By Matthew Kredell
Los Angeles County’s Climate Vulnerability Assessment presents the most pressing challenges and risks a changing environment poses to people living or working in Los Angeles County.
On April 11, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute joined with the UCLA Luskin Center, Los Angeles Business Council and Los Angeles County Chief Sustainability Office to highlight key data and discuss takeaways from the Climate Vulnerability Assessment.
“The purpose of today’s meeting is to inform residents, workers and businesses of LA County about some of the strategies that may be needed to be adopted in order to adapt to a rapidly changing climate,” said Fran Pavley, Environmental Policy Director at the USC Schwarzenegger Institute. “Protecting the health and safety of our residents, essential workers, and the economic vitality of our businesses will require all of our attention and collective action.”
The OurCounty Sustainability Plan, adopted by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, directed the preparation of the Climate Vulnerability Assessment (CVA). Released in October of 2021, the CVA assesses how people and infrastructure in LA County may be vulnerable to the changing climate.
“The latest report from the intergovernmental panel on climate change gives us a now or never ultimatum to act, and clearly our lives hang in the balance,” said Holly Mitchell, chair of the LAC Board of Supervisors. “Climate change is no doubt a crisis, and one that we’ve got to mobilize our resources and expand our political imagination to address.”
Mitchell contended that many lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic response can apply to addressing climate change.
“The pandemic reminded everyone that our fate is shared and that how we protect the most vulnerable and least-served in our community will determine our collective resilience,” Mitchell said. “The pandemic highlighted the severe inequities in our society that have assigned risk and vulnerability to black, indigenous, Latinx and other people of color, as well as poor and working-class communities. These are the same communities that are impacted by climate change. And because of these very inequities, it requires that we take immediate, swift, proactive, shall I say disruptive action.”
Gary Gero, LA County’s Chief Sustainability Officer, provided an overview of the Climate Vulnerability Assessment.
He explained that about 5.7 million people, or 56%, of LA County residents lived in communities where they were highly exposed to severe climate impacts. The climate hazards include extreme heat, wildfire, droughts, inland flooding and coastal flooding.
Even more concerning is what’s projected to happen in these areas by 2050, including a tenfold increase in extreme heatwaves.
“Across all of these we know the events will become more frequent, they’re going to become more severe and longer lasting,” Gero said.
A cascading impacts assessment explains how infrastructural systems rely on one another and how harms to one type of infrastructure can affect other facilities, related services, and the people who rely on those services.
The CVA found that low-income neighborhoods and communities of color face “a disproportionate amount of climate vulnerability as well as limited capacity to withstand and weather future threats.”
“In some areas of my district today where we lack tree canopy, temperatures can reach an average of up to 10 degrees hotter simply due to a lack of shade,” Mitchell said. “That’s today, so imagine amplifying that tenfold by 2050. Clearly, we have to do something different. That’s just another example of the structural inequities we are seeking to correct every day in LA County as we build back equitably.”
As California Insurance Commissioner, Ricardo Lara regulates and oversees the largest insurance market in the nation and fourth-largest in the world.
“The reality is that housing that burns down or repeatedly floods is not affordable,” Lara said. “Increased health risks and extreme heat is not affordable. So insurance is a tool to incentivize prevention and a tool for promoting full equitable recovery.”
Last year, he released the first ever Climate Insurance Report bringing together 40 recommendations developed over nearly two years of meetings by experts on risk and resiliency. One of the recommendations was to track heatwaves and rank them as is done with hurricanes, and he’s sponsoring legislation to make that happen.
“Extreme heat impacts are largely uninsured and have lingering economic and health consequences, especially for our vulnerable communities,” Lara said. “We need to treat extreme heatwaves like other natural disasters and better communicate the health risk to prepare communities for longer and hotter heatwaves.”
Cecilia Estolano, the CEO of Better World Group, moderated a panel discussion on key climate mitigation strategies, with a particular focus on workers.
“The CVA underscores what we learned in the last two years of the pandemic, that workers are really at the center of both vulnerability and resiliency,” Estolano said.
UCLA Assistant Professor Jisung Park, Los Angeles City Business Council President Mary Leslie, LAC Public Health Director of Climate Change and Sustainability Elizabeth Rhoades and LAC/OC Building Trades Council Executive Secretary Chris Hannan participated in the panel.
“We only recently came to learn just how insidious and damaging the footprints of heat are on the workforce,” Park said. “Some work from my colleagues at UCLA and the World Bank in California show that it actually increases the risk of workplace injury by anywhere between 5 to 10%.”
Rhoades explained that LAC Public Health wants to expand its ability to provide outreach and messaging on the dangers of extreme heat, along with resources for how people can cope with heat events in their homes.
“Something I’m also particularly interested in is how we make cool spaces more accessible and attractive to people, and partner with alternative cool spaces like pools and museums and movie theaters,” Rhoades said.
Hannan said the unions need to educate their members about the dangers of heat exposure. He added that a lot of workplace accidents in construction can be caused by heat exhaustion.
“There’s just so many things going on and so many hazards at work, specifically in our industries, one hazard that we may not be aware of is thinking about exposure to heat,” Hannan said. “In other parts of the country or the world, you could be thinking about exposure to extremely cold weather. Here, the dangers are equally as critical for exposure to very high temperature.”
In making suggestions for the next Los Angeles mayor and Supervisor Mitchell, Leslie recommended bringing utilities to the table and creating protocols to deal with increased heat similar to those developed around earthquake preparedness. public service announcements. Hannan recommended improving access and involving labor in public service announcements and Park suggested using big data.
“With these tools and systems already in place and supported by our Chief Sustainability Office, now is the time for the hard conversations and the cross-jurisdictional collaboration that makes bold action possible,” Mitchell said. “Defining moments present enormous possibilities for growth and innovation, if only we have the courage to lean in. And we have the opportunity before us to advance an equity-centered climate agenda that reduces the disproportionate health impacts of pollution on our front-line communities, a climate agenda that protects our central workforce and creates more pathways to high-road union jobs. And one that delivers community-driven solutions and a better quality of life for everybody.”