USC Center for Sustainability Solutions

Developing Solutions for a Sustainable and Equitable Future

Research Papers


The Distribution of Environmental Damages

By Solomon Hsiang, Paulina Oliva, Reed Walker

Review of Environmental Economics and Policy, Volume 13, Issue 1

2019

Most regulations designed to reduce environmental externalities impose costs on individuals and firms. A large and growing literature examines whether these costs are disproportionately borne by different sectors of the economy and/or across different groups of individuals. However, much less is known about how the environmental benefits created by these policies are distributed, which mirror the differences in environmental damages associated with existing environmental externalities. We review this burgeoning literature and develop a simple general framework for empirical analysis. We apply this framework to findings concerning the distributional impacts of environmental damages from air pollution, deforestation, and climate change and highlight priorities for future research. A recurring challenge to understanding the distributional effects of environmental damages is distinguishing between cases in which populations are exposed to different levels or changes in an environmental good and those in which an incremental change in the environment may have very different implications for some populations. In the latter case, it is often difficult to empirically identify the underlying sources of heterogeneity in marginal damages because damages may stem from nonlinear and/or heterogeneous damage functions. Nevertheless, understanding the determinants of heterogeneity in environmental benefits and damages is crucial for welfare analysis and policy design.


Water Unloading of Gas Wells Using the Concurrent-Water-Collection Method

By Behrokh Khoshnevis, Mahdi Yoozbashizadeh, Iraj Ershaghi

Society of Petroleum Engineers

2019

In this paper we describe a novel method for water unloading of natural gas wells in mature reservoirs experiencing low reservoir pressures. Current methods for water unloading from gas wells have at least one of the drawbacks of restricting gas production, requiring external energy, using consumable surfactants, or being labor intensive. The proposed design offers a new approach to water unloading that does not restrict or interrupt gas production. It can operate without external energy, and uses no consumables. Virtual and physical simulators have been developed and the full-scale version of the concept has been studied in test wells to demonstrate the feasibility and performance of the new water-unloading concept. An industrial-grade preproduction prototype was tested successfully in a test gas well to validate this study.


Social Sustainability and Global Climate Change

By Lawrence A. Palinkas, Marleen Wong

Social Work and Sustainability in Asia

2019

Maintaining social sustainability in the context of global climate change is among the most pressing challenges facing contemporary societies in the Asia-Pacific Rim. These societies are increasingly being confronted with a host of changes in the physical environment, ranging from natural disasters, rising air and water temperatures, rising sea levels and ocean acidification, prolonged droughts and scarcity of fresh water in some regions, and extensive flooding in other regions. All of these changes are contributing to the wholesale destruction of natural ecosystems on land and sea. They also have profound social implications, threatening human health and well-being, destabilizing assets, coping capacities, and response infrastructures, and substantially increasing the number of socially, economically, and psychologically vulnerable individuals and communities. Moreover, these impacts will not affect everyone equally, leading to new social inequities with significant social justice implications. In this chapter, we summarize the human impacts of global climate change with a focus on the sustainability of individuals, families, and communities. We then address strategies for promoting sustainability in the face of two specific impacts: population displacement and disaster response and recovery. These strategies adhere to a three-tier model of climate change impact and response, and include microlevel interventions designed to prevent and mitigate behavioral and mental health impacts; mezzo-level interventions to prevent and mitigate social conflict within families and communities; and macro-level policies and programs designed to build and support individual, families, and community resilience, assets, and action.


Emissions reductions or green booms? General equilibrium effects of a renewable portfolio standard

By Antonio M. Bento, Teevrat Garg, Daniel Kaffine

Journal of Environmental Economics and Management

2019

Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) are commonly promoted as a policy tool to reduce emissions associated with fossil generation, while also stimulating development of local renewable resource endowments. We develop a general equilibrium model of an RPS policy that captures key features such as a fixed factor renewable endowment, substitution across sectors of the economy, and endogenous price responses. We analytically decompose the effects of an RPS into a) a substitution effect, b) an output-tax effect, and c) an output effect. We show that an increase in the RPS can either deliver large resource booms or large emissions savings but not both. Our framework can translate different renewable resource endowments and pre-existing standards across states into economic and environmental impacts to inform current renewable energy and climate policies.


The disappearing Salton Sea: A critical reflection on the emerging environmental threat of disappearing saline lakes and potential impacts on children’s health.

By Jill E. Johnston, Mitiasoa Razafy, Humberto Lugo, Luis Olmedo, Shohreh F. Farzan

Science of the Total Environment

2019

Changing weather patterns, droughts and competing water demands are dramatically altering the landscape and creating conditions conducive to the production of wind-blown dust and dust storms. In California, such factors are leading to the rapid shrinking of the Salton Sea, a 345 mile2 land-locked “sea” situated near the southeastern rural border region known as the Imperial Valley. The region is anticipated to experience a dramatic increase in wind-blown dust and existing studies suggest a significant impact on the health and quality of life for nearby residents of this predominantly low-income, Mexican-American community. The discussion calls attention to the public health dimensions of the Salton Sea crisis. We know little about the possible long-term health effects of exposure to mobilized lakebed sediments or the numerous toxic contaminants that may become respirable on entrained particles. We draw on existing epidemiological literature of other known sources of wind-blown dust, such as desert dust storms, and related health effects to begin to understand the potential public health impact of wind-blown dust exposure. The increased production of wind-blown dust and environmental exposures to such non-combustion related sources of particulate matter are a growing health threat, due in part to drought coupled with increasing pressures on limited water resources. Recent population-based studies have linked dust storms with cardiovascular mortality, asthma hospitalization and decrease in pulmonary function in both adults and children. A growing number of studies provide evidence of the acute health effects of wind-blown dust exposures among children, which with repeated insults have the potential to influence respiratory health over time. The shrinking of the Salton Sea illustrates a public health and environmental justice crisis that requires action and attention to protect the health and well-being of local communities.


Transdisciplinary Systems Engineering: Exploiting Disciplinary Convergence to Address Grand Challenges

By Azad M. Madni

IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Magazine

2019

We are living in an era driven by exponentials and defined by hyperconnectivity, growing complexity, and increasing convergence among disciplines. In response to these trends, and at the urging of the research community, systems engineering (SE) is undergoing a timely transformation that includes developing formal underpinnings and reaching out to other disciplines to make connections and identify synergies. The impetus for this transformation stems, in part, from the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges, which are mostly complex systems problems requiring contributions from multiple disciplines. Against this backdrop, this article defines various convergence types and the integrative discipline of transdisciplinary SE (TSE). TSE, enabled, in large part, by the growing convergence of engineering with other disciplines, has the potential to achieve unprecedented advances in both the thinking and the methods needed to address complex sociotechnical system problems. Using an NAE Grand Challenge problem as an example, this article illustrates the relevance of TSE and the opportunities available to the IEEE Systems, Man, and Cybernetics Society (SMCS) to contribute to this important area through collaboration between its technical committees and working groups from sister societies, such as the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).


Monterey Reservoirs of Offshore California

By Iraj Ershaghi, Donald L. Paul, Saran Kaba

Society of Petroleum Engineers

2018

In this paper we discuss our studies conducted on two California offshore fields that may be abandoned in near future. The purpose of the study was to examine the feasibility of re-purposing these fields to suitable offshore gas storage by utilizing the reservoir voidage and by using the existing pipeline facilities. These storage sites could offer a significant alternative to the current onshore sites located in highly populated urban areas of California.


Assessing changes in HIV-related legal and policy environments: Lessons learned from a multi-country evaluation

By Laura Ferguson, Alexandra Nicholson, Ian Henry, Amitrajit Saha, Tilly Sellers, Sofia Gruskin

Public Library of Science One

2018

There is growing recognition in the health community that the legal environment-including laws, policies, and related procedures-impacts vulnerability to HIV and access to HIV-related services both positively and negatively. Assessing changes in the legal environment and how these affect HIV-related outcomes, however, is challenging, and understanding of appropriate methodologies nascent


Does water scarcity shift the electricity generation mix toward fossil fuels? Empirical evidence from the United States

By Jonathan Eyer, Casey Wichman

Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 87

2018

Water withdrawals for the energy sector are the largest use of fresh water in the United States. Using an econometric model of monthly plant-level electricity generation levels between 2001 and 2012, we estimate the effect of water scarcity on the US electricity fuel mix. We find that hydroelectric generation decreases substantially in response to drought, although this baseline generation is offset primarily by natural gas, depending on the geographic region. We provide empirical evidence that drought can increase emissions of CO2 and local pollutants. We quantify the social costs of water scarcity to be $330,000 per month for each plant that experiences a one-standard deviation increase in water scarcity (2015 dollars), a relationship that persists under future projections of water scarcity.


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