Each week, we’re compiling the most relevant news stories from diverse sources online, connecting the latest environmental and energy economics research to global current events, real-time public discourse, and policy decisions. Here are some questions we’re asking and addressing with our research chops this week:
As mass protests against racial inequality continue across the nation, people of color have been highlighting a lack of diversity in the environmental movement. What more can environmental groups do to include members from diverse backgrounds?
Protests in response to the police killing of George Floyd have rapidly shifted policymakers’ priorities—and environmental organizations are adapting, too. Advocacy groups have offered support for the protests, noting that the same systemic racism that causes black people to disproportionately face police violence is also responsible for the environmental inequalities that burden communities of color. Recent research suggests that the environmental movement has been making efforts to address issues of equity for years now; one study found that environmental groups across the globe, including many that have historically focused narrowly on conservation, are reorienting around environmental justice. A report from the Green 2.0 Initiative also suggests that leading environmental groups are increasingly hiring more people of color, but that diversity in these organizations still lags behind the diversity of the United States. And as black scientists, academics, and environmentalists speaking out about their experiences with racism have made clear, promoting diversity is more complex than simply issuing statements or revamping hiring practices.
After hosting Professor Dorceta E. Taylor on the podcast last year, Resources Radio is rebroadcasting her conversation with RFF’s Daniel Raimi, in light of ongoing conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion at our organization and environmental groups across the globe. An incoming professor at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and an expert on environmental racism, Taylor talks about the environmental movement’s historical failure to include diverse voices, along with some contemporary barriers that hold back environmentalists of color. In an accompanying piece, “Thoughts on Being in the Environment While Black,” Taylor asserts that the environmental community has the urgent responsibility to acknowledge the connections between racism, violence, and environmental inequalities. “Environmentalists can no longer turn a blind eye to the structural factors that give rise to and perpetuate these inequalities,” she writes, calling on environmental groups to do more to eliminate discrimination.
Related research and commentary:
How can we assess the risks of air pollution and regulate hazardous pollutants effectively enough to make a lasting impact on the environment?
A recent meta-analysis published by the Journal of the American Medical Association highlights the risks that air pollution poses to prenatal health. Researchers examined 68 studies, together covering over 32 million births in the United States, and found that pregnant women exposed to ozone, fine particulate matter, and high temperatures are at greater risk for premature birth, low birth weight, stillbirth, and other adverse outcomes. Climate change intensifies these risks, and black mothers, who are more likely to live in areas with higher temperatures and polluted air, are among those most affected. This study adds to a wide body of research demonstrating the health risks of air pollution—including another recent study linking pollutants such as particulate matter to childhood obesity. Ozone and particulate matter have been known to pose dangers to public health for decades, prompting lawmakers in 1970 to declare them as two of six “criteria pollutants” under the Clean Air Act (CAA).
Now, two articles from the new issue of Resources magazine assess the far-reaching impacts of the CAA, one of the most significant environmental bills in American history. A piece from RFF’s Joseph E. Aldy, Maureen L. Cropper, Richard D. Morgenstern, and Arthur G. Fraas—as well as UC Berkeley’s Maximilian Auffhammer—surveys key findings from their recent retrospective analysis of the CAA and describes how concentrations of ozone and soot have declined, even as GDP has risen. Another article from Cole Martin (yours truly) discusses a recent book coedited by RFF’s Dallas Burtraw, which assesses how CAA regulations have performed over the years. While not all regulations have met expectations—for instance, the reformulated gasoline program has not significantly reduced ozone concentrations—Burtraw argues that “the Clean Air Act is like a freight train: it’s slow, but it’s very hard to stop.”
Related research and commentary:
- Magazine: Looking Back at 50 Years of the Clean Air Act of 1970
- Working paper: Looking Back at Fifty Years of the Clean Air Act
- Magazine: Lessons from the Clean Air Act
How can cash-strapped environmental managers and regulators most effectively monitor recurrent hazards, such as harmful algal blooms, to protect human health?
Lakes are popular summer getaways—especially now that the coronavirus pandemic has limited other sources of recreation. But harmful algal blooms (HABs), which surge in hotter months, pose renewed public health risks to recreationists. The coronavirus is exacerbating these risks, as budgetary constraints in Utah caused by the current economic recession have prompted state regulators to temporarily cease efforts to monitor HABs in Utah Lake. Even in some states that are maintaining typical levels of oversight, health departments have been unable to deter vacationers who are especially eager to escape their homes; Ohio’s Grand Lake St. Marys has seen a dramatic influx of lake goers despite warnings that an overabundance of algae has made the lake toxic. HABs can have serious effects on human health, including “skin irritations, gastrointestinal issues, and even neurological problems,” but lake closures also imperil local businesses at a time when the tourism sector and business generally are struggling.
Managing HABs can be vexing, forcing policymakers to weigh prospective public health benefits against the up-front costs of monitoring HABs and the economic burdens imposed by lake closures. As part of RFF and NASA’s VALUABLES Consortium, RFF’s Molly Robertson, Bethany Mabee, and Yusuke Kuwayama, alongside other researchers, aim to address some of these challenges in a new journal article that assesses the socioeconomic benefits of using satellite technology to monitor HABs. Looking closely at a 2017 HAB event caused by cyanobacteria in Utah Lake, the researchers find that satellite data allowed environmental managers to detect a HAB and issue an advisory seven days earlier than they would have, otherwise. That means fewer lake goers got sick, saving approximately $370,000 in the form of reduced healthcare costs. “Satellite data can provide more frequent information about the presence of [HABs], which can help inform when additional on-site testing is needed—and these benefits can be quantified,” Robertson and Kuwayama write in an accompanying blog.
Related research and commentary:
- Journal article: Quantifying the Human Health Benefits of Using Satellite Information to Detect Cyanobacterial Harmful Algal Blooms and Manage Recreational Advisories in US Lakes
- Podcast: Sensing Pollution with Satellites, with RFF's Alan Krupnick and Daniel Sullivan
- Magazine: Satellites Can Supplement the Clean Air Act’s Land-Based Air Monitoring Network