USC Center for Sustainability Solutions

Developing Solutions for a Sustainable and Equitable Future

Research Papers

Social Sustainability and Global Climate Change

By Lawrence A. Palinkas, Marleen Wong

Social Work and Sustainability in Asia


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.

Systematic Comparison of the Influence of Cool Wall versus Cool Roof Adoption on Urban Climate in the Los Angeles Basin

By Jiachen Zhang, Arash Mohegh, Yun Li, Ronnen Levinson, George Ban-Weiss

Environmental Science & Technology, vol. 52, no. 19


This study for the first time assesses the influence of employing solar reflective “cool” walls on the urban energy budget and summertime climate of the Los Angeles basin. We systematically compare the effects of cool walls to cool roofs, a heat mitigation strategy that has been widely studied and employed, using a consistent modeling framework (the Weather Research and Forecasting model). Adoption of cool walls leads to increases in urban grid cell albedo that peak in the early morning and late afternoon, when the ratio of solar radiation onto vertical walls versus horizontal surfaces is at a maximum. In Los Angeles County, daily average increase in grid cell reflected solar radiation from increasing wall albedo by 0.80 is 9.1 W m-2, 43% of that for increasing roof albedo. Cool walls reduce canyon air temperatures in Los Angeles by 0.43 K (daily average), with the peak reduction (0.64 K) occurring at 09:00 LST and a secondary peak (0.53 K) at 18:00 LST. Per 0.10 wall (roof) albedo increase, cool walls (roofs) can reduce summertime daily average canyon air temperature by 0.05 K (0.06 K). Results reported here can be used to inform policies on urban heat island mitigation or climate change adaptation.

The effect of firm size on fracking safety

By Jonathan Eyer

Resource and Energy Economics, 53


Large firms are becoming increasingly dominant in the natural gas production industry. At the same time, regulators and environmental groups are concerned about potential environmental damage associated with hydraulic fracturing. However, small firms are protected from the full extent of their damages, while large firms must internalize a greater portion of their social costs. This paper examines the effect of firm size and liability on environmental safety in the context of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale across three dimensions of size. Impacts of firm size on safety are found across legal, regulatory, and brand dimensions of size with the largest effects being driven by changes in regulatory liability. These safety gains are sizable as violation rates would be approximately twice as high if firms at remained at 2008 sizes.

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


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

Climate models can correctly simulate the continuum of global-average temperature variability

By Feng Zhu, Julien Emile-Geay, Nicholas P. McKay, Gregory J. Hakim, Deborah Khider, Toby R. Ault, Eric J. Steig, Sylvia Dee, James W. Kirchner

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America


Measures of climate are known to exhibit scaling behavior with large exponents, resulting in larger fluctuations at longer timescales. It has been suggested that climate models underestimate these fluctuations [1-4], casting doubt on their ability to predict the amplitude of climate variability over coming decades and centuries. Using the latest simulations and data syntheses, as well as spectral methods tailored to scaling estimation, we find agreement for spectra derived from observations and models on timescales ranging from interannual to multi-millennial. Our results confirm the existence of a regime transition between orbital and annual peaks [5], occurring around millennial periodicities. That both simple and comprehensive ocean-atmosphere models can reproduce these features suggests that long-range persistence is a consequence of the oceanic integration of both gradual and abrupt climate forcings. The result implies that decadal to millennial variability over the Holocene is partly a consequence of the climate system’s integrated memory of orbital forcing. While climate models imperfectly depict some aspects of spatiotemporal variability, we find that they appear contain the essential physics to correctly simulate the temperature continuum. We hypothesize that the deep ocean plays a key role in integrating forcings, keeping a long memory of past events, and having the ability to strongly influence climate states. We therefore suggest that a critical element of successful simulations at sub-orbital scales are initial conditions of the deep ocean state that are consistent with observations of the recent past. Failing to provide such initial conditions sets the models up for failure.

Collaboration as an Organization Design for Shared Purpose

By Paul S. Adler, Charles Heckscher

Toward Permeable Boundaries of Organizations? Research in the Sociology of Organizations


“Shared purpose,” understood as a widely shared commitment to the organization’s fundamental raison d’eˆtre, can be a powerful driver of organizational performance by providing both motivation and direction for members’ joint problem-solving efforts. So far, however, we understand little about the organization design that can support shared purpose in the context of large, complex business enterprises. Building on the work of Selznick and Weber, we argue that such contexts require a new organizational form, one that we call collaborative. The collaborative organizational form is grounded in Weber’s value-rational type of social action, but overcomes the scale limitations of the collegial form of organization that is conventionally associated with value-rational action. We identify four organizational principles that characterize this collaborative form and a range of managerial policies that can implement those principles.

A Meta-Narrative Literature Synthesis and Framework to Guide Future Evaluation of Legal Empowerment Interventions

By Katherine Footer, Michael Windle, Laura Ferguson, Jordan Hatcher, Carrie Lyons, Emma Gorin, Anne L. Stangl, Steven Golub, Sofia Gruskin, Stefan Baral

Health and Human Rights, 20


Legal empowerment is increasingly recognized as a key approach for addressing socio-structural determinants of health and promoting the well-being and human rights of vulnerable populations. Legal empowerment seeks to increase people’s capacity to understand and use the law. However, limited consensus remains on the effectiveness of legal empowerment interventions in optimizing health outcomes. Leveraging a meta-narrative approach, we synthesized literature describing how legal empowerment interventions have been operationalized and empirically studied with respect to health determinants. The studies included here document diverse legal empowerment approaches and highlight how interventions changed the context surrounding the health of vulnerable populations. The absence of robust conceptualization, operationalization, and measurement of the risk contexts in which legal empowerment approaches operate limits the clarity with which interventions’ impact on health can be ascertained. Despite this, legal empowerment is a promising approach to address the health of marginalized populations. To foster support between the fields of legal empowerment and health, we explore the limitations in study design and measurement of the existing evidence base; such scrutiny could strengthen the rigor of future research. This paper provides a guide to the socio-structural levels across which legal empowerment interventions impact health outcomes in order to inform future interventions.

GIS&T and Geodesign

By Darren Ruddell, Kelleann Foster

The Geographic Information Science & Technology Body of Knowledge (3rd Quarter 2018 Edition)


Geodesign leverages GIS&T to allow collaborations that result in geographically specific, adaptive and resilient solutions to complex problems across scales of the built and natural environment. Geodesign is rooted in decades of research and practice. Building on that history, is a contemporary approach that embraces the latest in GIS&T, visualization, and social science, all of which is organized around a unique framework process involving six models. More than just technology or GIS, Geodesign is a way of thinking when faced with complicated spatial issues that need systematic, creative, and integrative solutions. Geodesign holds great promise for addressing the complexity of interrelated issues associated with growth and landscape change. Geodesign empowers through design combined with data and analytics to shape our environments and create desired futures.

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


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.

Research Areas


Research Topics