries can vote to support a declaration of rights while not actually supporting those rights in practice. The language is also vague, leaving to interpretation just what a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is.

Still, it’s more than moral posturing. Resolutions like this have a history of laying the foundation for effective treaties and national laws.

Viewed from above, a person paddles a wide canoe down a river lined with plastic and other trash.
The Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is strewn with trash and contaminated by industries and waste. It’s one of several heavily polluted rivers around the world. Munir Uz Zaman/AFP via Getty Images

I am a geographer who focuses on environmental justice, and much of my research investigates relationships between development-driven environmental change, natural resource use and human rights. Here are some examples of how similar resolutions have opened doors to stronger actions.

How the concept of human rights expanded

In 1948, in the aftermath of World War II, the newly formed United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the atrocities of the Holocaust. The declaration wasn’t legally binding, but it established a baseline of rights intended to ensure the conditions for basic human dignity.

That first set of rights included the right to life, religious expression, freedom from slavery and a standard of living adequate for health and well-being.

Since then, the scope of human rights has been expanded, including several agreements that are legally binding on the countries that ratified them. The U.N. conventions against torture (1984) and racial discrimination (1965) and on the rights of children (1989) and persons with disabilities (2006) are just a few examples. Today, the International Bill of Human Rights also includes binding agreements on economic, cultural, civil and political rights.

Eleanor Roosevelt and others read from the articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Today’s triple planetary crisis

The world has changed dramatically since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, perhaps most notably with regard to the scale of environmental crises people worldwide face.

Some experts argue that the “triple planetary crisis” of human-driven climate change, widespread biodiversity loss and unmitigated pollution now threaten to surpass the planetary boundaries necessary to live safely on Earth.

These threats can undermine the right to life, dignity and health, as can air pollution, contaminated water and pollution from plastics and chemicals. That is why advocates argued for the U.N. to declare a right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment.

Three girls in white school uniforms walk down a smoggy street holding kerchiefs over their noses.
Smog has gotten so bad in Delhi at times that the government has closed elementary schools. Sajjad Hussain/AFP via Getty Images

The U.N. has been discussing the environment as a global concern for over 50 years, and several international treaties over that time have addressed specific environmental concerns, including binding agreements on protecting biodiversity and closing the ozone hole. The 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit global warming is a direct and legally binding outcome of the long struggles that follow initial declarations.

The resolution on the right to a clean, healthy and sustainable environment was approved without dissent, though eight countries abstained: Belarus, Cambodia, China, Ethiopia, Iran, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Syria.

The human right to water

Voluntary human rights declarations can also be instrumental in changing state policy and providing people with new political tools to demand better conditions.

The human right to water is one of the strongest examples of how U.N. resolutions have been used to shape state policy. The resolution, adopted in 2010, recognizes that access to adequate quantities of clean drinking water and sanitation are necessary to realize all other rights. Diarrheal disease, largely from unsafe drinking water, kills half a million children under age 5 every year.

A boy crouches next to a puddle where a woman is filling plastic water bottles with a hose.
A woman in Sudan fills a water bottle for a child during the 2017 drought. Ashraf Shazly/AFP via Getty Images

Human rights advocates used the resolution to help pressure the Mexican government to reform its constitution and adopt a human right to water in 2012. While the concept still faces challenges, the idea of a right to water is also credited with transforming water access in marginalized communities in Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Egypt and other countries.

The rights of Indigenous peoples

The 2007 U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is another example. It recognizes the specific histories of marginalization, violence and exploitation that many Indigenous peoples around the world have endured and contemporary human rights violations.

The resolution outlines rights for Indigenous peoples but stops short of recognizing their sovereignty, something many critique as limiting the scope of self-determination. Within these limits, however, several countries have incorporated some of its recommendations. In 2009, Bolivia integrated it into its constitution.

People walk down a highway carrying banners demanding the state return their ancestral lands.
Enxet and Sanapaná Indigenous peoples of Paraguay protest in 2015 to demand land restitution and protection of their human rights. Joel E. Correia

The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples discusses a right to free, prior and informed consent about development and industrial projects that would affect Indigenous people. That has been a powerful tool for Indigenous peoples to demand due process through the legal system.

In Canada, Paraguay and Kenya, Indigenous peoples have used the resolution to help win important legal victories before human rights courts with rulings that have led to land restitution and other legal gains.

Tools for change

U.N. declarations of human rights are aspirational norms that seek to ensure a more just and equitable world. Even though declarations like this one are not legally binding, they can be vital tools people can use to pressure governments and private companies to protect or improve human well-being.

Change can take time, but I believe this latest declaration of human rights will support climate and environmental justice across the world.

Joel E. Correia, Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies, University of Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Exploring support for climate justice policies in the United States

Read the full story from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

This analysis is based on existing survey data and is not a comprehensive study of public attitudes towards climate justice. Environmental and climate justice are broad concepts that incorporate many more national, state, and local-level policies and practices than are examined here. Most public opinion research on public support for environmental policies has not focused on justice dimensions, but a few other organizations have also conducted research on support for some climate justice policies and concepts, and our own past work has explored climate change beliefs, attitudes and actions among communities of color in the United States. The current study contributes an overview of Americans’ support for several federal policies that are aligned with climate justice goals.

Scientists to build toolkit addressing climate change and environmental justice in Chicago communities

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

With new funding from NASA, a University of Illinois team of scientists will use NASA Earth science and localized social data to develop an innovative, multi-sector geospatial environmental justice toolkit for urban decision making in the Chicago region.

This two-year data integration project will leverage transdisciplinary expertise and multistakeholder leadership to address environmental inequities and empower Chicago communities to take measures to improve health and equity and reduce crime in vulnerable and marginalized environmental justice (EJ) urban communities.

The extreme heat and air quality problems caused by climate change are especially damaging for people of color and low-income residents. For example, during the infamous 1995 Chicago region heatwave, neighborhoods with large African American populations and high poverty and crime rates had the highest heat-related mortality rates.

Climate change exacerbates poverty, poor health outcomes, and disparities in healthcare access. Environmental stresses such as excessive heat along with structural racism also have been linked to higher crime rates.

“In the past few decades, the Chicago region has become polarized between the haves and the have-nots based on race, color, and income inequities,” said principal investigator Ashish Sharma, research climatologist at the Illinois State Water Survey at the U of I. “As a society we need to reduce these inequities and co-create just solutions for inclusive growth of the region.”  

He added, “these solutions need to be iteratively designed with EJ communities and regional stakeholders. At the same time, they need to be realistic and provide short-term wins to build trust in historically underinvested communities while also providing a vision for advancing long-term EJ action.”

Sharma will piggyback on his past and ongoing research efforts to study extreme heat risks and the relationship of heat with crime to address EJ issues in the Chicago region. An important feature of the data-integration project is to leverage NASA Earth science products and couple in-house-run climate model outputs over the Chicago region.

The scientists will also gather information on community-specific threats to health and equity and develop a heat vulnerability index based on community demographics, public health, land cover, and living conditions. In addition, they will map crime rates in Chicago neighborhoods and explore their relationship to heat and air quality.

The user-friendly web-based GIS toolkit, e-JUST (Environmental Justice using Urban Scalable Toolkit), will combine numerous factors, including threats from climate change, to help stakeholders, policymakers, and others make informed decisions for their communities. Urban planners can use e-JUST to determine locations for cooling centers, manage streetscapes, and develop affordable housing policies for an equitable region.

“We are using state-of-the-art datasets from NASA and multiple other sources to identify multi-faceted social vulnerabilities, priority areas, and potential solutions,” Sharma said. “What we bring to the table is our modular approach to integrate diverse spatial and temporal resolution data for empowering communities with evidence-based measures to improve health equity and reduce crime. Our design framework will allow ingesting any additional data from regional partners for robust assessment of EJ issues and planning.”

U of I information scientist Matthew Turk, a co-investigator on the project, described the toolkit as a compilation of disparate pieces of information to paint a full picture of our changing world.

“The most personal data that we can see is that data that relates to how we live our lives, about the places we live, and the future of the climate,” Turk said. “I hope to work to make an accessible toolkit that provides actionable knowledge to people who are feeling the effects of climate change.”

The toolkit will be designed to be user-friendly, scalable to smaller or larger communities, and portable so that it can be used for other cities or parts of the world. The project will be a collaboration among the scientists, community leaders, non-profits, and state agencies.

Researchers will hold town halls and workshops to boost partnerships with EJ communities and build trust in scientific methods. The outreach efforts will focus on the communities in Waukegan, Elgin, Joliet, West Chicago, Park Forest, and Westchester.

Engagement with residents and community leaders is important for scientists to learn about the challenges of lived experiences, said co-investigator Edith Makra, director of environmental initiatives for the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus in Chicago, who will lead these efforts.

“Accomplishing the goals of the project is not something we can do with data assessment alone,” Makra said. “You have to have a dialog with community members to learn about the perceived threats and perceived opportunities of environmental justice issues. This leads to an understanding of what is occurring in the community and what are the ways to address it.”

The investigators will also collaborate with researchers from the University of Illinois System, the State Climatologist’s Office, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, NASA, Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, Illinois Department of Corrections, City of Chicago, and community and public sector organizations.

Media contact: Ashish Sharma, 217-300-8423, sharmaa@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

This story first appeared on the Prairie Research Institute News blog. Read the original story.