Category: Environment

Disaster Lessons Unlearned

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of civil and environmental engineering, USC Viterbi.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 12.

The human tragedy of Super Typhoon Haiyan is unprecedented for the Philippines and possibly for the region. Thousands are dead and tens of thousands displaced. As the relief effort builds, the question to ask is whether the human impact was predictable and preventable.

The disaster bears striking similarities to the Indonesian tsunami in 2004, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and the Japanese earthquake and tsunami two years ago. In each case, local scientists did not expect the depth of the floods or the strength of the water current

How to Reduce Greenhouse Gases, Not Kill the Economy

GEORGE A. OLAH, professor of chemistry, USC Dornsife, and Chris Cox, USC trustee.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 10.

In the three weeks since the Obama administration issued its long-promised proposal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it has become clear the plan is far from perfect. By placing the burden of expensive new carbon capture and sequestration technology on the U.S. alone, and potentially requiring steep cuts in domestic energy to conform to carbon caps, the proposal could send the U.S. economy into shock without making a significant dent in global emissions.

There is a better approach that can reduce greenhouse-gas emissions while growing the economy and increasing U.S. energy independence.

California’s High-Speed Rail Needs a New Mandate

LISA SCHWEITZER, associate professor, USC Price.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 11.

Over the last few weeks, the California High-Speed Rail Authority both lost and won fairly significant battles. It lost when a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled that its proposed funding plan violated the voter-approved law, Proposition 1A, that created the agency. The judge has set a hearing to give the state a chance to show that it can comply with the law and environmental reviews.

The Heat Should Be On to Do Something About Climate Change

ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, chairman of USC’s Schwarzenegger Institute for State and Global Policy.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times on April 8.

I will always remember the day I woke to the news that more than 2,000 fires were burning in California. I thought I must not have heard correctly. Two thousand fires? How could that be?

In the end, the state’s brave firefighters, joined by contingents from out of state, won the battle. But not before 11 emergency declarations were issued and more than 400,000 acres burned. Countless lives and livelihoods were ruined.

Science the Messenger Gagged

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of environmental enginering, Viterbi School of Engineering.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

It is impossible to predict earthquakes with the precision that would have helped the 300 people who died as a result of the earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy, on April 6, 2009. It is equally difficult, apparently, to predict court decisions.

After a 13-month trial, six scientists and one government official were sentenced to six years in jail Monday for giving authorities information that was “too reassuring” about the possibility that an earthquake would take place in the wake of a series of small earthquakes. The defendants will also have to pay compensation to the families of 29 of the 309 victims who, swayed by government reassurances, did not evacuate their homes, according to relatives.

An Unexpected Visitor to Yosemite

WILLIAM DEVERELL, professor of history, USC Dornsife.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

There’s a terrible irony lurking in the recent news of the hantavirus outbreak at Yosemite National Park, which has killed three visitors and sickened half a dozen more since mid-June. Part of the backdrop of the 1864 act that established Yosemite as essentially the nation’s first national park (that language would not be used until 1872 in the founding of Yellowstone National Park) had everything to do with health and healing in the latter years of the Civil War. We’d do well to note that from today’s vantage of being in the middle of the sesquicentennial years of the war.

What Brought L.A. Back From the 1992 Riots

MANUEL PASTOR, director of USC’s Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, and KAFI BLUMENFIELD, president and CEO Liberty Hill Foundation.

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

In 1992, the acquittal of four police officers accused of beating Rodney King was the match that ignited a city, setting off a wave of violence that left 53 dead, thousands injured and hundreds of businesses destroyed.

There was a lot of accumulated tinder to burn. Los Angeles was struggling with a faltering and de-industrialized economy that left too many without good jobs, a wave of demographic transition that caused ethnic and generational tensions, and a widening gap between rich and poor that was just beginning to emerge into public view — a bit like the U.S. today.

Keeping L.A.’s 30/10 Transit Plan on Track

LISA SCHWEITZER, associate professor, USC Price School

This op-ed originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa‘s 30/10 plan may be in trouble. The proposal calls for borrowing from the federal government over 10 years the total amount expected to be raised and repaid over 30 years from a half-cent sales tax authorized by L.A. County voters in 2008. With the money, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority could complete transit and highway projects in 10 years instead of 30.

However, on March 29, Congress extended federal transportation spending for only 90 days — the ninth such action since 2009 — to avoid a complete shutdown of Washington-funded highway work. Funds for the mayor’s proposal were not part of the bill. The possibility of movement won’t come until after the November elections, and even that may be a pipe dream.

The 30/10 financing model, widely heralded among transportation experts, thus appears to be another hostage to partisan acrimony in Washington. A two-year bill, which passed 72 to 22 in the Senate, included financing for the 30/10 plan, but Democrats in the House could not force a vote on the legislation. Some House Republicans simply do not want to expand federal loan programs, which they believe encourage overbuilding and mismanagement.

There are options that do not depend on Washington pulling itself together. But Villaraigosa must first decide what is truly important about his plan: fast-tracking the money or developing a model for the federal government to do so. That’s a debate worth having because there are three options for fast-tracking money into Southern California to pay for our needed transportation projects.

The first is the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, which has been around since 1994. Because California’s economy is bigger than that of most countries, it can finance much of its own infrastructure. The bank has an AAA credit rating and thus can offer competitive rates. It has helped fund some large projects, including the Bay Bridge‘s deck replacement. Given its modest size, the bank probably wouldn’t bankroll more than a handful of projects at once, so Los Angeles would need to prioritize its projects. But then, nobody really expected the feds to finance the entire 30/10 wish list either.

Villaraigosa also could look overseas for some fast money. The European Investment Bank has lent money to 78 countries to build highways and transit projects, the bulk of it to member states of the European Union. Although the bank has not financed a project in the United States, its mission is to foster infrastructure projects that support EU goals, among them slowing global warming. The 30/10 plan has multiple transit projects — the Westside subway and the Green Line/LAX extension — that dovetail nicely with this environmental goal. Villaraigosa could make an unprecedented proposal to the European bank. What’s the worst that could happen? It says no and mocks our soccer teams ?

How to Prevent Another Titantic

COSTAS SYNOLAKIS, professor of civil and environmental engineering, USC Viterbi.

his op-ed originally appeared at the HuffingtonPost.

The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic is now with us. Dozens of events have been planned and the story keeps enthralling us, despite the fact that so few of us travel by large ocean liners anymore. For the record, the beginning of our fascination with disasters of titanic proportions started with the great Lisbon tsunami of 1755, which changed the way Europeans viewed nature and God, as candidly described by Voltaire over two centuries ago.

Recent events provide clues why ship disasters captivate us. In January’s sinking of Costa Concordia off Isola de Giglio in Italy, 30 died, a surprising number given that the ship was only 5 years-old, and the accident occurred within a few hundred feet off the nearest port. Survivors described harrowing scenes before evacuating, conflicting

Obama’s Energy Straddle

DAN SCHNUR, director of USC’s Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics

This op-ed originally appeared in the New York Times.

Like every president seeking re-election, Barack Obama walks the fine line every day between the discordant goals of motivating his party’s strongest loyalists and reaching out to swing voters for their support. A few weeks ago, that pathway took him to a tiny town in Oklahoma, where, caught between the anti-drilling demands of the environmental community and the thirst for more affordable gasoline from unions, business owners and drivers, the president announced his support for building half of an oil pipeline.