Search Results for 'Rural Development'

Community-​​Based Electric Micro-​​Grids Can Contribute to Rural Development: Evidence from Kenya

We clarify the mechanisms through which rural electrification can contribute to rural development. Through a detailed case study analysis of a community-based electric micro-grid in rural Kenya, we demonstrate that access to electricity enables the use of electric equipment and tools by small and micro enterprises, resulting in significant improvement in productivity per worker (100–200% depending on the task at hand) and in a corresponding growth in income levels in the order of 20–70%, depending on the product made. Access to electricity simultaneously enables and improves the delivery of social and business services from a wide range of village-level infrastructure (e.g., schools, markets, and water pumps) while improving the productivity of agricultural activities. We find that increased productivity and growth in revenues within the context of better delivery of social and business support services contribute to achieving higher social and economic benefits for rural communities. We also demonstrate that when local electricity users have an ability to charge and enforce cost-reflective tariffs and when electricity consumption is closely linked to productive uses that generate incomes, cost recovery is feasible.

Methodology for Monitoring Sustainable Development of Isolated Microgrids in Rural Communities

Abstract: Microgrids are a rapidly evolving and increasingly common form of local power generation used to serve the needs of both rural and urban communities. In this paper, we present a methodology to evaluate the evolution of the sustainability of stand-alone microgrids projects. The proposed methodology considers a composite sustainability index (CSI) that includes both positive and negative impacts of the operation of the microgrid in a given community. The CSI is constructed along environmental, social, economic and technical dimensions of the microgrid. The sub-indexes of each dimension are aggregated into the CSI via a set of adaptive weighting factors, which indicate the relative importance of the corresponding dimension in the sustainability goals. The proposed methodology aims to be a support instrument for policy makers especially when defining sound corrective measures to guarantee the sustainability of small, isolated microgrid projects. To validate the performance of the proposed methodology, a microgrid installed in the northern part of Chile (Huatacondo) has been used as a benchmarking project.

Feb. 21, 2018 — RAEL Seminar: Jit Bhattacharya, will speak on “Solar Home Systems 2.0: How cleantech & fintech are changing African rural electrification”

Jit-Bhattacharya-horizontal Mr. Jit Bhattacharya has been Chief Technology Officer at Fenix International Inc. since July 2017. Mr. Bhattacharya served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Mission Motor Company until 2014 and previously served as its Chief Operating Officer. He has more than 10 years' of experience in energy storage systems and product development. Prior to accepting the role with Fenix, he worked as a Senior Manager in the special projects group at Apple.  Jit is a Berkeley alum and a former co-chair of BERC.

Best, Dennis V.

Dennis has focused his career on technology and sustainability policy in emerging and developing economies. His research interests include technology and innovation policy and impacts to resource and rural development, technology transfer and the political economy of land use management. He has led programs with the Paris based International Energy Agency, as an official of the OECD, working with emerging economies on energy technology policy and contributing to the Agency’s analysis of energy, environment and climate policies (specifically working collaboratively with China and other transition economies in exploring long-term clean energy options, including advanced bioenergy, carbon sequestration and negative emissions systems.) Prior to living in Berkeley, he spent five years in France, and seven years in Beijing, China – advising government and industrial clients on sustainability and technology deployment initiatives. He holds a BA in political science (international relations) and a concentration in East Asian studies from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Kirubi, Charles

Gathu Kirubi, brings strong analytical skills and demonstrated management experience cutting across renewable energy, rural development and micro-finance. Aside from holding a PhD in Energy & Rural Development from the University of California Berkeley, a premier institution in the field, Kirubi brings to Solar Transitions over 10 years  experience in innovation and leadership in designing and managing rural energy projects in East Africa. In 2001, Kirubi won the prestigious Ashden Award in recognition of "leadership and innovation in pioneering the start-up of a revolving fund credit scheme that supports schools and micro-enterprises with energy efficient wood stoves in Kenya. In addition to consulting on energy and microfinance with a number of organizations including UNDP, Arc Finance, E+Co, and Faulu-Kenya, Kirubi is also a Lecturer at the Environmental Sciences Department, Kenyatta University, Nairobi,where he teaches courses on energy, technology, and sustainable development. His main interests in the project are the linkages between rural access to electricity and income generating activities, including small and medium size enterprises.

Now we are cooking with gas: How interdisciplinary solutions and local outreach can light a fire under clean stove adoption

This piece by Annelise Gill-Wiehl and Daniel Kammen is featured in The Beam #11 – Power in People. Subscribe now to read more on the subject.
  “Each time [the local workers] visit, we gain strength from that. To refill [LPG cylinders]. To continue on,” says Bibi Matunda (or Grandma Fruit as the old woman is kindly nicknamed) at a focus group with a few other families in the Community Technology Worker Pilot Program. In Tanzania, where our research is based, 96% of the population [1] relies on “unclean” fuels, and the effects of biomass burning and indoor air pollution contributes to 20,000 deaths [1]. Liquified Petroleum Gas (LPG) is one of the truly clean cooking fuels based on emission criteria set by the World Health Organization (WHO). Although LPG is a fossil fuel, there is a net climate benefit to a large-scale switch to LPG for household fuel due to increased efficiency, as well as the benefit of transitioning away from the methane emissions caused by wood burning. Despite a wave of many African countries setting goals for increased or exclusive LPG use, LPG programs face common barriers to adoption of the clean fuel, which include a lack of education/need for household training, household safety concerns and the prohibitive cost. We looked for analogies in other sustainable development fields that overcame barriers in behavior change and the need for community transitions. Specifically, we turned to the literature on Community Health Workers – local individuals who link their underserved communities to health systems. Despite the existence of established and proven interventions to improve community health, local health systems are too fragmented to scale up these interventions. This weak infrastructure, combined with the shortage of over 4 million health care professionals and the high cost of training doctors, presented a need for a local worker to fill this health care void. A Community Health Worker (CHW) was implemented at the village level to provide individual care that was effective, culturally appropriate, and economical. The WHO defines CHWs as “members of the communities where they work, should be selected by the communities, should be answerable to the communities for their activities, should be supported by the health system, but not necessarily a part of the organization, and have shorter training than professional workers” [2]. The public health community has overwhelmingly demonstrated that CHWs can increase community development and access to health services. We therefore decided to investigate whether a similar model – a Community Technology Worker (CTW) – could be introduced to aid in the adoption of clean stoves. This work was piloted in Shirati, Tanzania, a town of ~50,000 on the edge of Lake Victoria, near the Kenyan border. Kubwana and Michire are two sub-villages in Shirati. Kubwana is a larger, electrified trading area with the regional hospital, small shops, and unofficial vendors selling vegetables, fruit, and charcoal. Michire is closer to the lake and has a smaller trading post without grid electrification – some shops have a single solar panel.  A local NGO, ReachShirati, helped identify trusted community members, Mary from Michire and Nayome from Kubwana, to each start with 15 households. The local LPG company, Mihan Gas, was brought in to provide a day long safety training to supplement the manuals and explanations we provided on the LPG stove. The women then taught the families how to use the gas stove and provided educational and safety pamphlets in the native language that were supplemented with pictorial content for those who cannot read. They promised to always be available for questions or concerns. Mary and Nayome would check-in weekly with the households to conduct a short survey to gauge fuel use, but more importantly, they continue to provide support and encouragement to the families. After a year of surveys and rounds of interviews, the results show that roughly 80% of families report sustained, regular refilling of LPG cylinders. This is a relatively high rate of adoption compared to other LPG and improved biomass cookstove interventions.
© Annelise Gill-Wiehl. The CTW received training on the gas stove, enabling them to empower their community and their own household to confidently use gas safely.
© Annelise Gill-Wiehl. The CTW received training on the gas stove, enabling them to empower their community and their own household to confidently use gas safely.
  A CTW does not remove all barriers to gas adoption. Economic difficulties and cooking materials stand in the way of full adoption. However, these results do suggest that a CTW does mitigate many of the obstacles through education and maintenance support. To further bolster the effectiveness of the CTW model and encourage families to refill their LPG cylinder, we are continuing to conceptualize with other disciplines, specifically economics and microfinance. The research is attempting to expand and offer households an opportunity to opt into a savings bank option to promote accountability and a formal financial mechanism.  
© IDEO & Clean Cooking Alliance. The available cookstoves in Tanzania range from wood to charcoal, kerosene, LPG, and electric. The upfront costs increase from free to 50 USD as you climb this “energy ladder.” The variability in income creates challenges for rural households to afford the lump sum of a gas cylinder, which often prevents their adoption of this option.
© IDEO & Clean Cooking Alliance. The available cookstoves in Tanzania range from wood to charcoal, kerosene, LPG, and electric. The upfront costs increase from free to 50 USD as you climb this “energy ladder.” The variability in income creates challenges for rural households to afford the lump sum of a gas cylinder, which often prevents their adoption of this option.
  Our work is not the only clean cooking initiative to reach across disciplines and innovate to reach the world’s poor. There are many prominent ventures on the horizon in clean cooking, such as pay-as-you-cook SmartGas from Envirofit and Inyeryeri’s firewood pellet stove – one of the few biomass stoves to meet the Tier 4 Emission Criteria set by the WHO. These enterprises are combining disciplines with IT & computer science, mechanical engineering, and economics. This cross-disciplinary work is crucial to attack the most pressing environmental and global health issues. As we face a warming climate and growing health implications from the burning of biomass, it is all the more important for the sustainable development community to work together and lean on new ideas and identify proven bright spots, even those from different disciplines. We cannot look for solutions in silos; rather, we must reach out across disciplines and topics to achieve a sustainable future. We must not forget to incorporate the most important aspect from both CHWs and CTWs – the human contact of local outreach. In theory, reach and scale are easily and quickly attainable even without physical visiting. However, even companies like Envirofit, who pursue large-scale cookstove deployment mostly through IT-based communication, admit that “while investing in training resources increases costs, it also increases adoption”[3]. The advantage of this model for cooking over an IT-based solution (i.e. text message education or reminders) is the flexibility and resilience inherent to a human-led initiative. Human workers can respond and adapt to the specific issues of the household and provide helpful advice; an automated text message is easily ignored and cannot adapt to specific circumstances. Households are more likely to adopt improved stoves if they have had prior exposure to a trusted individual or organization promoting the product. Additionally, these local trainers could be utilized to solve other community problems, such as water and sanitation technology or mini-grids. An interdisciplinary solution can be employed to solve a multitude of disciplinary problems. The focus group reiterated the importance of community between the CTW and the households. For example, one woman said, “we have become friends, we greet each other, you find out what the problem is and you help. If there is a problem, we find a solution.” As the women of Shirati support each other within this program, so should the fields in sustainable development. Beyond an expanded study that couples this model with a savings bank as mentioned above, this work could become a strong private-public partnership. Mirroring the CHWs in Tanzania, LPG companies could coordinate their village LPG dealers with local governments to adopt this model, empower their communities from within, and work towards clean fuel adoption for decades to come. Community-based outreach and interdisciplinary solutions are invaluable in the effort to provide access and ensure adoption of clean energy for cooking and beyond. Sources [1]    Clean Cooking Alliance, “Tanzania,” 2019. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 30-Oct-2019]. [2]    G. Health, “Community and Formal Health System Support for Enhanced Community Health Worker Performance A U.S. Government Evidence Summit FINAL REPORT Content,” 2012. [3]    Envirofit, “COOKING IN ONE MILLION KITCHENS: Lessons Learned in Scaling a Clean Cookstove Business,” 2015.

A Green Stimulus to Rebuild Our Economy: An Open Letter and Call to Action to Members of Congress

A Green Stimulus to

Rebuild Our Economy

An Open Letter and Call to Action to Members of Congress

If you agree with us, please click here to sign onto our letter.

As a nation we face three converging crises: the COVID19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession; the climate emergency; and extreme inequality.

Unemployment is rising at the fastest rate since the 2008 crash, and could eventually reach 20% — twice as high as the Great Recession. We needimmediate and sustained intervention to protect people’s health and economic well-being, with a special focus on the most vulnerable. We must also begin planning our economic recovery in a way that protects us from the impact of climate change and lifts up workers and frontline communities.

Many other groups are focused on the emergency stimulus package to stabilize our economy, on preventing harm in an equitable way — which we fully support — so this letter focuses on the longer-term challenge of jumpstarting economic recovery and transitioning to a more sustainable economy. The question isn’t whether we will next need a major economic recovery stimulus, but what kind of stimulus should we pursue? In response we, climate and social policy experts in academia and civil society, have developed a menu of solutions that would collectively comprise a Green Stimulus.

The United States confronts the danger of an economic stimulus that restores — or even deepens — our reliance on fossil fuels. This danger comes from explicit proposals to bail out the fossil fuel sector and roll back workers’ rights, and also from generic general stimulus policies that do not take climate into account. Indeed, infrastructure spending as usual — e.g. highway expansion — will lock in more carbon pollution for decades. We can avoid these problems by crafting a recovery that accelerates the creation of a 21st century green economy.

Thus, we propose an ambitious Green Stimulus of at least $2 trillion that creates millions of family-sustaining green jobs, lifts standards of living, accelerates a just transition off fossil fuels, ensures a controlling stake for the public in all private sector bailout plans, and helps make our society and economy stronger and more resilient in the face of pandemic, recession, and climate emergency in the years ahead. This stimulus should be automatically renewed annually at 4% of GDP per year (roughly $850 billion) until the economy is fully decarbonized and the unemployment rate is below 3.5%. A Green Stimulus would make short-term interventions, restructure political and economic power towards workers and communities, and build toward deep long-term change.

Most of the physical work proposed here cannot begin immediately. We must focus on halting the spread of deadly illness. However, we can do all the preparatory work now to make green projects “shovel ready.” Right now, legislative action as well as planning work, done safely through online channels, including public debate and consultation, can ensure that physical projects can commence as soon as it is feasible to restart major in-person work across the economy.

This preparatory phase must include building up capacity within existing federal, state, and local government agencies (and chartering new ones as necessary) to help manage the implementation phase of this stimulus. In the weeks ahead, the government will undoubtedly pass further stimulus measures. At each step, we must push for that stimulus to be green.

Our proposal for a Green Stimulus is aligned with the “5 Principles for Just COVID-19 Relief and Stimulus,” as put forward by over 300 environmental, justice, labor, and movement organizations: (1) Health is the top priority, for all people, with no exceptions; (2) Provide economic relief directly to the people; (3) Rescue workers and communities, not corporate executives; (4) Make a down payment on a regenerative economy, while preventing future crises; and, (5) Protect our democratic process while protecting each other.

Additionally, our proposal is grounded four key strategies, cutting across industrial sectors and bureaucratic domains:

  • Create millions of new family-sustaining, career-track green jobs in clean energy expansion, building retrofits and sustainable homebuilding, local food economies, public transit maintenance and operations, electric appliance and vehicle manufacturing, green infrastructure construction and management, local and sustainable textiles and apparel, and partnering with existing pre-approved apprenticeship programs to bring more low-income and workers of color into good union jobs;
  • Deliver strategic investments — like green housing retrofits, rooftop solar installation, electric bus deployment, rural broadband development, and other forms of economic diversification — to lift up and collaborate with frontline communities, including communities of color, Indigenous communities, low-income communities, communities that have suffered disinvestment, and communities that have historically borne the brunt of pollution and climate harm;
  • Expand public and employee ownership by leveraging existing public agencies and assets (including public transit agencies, local housing authorities, public school districts, and electric co-ops), taking equity stakes in companies receiving substantial direct investment (including the airline, fossil fuel, and cruise industries), and conditioning strategic aspects of the stimulus package on worker self-determination measures and cooperatives; and,
  • Make rapid cuts to carbon pollution consistent with keeping global warming as close as possible to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the climate science tells us is required to limit further climate breakdown, and protect salaries, benefits, and retirements of fossil fuel workers.

Below, we outline a menu of practical policy interventions that align with these principles and strategies. Many of these interventions could be implemented by state and local governments and would benefit from immediate, purposeful planning and preparation, nearly all of which could be done remotely (including mass public procurement, targeted bridge loans and other emergency financial instruments, and expanded tax credits and rebates for high-priority sectors). The menu includes:

1. Housing, Buildings, Civic Infrastructure, and Communities

2. Transportation Workers, Systems, and Infrastructure

3. Labor, Manufacturing, and Just Transition for Workers and Communities

4. Energy System Workers and Infrastructure

5. Farmers, Food Systems, and Rural Communities

6. Green Infrastructure, Public Lands, and the Environment

7. Regulations, Innovation, and Public Investment

8. Green Foreign Policy

This is an inflection point for our nation. This is a pivotal moment to put tens of millions of Americans back to work, building a healthy, clean, and just future. It is heartening to recognize the very broad range of technologies and policy tools at our disposal to ensure that recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic can also dramatically improve the living standards of those most in need — a majority of Americans, in fact.

Moreover, a Green Stimulus agenda is broadly popular, as shown for instance by Data for Progress’s polling around the Green New Deal and green industrial policy. Their latest polling finds majority support for a trillion-dollar investment in green technology. And it finds majority support among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents for a range of public green investments — from renewable energy, to electric buses, underground high-voltage transmission, electric minivans and pickup trucks for rural and suburban areas, smart grid technology, retrofitting buildings with an emphasis on low-income housing, and battery technology.

Finally, we have the opportunity to learn from and improve on the inadequate 2008–2010 stimulus that resulted in a sluggish recovery and centered firms and companies instead of workers. We need a bigger stimulus, more investment in low-carbon projects, and more immediate relief for Main Street. Now is the time to begin the political debate, and legislative work to pass Green Stimulus policies to create jobs, lift up communities, and tackle the climate emergency as we rebuild the economy.

The co-authors of this letter, and endorsing signatories, are listed below, after our policy menu. We call on Members of Congress to consider and carry forward these policy ideas in this forthcoming and any future stimulus packages, to ensure addressing current public health crisis doesn’t exacerbate the climate crisis.

A Green Stimulus Policy Menu


  • Massively expand the federal Weatherization Assistance Program to cut utility costs and eliminate homes’ carbon emissions, fund state-level equivalent programs, and provide grants to community-based weatherization programs to scale up local efforts, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
  • Place moratoria on electricity, gas, and water shutoffs and late fees and reconnect those disconnected prior to the crisis, and rental evictions. Suspend rent and mortgage payments, without fees, and with potential to forgive payments. This will protect the most vulnerable, from some of the immediate effects of the recession and provide indirect income support to communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities.
  • Expand funding to and beneficiaries of Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, (LIHEAP), while green retrofits are underway. Change eligibility to 200–250% of federal poverty line, thus increasing program beneficiaries. Work to make enrollment automatic based on tax credits, and expand outreach to households that may not have anyone who files.
  • Repeal the Fairthcloth Amendment and infuse funds into the National Housing Trust Fund (eg, $50 billion in year 1, $100 billion year 2, $150 billion in year 3) for no-carbon mixed-income social housing, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs.
  • Double tax-credits for Low-Income Housing Tax Credit affordable housing construction, mandate zero-carbon standard for operational carbon (building operations), and a low-carbon standard for embodied emissions of building materials. Fund union apprenticeship programs in communities of color, Indigenous communities, and low-income communities.
  • Pass and funding the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, to begin immediate public housing retrofits that improve living conditions, create tens of thousands of union jobs for public housing residents and other, nearby low-income workers, and create a new mass market for green building materials.
  • Commence immediate public procurement of building materials and appliances to retrofit public housing, federally funded Indian housing, and all relevant government and military buildings. Offer states, cities, and other public agencies the ability to join these heavily discounted bulk purchase orders.
  • Invest in dramatic improvements to housing conditions throughout Indian Country through healthy, sustainable retrofits, creating thousands of jobs in those communities.
  • Fund school retrofits across the country, with priority for Title 1 schools. Remove fossil fuels, install heat pumps for heating and cooling, and remove all toxic and unhealthy materials including lead, mold, and asbestos, and create tens of thousands of jobs. Increase funding for wraparound services and to make school year-round resiliency hubs for their communities, including by providing disaster relief services.
  • Establish a federal green and equitable housing fund, to partner with municipalities that invest in rent-controlled housing for low-income citizens near transit hubs.
  • Ensure government-funded construction projects take sea-level rise into account. Restore the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, and, unless required for national security, do not build any new federal buildings within 3 feet of the historic 100-year coastal flood elevation.
  • Require states to adopt most advanced current building energy codes, reach codes (e.g. “Zero Code”), and local land use and zoning reforms (e.g., the abolition of parking minimums and single-family zoning) including the provision of competitive, supplemental funding for state and local governments that adopt these reforms. Green building grants should include funding to hire staff in state and local government to internally manage the planning and implementation.
  • Enact federal zoning regulation reform to facilitate construction of both dense and affordable housing, with a priority to building near public transit, to ensure new social housing is located in walkable and transit accessible-neighborhoods.
  • Develop a subsidy and loan regime to support decarbonizing the building energy use, which would also cut utility costs for homes and businesses, and spur US manufacturing of more affordable, and efficient electric heat pumps, heat-recovery ventilation units, energy-efficient lighting, and building controls.
  • Develop a subsidy and loan regime to support decarbonizing construction materials and increasing the carbon-sequestration potential of our building stock through increased use of carbon-smart forestry, engineered-wood/mass timber, low-carbon concrete, fossil fuel free insulation materials, and increased use of plant-based build materials made from agricultural wastes and waste fiber streams, such as hempcrete, compressed strawboard, wood fiberboard insulation, etc. This would support American manufacturing, forestry and agriculture sectors.
  • Develop a national green rental subsidy program that provides incentives to landlords for passing the savings accrued from solar and energy efficiency on to tenants (i.e., rentals free of utility charges).
  • Implement a green mortgages program through all federally backed mortgage lending that includes an incentive program of 50 basis point reduction in mortgages for zero carbon emissions homes and 25 basis points for zero carbon emissions-ready homes.
  • Fully resource ($10 billion) the Public Housing Operating Fund to ensure residents employed in management and on-site jobs are protected, ongoing green retrofit and maintenance contracts are fulfilled, and that local housing authorities are fully prepared to meet their obligations to their communities.
  • Provide new funding through the National Endowment for the Arts, Smithsonian, and other federal cultural institutions to support out-of-work artists, designers, and other makers.
  • Create a Climate Justice Resiliency Fund to ensure our infrastructure and communities are protected from the unavoidable impacts of climate change. Begin with a national survey to identify areas with high vulnerability to climate impacts, public health challenges, environmental hazards, and other socioeconomic factors. Create grants for communities to fund projects to safeguard vulnerable groups from extreme weather and other environmental harms. And establish an Office of Climate Resiliency for People with Disabilities within the fund to meet specific needs of people with disabilities.


  • Provide direct transfers to local transit authorities to ensure they remain solvent, well-maintained, and ready for active service when the pandemic recedes. Local transit authorities are existing, publicly-owned and operated entities managing trillions of dollars worth of capital infrastructure, employing thousands of workers, and they simply cannot be allowed to fail.
  • Create thousands of new construction jobs by investing in projects that incentivize densification, including Equitable Transit Oriented Development with an emphasis on affordable housing, through the USDOT.
  • Revive the Partnership for Sustainable Communities interagency initiative to align local, place-based economic stimulus projects administered by the USDOT, HUD, and EPA.
  • Create thousands of new jobs by offering grants and no-interest, no-match loans to local transit agencies and municipal governments to complete their backlog of shovel-ready ADA-compliance and Complete Streets projects. All disruptive roadway work should be paired with upgrades to sanitary sewer systems and other utilities whenever possible.
  • Provide grants and loans to local transit agencies and school boards to fund the purchase of electric railcars and engines and electric buses and electric school buses, with the goal of ending all diesel bus purchases by 2025. This must also include targeted investment to support electric bus and railcar manufacturing capacity within the automobile industry in the United States.
  • Create a “Fix It First” mandate for infrastructure and public works projects, as outlined here, requiring all new USDOT funding and financing be directed towards the maintenance and repair of existing roadways, bridges, and other projects. This also includes upgrading commuter rail lines to meet Positive Train Control standards and installing dedicated bike and bus lanes.


  • Provide grants and no-interest loans to develop and accelerate US manufacturing of electric buses (including school buses), electric pickup trucks, electric cars, and other electric vehicles; and, energy-efficient electric appliances.
  • Create a federal fund to support formation of worker cooperatives aligned with the goals of rapid decarbonization, such as solar panel installation, regenerative agriculture, urban community gardens, and larger-scale urban farming.
  • Implement a Green Durable Goods policy to ensure continued production of essential green products, via massive infusion of federal funds into electric appliance, vehicle, etc. manufacturing. Use direct government purchase of high volumes of green goods to drive increases of green capacity during economic slowdown, as done during the Second World War. Give priority to manufacturers who partner with pre-approved union apprenticeship programs.
  • Create a cash for appliances program, funded at least $1 billion, modeled on the Obama stimulus measure, but mandating recycling of all old appliances with a particular focus on preventing HFC leakage.
  • Create a public option for electric vehicles, appliances, and other durable goods procurement. All other governments, co-operatives, and non-profit entities would be eligible to place individual orders through this mass federal procurement, with grants and no-interest loans to support their purchases through the Department of Commerce.
  • Create a “feebate” program to transfer a pollution surcharge to those who purchase cleaner products. Include a low-income carbon credit so that individuals making within 200% of the federal poverty threshold and in rural households receive 2x or 4x the benefit for the purchase of energy efficient models.
  • Create an expansive Women in Cleantech (WiC) training and entrepreneurial support program through the Small Business Administration.
  • Provide new opportunities for disadvantaged American green entrepreneurial training and start-up grants through the Small Business Administration.
  • Provide just transition benefits for all workers in fossil fuel industries, including five years of wage replacement for displaced workers, housing assistance, job training opportunities, health insurance coverage, pension support, and priority job placement for displaced workers. Provide early retirement support where appropriate.
  • Provide tax revenue replacement support for communities impacted by the cessation of extraction and use of fossil fuels.
  • Identify and invest in economic diversification strategies for fossil fuel regions by fully funding the project backlog at the Appalachian Regional Commission, Great Lakes Commission, and Delta Regional Authority and creating similar projects in other fossil fuel regions.
  • Provide new funding to support opportunities for low-income women to pursue advanced training, new sustainable technologies, and formation of worker cooperative businesses in women’s traditional industries, including textile and apparel.


  • Create a national clean energy standard through the EPA that applies to all power providers including rural electric cooperatives, climbing steeply to 100% carbon-free energy by 2030.
  • Restore the clean energy tax credits and offer a direct incentive to businesses, nonprofits, municipalities, tribes, and low income community members, extending the credit to energy storage so renewable energy sources can provide firm, reliable ‘baseload’ energy.’
  • Make all clean energy tax credits (including for consumers) immediately deployable; for consumers they should be immediate and refundable rebates, particularly investing in distributed and community renewable energy to build community wealth and resilience.
  • Make regulatory changes to accelerate the environmental review process for clean energy, storage, high voltage transmission, charging stations, and other low-carbon infrastructure projects, inspired by recent reforms in New York State Government, while respecting Indigenous sovereignty and ensuring no sacrifice of public safety.
  • Provide a revolving fund through a joint Department of Energy and Treasury initiative to acquire and/or purchase fossil fuel firms that are going bankrupt in order to decommission assets and provide a just transition for affected workers and communities.
  • Require a rapid phaseout of fracking and offshore and onshore oil and gas drilling, end new extraction, and end fossil fuel exports, in conjunction with the rapid expansion and unionization of clean energy generation.
  • Protect the right of clean energy workers to unionize their workplaces, and incentivize worker ownership in the sector.
  • End all fossil fuel subsidies and redirect the funds to help directly-impacted workers and communities in the energy transition.
  • Authorize Treasury, federal agencies, and other federal lenders to forgive all government-held fossil fuel debt of rural electric coops and municipal utilities.
  • Provide grants and no-interest, no-match loans to all electricity co-ops contingent on rapid decarbonization including implementation of battery storage technology at distribution and end-user levels.
  • Provide substantial finance to support the development and deployment of community-shared solar programs, which may work in tandem with the Department of Energy’s technical assistance program for community solar.
  • Plan and fund rapid decarbonization of Tennessee Valley Authority and other federally-owned power supplies, and provide logistical and financial support for a mandated decarbonization of rural electricity cooperatives and public power.


  • Strengthen organic standards and reform agricultural subsidies so that federal support goes to small producers who make investments in their communities and the environment.
  • Re-staff and fully fund the USDA and EPA science offices, and the network of agriculture extension offices, to quantify carbon reductions. Support regenerative agriculture and compensate farmers (including regenerative ocean farmers) for carbon reduction practices, such as carbon sequestration in soils, the transition to regional and local farming initiatives, and other practices based on the quantified carbon abatement or sequestration (carbon negative land use) of the practices.
  • Prevent food shortages and surpluses by establishing supply management programs and a parity pricing system for farmers that both ensures farmers, farm workers, and every worker along the food chain a living wage and ensures consumers a high-quality, stable, and ensures local supply of agricultural goods.
  • Empower the USDA to track, report, and address instances of “food deserts’’ in low-income and inner-city areas by ensuring that fair market priced goods, including organic foods, are available with similar quality and diversity as in other parts of the country.
  • Support indigenous farming practices and end biopiracy and contamination of native seeds by fully supporting the work of the International Planning Committee for Food Sovereignty (IPC) on the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) within the Food and Agriculture Organization of The United Nations.
  • Enhance programs for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers as outlined in the 2018 Farm Bill, to give them fair access to land and resources. Recognize historical crimes and injustices through a commitment to reparations for black farmers and indigenous communities. One such policy is to stand up a federally backed land trust to buy land from retiring farmers that would then be sold interest-free to farmers of color.
  • Incentivize community and cooperatively owned farmland to support local communities and urban residents, including by expanding USDA’s Local Agriculture Market Program, and funding food hubs and distribution centers.
  • Make government-owned farmland available as incubator farms for beginning farmers
  • Pass comprehensive legislation that provides grants and technical assistance to mitigate climate change by transitioning to independent family farming practices that are regenerative, ecologically sound, improve soil health, and sequester carbon in soil.
  • Create a new USDA program dedicated to research and policy development for ocean-based farming. Support regenerative ocean farming, a burgeoning, low-carbon industry focused on seaweeds and shellfish, including through the USDA’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and Biomass Crop Assistance Program, as described in the Blue New Deal.
  • Direct the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Marine Fisheries Service to issue new guidance and regulations to better prepare fishing industries and communities for the impacts of climate change.
  • Support the shift towards healthy food consumption, by expanding access to the quality of food available through nutrition support programs such as TANF, SNAP, and WIC and classify Farmers Markets as “essential services.”
  • Direct the Farm Service Agency to issue no-interest, no-match loans via its land contract guarantee program to ensure failing industrial agricultural land is made available to new and small family farmers whenever possible; and issue no-interest, no-match loans to fund equipment purchases, organic and specialty crop operations, and alternative farming practices.
  • Secure the rights of migrant and permanent resident workers and their families to healthcare, food, and shelter without prejudice to pathways to future citizenship.


  • Create a Clean Water Corps that provides no-interest loans for municipalities and counties to invest in repairing/replacing combined and sanitary sewer systems, building out alternative stormwater management systems (green infrastructure), and performing other abatement measures (replacing lead pipes and upgrading treatment facilities). Pass the WATER ACT.
  • Create a new Civilian Conservation Corps through the Corporation for National and Community Service, chartered to hire workers to restore ecosystems, including forests and wetlands, modeled on the California Conservation Corps.
  • Create thousands of new jobs maintaining green infrastructure and climate resilient landscapes by providing new grants and formula funding through the HUD-DOT-EPA Partnership for Sustainable Communities.
  • Electrify and modernize our ports, to reduce harmful air pollution and prepare for sea level rise, as described in the Blue New Deal.
  • Direct and fully fund the National Parks Service and U.S. Forest Service to begin planning for the climate crisis and clearing their backlog of authorized projects, with priority given those that respond to enhanced threats from wildfire, ecosystem migration, biodiversity loss, and sea level rise.
  • Direct and fully fund the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to clear their backlog of beneficial dredge, habitat restoration, climate adaptation, and infrastructure maintenance projects.
  • Direct and fully fund HUD, DOT, and EPA to fast-track the approval and implementation of local parks and open space plans through no-interest loans and competitive grants for state, local and tribal governments.
  • Provide grants to state and local governments to establish “energy parks”that combine recreation (e.g., walking and biking trails, swimming areas, etc.) with clean energy generation, storage, and transmission infrastructure (e.g., wind turbines, PV panels, and battery centers).
  • Provide funds to public community colleges, colleges, and universities to develop and implement climate risk management plans and green economy training programs.
  • Provide new permanent funding for HUD, DOT, EPA, National Parks Service, U.S. Forest Service, and other built and natural environment-focused agencies to hire new architects, landscape architects, planners, and program managers to coordinate the surge in new projects produced by the stimulus, as outlined here.


  • Capitalize a national green investment bank to provide no-income (or Fed funds rate) loans to firms and consumers for any green retrofits, low-carbon investment, etc. Minimum $100 billion for initial capitalization.
  • Immediately pass a Federal Reserve Bank Act to make green bonds as secure as treasury bills, to drive down the cost of green investment.
  • Require that any bailouts or bridge loans to large corporations, like airlines and cruise lines, be contingent on economic, social, and ecological conditions: 10-year plan to substantially cut majority of carbon pollution with targets every two years; use funds to maintain payroll; government gaining long-term preferred shares or other equity in bailed out firms; provide $15 minimum wage within one year; no share buy-backs or dividends; set asides seats on corporate boards for labor representatives; maintain collective bargaining agreements.
  • Direct the Departments of Energy and Treasury to assume a larger share of the financial risks resulting from decarbonization and price fluctuations by requiring U.S. banks to report annually how much fossil fuel equity and debt is created, and/or held as assets, with respect to all fossil fuel extraction and infrastructure.
  • Diminish financial risks resulting from decarbonization and price fluctuations by instructing the SEC Office of Credit Ratings to direct credit rating agencies to impose process standard — like climate due diligences — that incorporate the physical and financial risks that climate change presents to securities and other financial assets, as well as to the companies that issue them.
  • Restore a climate test, such as the social cost of carbon, as a metric for federal procurement and permitting decisions. These tests should be consistent with the goal of limiting warming to as close as is possible to 1.5°C.
  • Reevaluate the discount rates used in all benefit-cost analyses. The discount rates currently used in regulatory analysis have not been updated since 2003, and as the Council of Economic Advisers pointed out in a January 2017 report both the economic understanding of discounting and the real economy have evolved since then.
  • Provide technical and financial assistance to state universities, community colleges, and technical schools in launching green energy and economy training programs and degree options.
  • Elevate EPA and NOAA Administrators to full Cabinet Secretary status.
  • Ensure major government green procurement purchases are both green and include project-labor agreements or prevailing wage requirements (renewable energy, storage, retrofits, low-carbon cement, etc).
  • Provide immediate federally-backed bridge loan support to green firms.
  • Streamline and fast-track permitting for offshore wind energy, and subsidize offshore wind farm projects, while ensuring projects are sited based on environmental impact assessments, and that Community Benefit Agreements are in place to ensure communities onshore of wind farms receive a share of the benefits as this industry develops. Do not allow visual and aesthetic impacts to be considered as a factor for denying permits (See Blue New Deal plan.)
  • Increase ARPA-E funding by up to 100x and look to develop parallel agencies in the Department of Agriculture, Department of Transportation, and Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  • Ensure that federal research and development funds in ARPA-E include funding directed to the Mariner program to develop macroalgae for use as feedstock for fuels and chemicals, as well as animal feed.
  • Double the budgets for the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Science.
  • Enable communities to invest in their own low-carbon infrastructure through state-owned public banks.


  • Reinstate and expand Science Envoy Program to assist US embassies in partnering with ministries, emerging cleantech companies, and university partnerships and exchange.
  • Expedite aid packages, including green technology transfers, with priority funds for lowest income countries that adopt national 1.5 degree C roadmaps.
  • Ensure fair trade agreements are centered on worker and environmental protections and (where applicable) include indigenous consultation.
  • Support local and sustainable farming systems in the US and internationally by removing agriculture from the purview of the World Trade Organization, investing new resources in sustainable timber and forest management cooperatives and companies through the USDA’s Climate Smart Forestry and Agriculture Initiative, and creating new markets in the building industry for sustainably harvested cross laminated timber and other sustainable wood products.
  • Classify food supply security as a national security issue and pass trade policies that safeguard food security and food sovereignty at home and around the globe.
  • End all funding, direct and indirect, of fossil fuel infrastructure through multilateral organizations connected to the United States, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, OPIC, and the Export-Import Bank.
  • Increase funding to the Green Climate Fund to help grow the green economy worldwide, to make U.S. contribution to Green Climate Fund in line with historical U.S. fair share of historical contribution to climate emergency. Consider a progressive tax on the highest carbon-emitting polluters to finance this contribution.

NOTE: The ideas here draw on proposals from a range of Democratic primary campaigns, in particular those of Corey Booker, Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Jay Inslee, Bernie Sanders, Tom Steyer, and Elizabeth Warren.


Note: affiliations are listed for informational purpose only, and do not imply organizational endorsement.

Johanna Bozuwa, Co-Manager, Climate & Energy Program, The Democracy Collaborative (@johannabozuwa)

J. Mijin Cha, Assistant Professor of Urban and Environmental Policy, Occidental College; Fellow at Cornell University Worker Institute; Senior Fellow at Data for Progress. (@jmijincha)

Daniel Aldana Cohen, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Director of the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2, University of Pennsylvania; Senior Fellow at Data for Progress. (@aldatweets)

Billy Fleming, Wilks Family Director of the Ian L. McHarg Center (@mchargcenter), University of Pennsylvania; Senior Fellow at Data for Progress. (@joobilly)

Jim Goodman, Food sovereignty advocate, signing without organizational affiliation

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D, Marine biologist, founder of Ocean Collectiv and Urban Ocean Lab, and advisor to the Blue New Deal plan. (@ayanaeliza)

Daniel M Kammen, Professor in the Energy and Resources Group, the Goldman School of Public Policy, and in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, University of California, Berkeley. Former Science Envoy, United States State Department. (@dan_kammen)

Julian Brave NoiseCat, Vice President of Policy & Strategy, Data for Progress (@jnoisecat)

Mark Paul, Assistant Professor of Economics and Environmental Studies, New College of Florida; Fellow, Roosevelt Institute; Senior Fellow, Data for Progress. (@MarkVinPaul)

Raj Patel, Research Professor, Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin; Research Associate, Unit for Humanities at Rhodes University (UHURU), South Africa. (@_RajPatel)

Thea Riofrancos, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Providence College; Senior Fellow at Data for Progress; Faculty Collaborator at Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2. (@triofrancos)

The missing conversation around clean cooking

For a recent article in The Beamon gender, technology and cookingclick here. This article by Grace Mbungu and Daniel Kammen was featured in The Beam #10 – Local Heroes of the Energy Transition. The challenge of providing clean cooking energy services to over 2.7 billion peopleand 850 million or more without reliable electricity services worldwide is a daunting challenge. However, this is a battle that must be won, with no one left behind. The failure poses enormous burdens and risks to human livelihoods and general wellbeing. For example, the health impacts of exposure to indoor and ambient air pollution resulting from the production and consumption of biomass and fossil fuels are known to be the largest driver of the burden of disease worldwide. Moreover, the unsustainable production and consumption of biomass and fossil fuels undermine the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and climate change mitigation efforts underscored in the Paris Agreement. While there is progress in this campaign, efforts to date have remained largely technocratic and often simplistic. This is perhaps no surprise given the excitement and potential that improved cookstoves, lower and lower cost of solar panels and other energy-related technologies have shown in other parts of the world. However, technological stand-alone approaches are often ignorant of the complexity of energy access challenges, especially the individual and contextual factors that limit their acceptance and effectiveness, especially in poor and marginalised communities.

The trap of singular approaches to energy challenges 

When it comes to designing energy access solutions for the poor in the Global South, singular and often disconnected opportunities are presented or highlighted. For example, the current energy access discourse has electricity access in one box and cooking energy access in another different box. Rarely are these two processes seen as connected and complementary. However, singular approaches present a missed opportunity no amount of technological innovation could solve. Instead, such gaps warrant a holistic understanding of the challenges and opportunities within local contexts, as well as strategic approaches to account for the diversity of needs and to take advantage of available opportunities.

Multiple and diverse needs

Energy needs are not sought in isolation, and can therefore only be understood and addressed in the broader context of other unmet and emerging needs. However, while current cooking energy solutions address important environmental and climate change goals, they underestimate the struggles faced by households in many parts of the world to achieve broader individual and social needs. In the end, however, end-users have been known to prioritise immediate and existential needs and not the astuteness of technology itself. The reality is that immediate and existential needs are not in conflict with the need to protect the environment and mitigate climate change. However, acceptable and effective energy solutions call for honest reflections on current and past interventions, collaborations with all relevant stakeholders, and a depth of research that has been lacking, especially in the cooking energy access discourse.                                         "At the local level, men, often not involved in cooking activities                                       within the household, dominate the sector as energy service providers."  

Energy production and consumption are inherently human and societal affairs 

While technological development is primarily a scientific endeavour, the individual and social acceptance, demand drives, and access dynamics are social and contextual in nature. For example, despite the Kenyan government effort to regulate the production and distribution of charcoal, its dominance in both rural and urban areas has become difficult to unsettle. This is strong evidence that clean cooking and climate energy solutions are not only about technological development or progressive and climate-friendly policies but instead are also about having a willing and able coalition on the ground to implement them.

Design and implementation of energy access solutions 

Whereas the development of cooking energy solutions has been predominantly dominated by technocrats, their implementation has also been dominated by external aid and charitable organisations. At the local level, men, often not involved in cooking activities within the household, dominate the sector as energy service providers. We see this image often: a room full of women and children, a man is on stage demonstrating the use and value of biomass improved cookstoves.
The importance of direct and meaningful involvement and empowerment of first-hand users ( mainly women) to become the face and voice of change processes was demonstrated by the BBC news in a story on the Water Wise women initiative in Jordan.  It showed that despite the efforts by the government to address water waste from leaking pipes, progress was only made when women got involved in the process. The engagement of women as water stewards was crucial because they were the primary water users within the household and hence knew best where the leakages were, which saved time and human resources. An added advantage was the empowerment of women with income-generating activities and financial independence to address other everyday needs. Hence, the empowerment of women as producers, consumers and custodians of cooking energy services can prove instrumental in the cooking energy access processes, because it has the potential to generate interest among women beyond the household circles, improved service provision, and empower women with skill and income-generating activities needed for the sustainable access of clean cooking energy solutions. Hardware lessons are often country and region-specific, but the need to empower both stove suppliers and end-users to create useful stoves and viable economic and distribution models for stoves that people truly want is the goal of virtually every local to global organisation and agency.
Stove Educator at Kibera Town Center - © Daniel Kammen
Stove Educator at Kibera Town Center - Photo © Daniel Kammen

Use context, in-built conditions, and immediate living environments 

The ultimate goal of pursuing universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable energy is to improve the quality of life and general wellbeing of current and future generations. While technological improvements play an important role in meeting these objectives, their effectiveness is limited if implemented in inappropriate social and environmental conditions. For example, it is difficult to imagine how the use of biomass improved cookstove (ICS), or any clean cooking energy solutions, could be effective in enhancing health and general wellbeing of the residents of Kibera, under the current environmental and housing conditions. Overall, these examples demonstrate that technological-only focused energy access solutions and simplistic development approaches are unfit for addressing the ever-evolving energy and other complex global challenges. __________________________________________________________________________ Grace Mbungu is a junior fellow at the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) in Potsdam, and a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Stuttgart in Germany. Her research focus is on the social dimensions of energy access and transitions in developing country contexts. Daniel Kammen is a professor and Chair of the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, as well as in the Department of Nuclear Engineering. Kammen is the Founding Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory ( Kammen has served as the Chief Technical Specialist for the World Bank for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, and as Science Envoy for the United States Department of State. He is a contributing partner to The Beam.

Laos Energy Modeling and Policy Analysis (LEMPA) Project

Meet the Laos Energy Modeling and Policy Analysis (Undergraduate!) Team: The focus of this inter-disciplinary and inter-university research group is to develop sustainable energy, water, and land-use scenarios for Laos, and to work with local stake-holders on the costs and benefits for communities, the nation, and the regional commerce in energy, water, food, timber and other commodities. Aaditee Kudrimoti Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 8.21.05 AMBio: Aaditee is a fourth-year at UC Berkeley studying political science and public policy with a concentration in energy, development, and international relations. Aaditeeis originally from Tucson, Arizona, where she began to develop an interest in international environmental affairs. At UC Berkeley, Aaditeeis working on projects in the political economy of Chinese development finance, rural electrification, and collective action. Aaditeehas become especially interested in how the rise of renewable technology is influencing energy diplomacy around the world. She hopes to pursue a career in academia and public policy and work on governance tools to build the bargaining capacity of LDCs against MNCs, foreign state-owned enterprises, etc. on the subject of FDI and other types of investment. She sees SWITCH-Laos as having the potential to serve as a critical tool in assisting the increase of the Lao people’s bargaining power over FDI in the energy sector and thus their autonomy in determining their own economic development. Outside school, Aaditee’s interests include dance, food journalism, and cooking.   Alex Lathem Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 8.20.29 AMBio: Alex Lathem is a third-year undergraduate at Yale University. He is a physics major with several years of experience using programming languages, including Python SQL, C, and Bash, to analyze scientific data. Previous research projects Alex has worked on include astrometry of near-Earth asteroids and the creation of a Hubble curve through the analysis of Type Ia supernovae. Alex spent the summer of 2019 working on the SWITCH model for China, and is very excited to apply the skills he learned there to a version for Laos. Outside of research, Alex is also interested in music, video game design, linguistics, and history.   Ashley Yip Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 8.19.15 AMBio: Ashley is a second-year undergraduate studying environmental science with an emphasis in global politics. She moved to New Mexico, where she developed an interest in environmental affairs. At UC Berkeley, she is involved in a pre-law association that helped her explore her interest in law and how she may integrate that into environmentalism. Off campus, she is working on a sex education reform project in Singapore with the Ministry of Education. She is constantly exploring the intersection between policy, education, and the environment. She hopes to return home to Singapore and pursue a career in international environmental policy or law within Southeast Asia. Ashley chose to work on SWITCH-Laos not only because greening ASEAN's economic development is essential to tackling climate change, but also because she is familiar with the demographic. She has done research in regards to both urban and rural agriculture in Asia and the US, and led research for environmental management in business operations. Outside of school, her interests include climbing, hiking, piano, and camper vans. Rachel Ng Screen Shot 2019-09-21 at 8.18.18 AM Bio: Rachel is a second-year Environmental Science and Data Science major. A Singapore-native, Rachel describes that SWITCH-Laos extremely important to her because it is an important step towards the energy security of Southeast Asia. She believes that the sustainable electrification of Southeast Asia is key to regional grid stability and energy trade. She is pursuing SWITCH-Laos as critical in leading the way towards sustainable electrification. Rachel is interested in the intersectionality between climate change and community, exploring how community based issues caused by climate change can be alleviated through data. Furthermore, Rachel is currently concerned about equal access to education and volunteers weekly as a mentor to elementary school students. In the future, she hopes to return to Singapore and guide environmental change through creating an ecosystem of sustainable communities and businesses. Her hobbies include dance, rock climbing and water sports.

Does City Hall Care If You Die?

The jury’s still out, but the evidence is in.

Diego Aguilar-Canabal, Editor in Chief, The Bay City Beacon

For the original article, click here.

Screen Shot 2019-04-15 at 9.00.17 PM

People are dying on the streets of San Francisco: in tents, on crosswalks, and on bikes. While not alike in circumstance nor cause, these tragedies share one similarity: they are entirely preventable deaths, with complementary policies available to prevent them. Quite simply, they involve less horizontal space for cars, and more vertical space for homes. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors doesn’t seem to care.

People are dying in Mozambique and Malawi. Entire cities drowned in the floods from a historic cyclone. The polar ice caps are melting and the oceans are warming at unprecedented rates. Climate change is an impending geopolitical and ecological catastrophe. This, again, is entirely preventable: a necessary but insufficient component of that involves fewer cars and more homes in San Francisco and other urban centers in coastal California. Cities around the world need to drastically cut down on their carbon footprints. But City Hall doesn’t seem to care.

Words and Deeds

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors recently declared a Climate Emergency, and passed legislation reauthorizing an ongoing Shelter Crisis. But they continue to oppose policies that would reduce subsidized space for private car travel (a corporate giveaway if there ever was one), and add more space for housing. They do not seem to care that their fellow human beings are dying and will continue to die.

San Francisco is supposed to be a Transit First City. Such a policy has been on the books since the 1970s. Yet as recently as last year, Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin sought to restructure the city’s transportation bureaucracy to seize control over their parking and car traffic regulations. Supervisor Fewer has vocally opposed congestion pricing for single-occupancy vehicles and has been critical of Geary’s Bus Rapid Transit project—because evidently, the private takeover of public street space is fine if done by personal automobiles, but not by charter buses. The Board generally has been slow to take action on traffic safety, but quick to grandstand against factional rivals in both public and private sectors.

More damningly, a supermajority of the Board passed a resolution opposing State Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, the most important state policy at the nexus of housing, transportation, and climate change.

The bill needs little introduction if you have followed California news lately. If passed, SB 50 would mandate higher densities around public transit, as well as high-performing schools and job centers, while exempting tenant-occupied housing (including single-family homes), requiring a minimum provision of affordable housing statewide, and deferring its implementation in low-income communities left vulnerable after decades of disinvestment and racial segregation. (Now take a deep breath.)

If you were to believe Supervisor Gordon Mar’s resolution opposing the bill, one might have the impression that the bill aims to throw renters to the wolves, replace fragile communities of once-affordable walk-up flats with towering infernos of five-story skyscrapers, and remake the City into a mere extension of Palo Alto and the Stanford campus. This doesn’t explain why affluent cities like Sunnyvale and Beverly Hills were among the first to oppose it.

“We should increase density, especially near transit, and we should update our zoning to allow this,” Supervisor Fewer said during the resolution’s Land Use Committee hearing. “The question isn’t whether we should build more housing or not—we must. It’s about what we build, how and for whom.” But so far, Fewer has made no proposals of the sort she said the City “should” pursue on density.

Their objections to SB 50 rest not only on a litany of oft-debunked falsehoods, but they are undermined by their utter silence on the state legislature’s many earnest efforts to protect vulnerable tenants and provide more subsidized affordable housing.

While some Supervisors such as Mar have made generally reactive gestures against local tech industry wealth, the Supervisors have otherwise been silent on state efforts to redistribute wealth. They appear to care more about continuing a partisan pissing match against the authors of SB 50 than supporting those same legislators’ efforts to enact progressive tax reform and fund affordable housing. Wiener himself has introduced an estate tax bill to counteract GOP-led regressive cuts in the federal tax code, while SB 50 coauthors Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) and Asm. Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) have introduced a corporate tax hike for the same reason. Meanwhile, San Francisco assembly members and SB 50 coauthor Phil Ting has introduced a bill requiring local inventories of surplus public land to prioritize for affordable housing. Not a peep from the Supervisors about these bills.

San Francisco was one of the only two counties to narrowly approve the November 2018 rent control reform measure, Proposition 10. While Assembly Bill 36 presents a politically risky new effort to reform the state’s rent control prohibition, where are the Supervisors with their resolution to support it? Perhaps they are just too busy opposing SB 50. AB 1482, from San Francisco’s other Assemblymember David Chiu, could establish statewide emergency rent caps. Where is the Board’s resolution to support this bill? Or how about Asm. Rob Bonta’s AB 1481 to establish statewide just-cause eviction protections? Evidently, opposing SB 50 is more important.

These other bills would limit the legal power of landlords such as Fewer and Mar, while SB 50 could sharply reduce their market power. Their silence on the former, and their disingenuous grandstanding against the latter, is consistent.

The Board resolution’s half-truths and misrepresentations of the bill have been debunkedat length by the Senator and others. The truth doesn’t seem to be the Supervisors’ chief concern, though. It is important to note their hints at a deeper motivation: deciding who gets to live in San Francisco, and exercising the power to hand-pick their constituents.

Concern for Whom?

Local control over land use means that incumbents get to choose “for whom” the City opens its gates—and the historical record quite plainly shows that these choices are seldom, if ever, equitable. Here’s a refresher on a recent quantitative study by UC Merced political scientist Jessica Trounstine, which we have cited before:

The general message coming from Supervisors is as simple as it is false: San Francisco is doing enough. Leave us alone.

Well, is it? According to the City’s Department of the Environment, San Francisco has slowly seen a 36% reduction in net emissions since 1990. Meanwhile, transportation accounts for the lion’s share of those emissions (45% at latest count), though this appears to gradually be decreasing. But these numbers are deceptive.

When I tried to compile a region-wide analysis of transportation emissions from the nine-county Bay Area, I ran into an insurmountable hurdle: the methodology had changed quite drastically around 2012. Rather than merely counting trips at their point of origin, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) developed a simulation of typical trips based on “travel analysis zones.” While analysts believe this data may be more robust, it renders pre-2012 comparisons to the present day essentially useless.

And an important caveat: “Our simulation model explicitly assumes that every worker living in the nine-county Bay Area also works in the nine-county Bay Area. This is, of course, not always true,” says the agency. Well, no shit.

San Francisco politicians sometimes speak as though every district in the City were equivalent to the vulnerable working-class of the Mission District circa 1990, or East Oakland and Vallejo today, where many former San Franciscans have since had to move. The genuine concern over market volatility upending marginalized communities is actually reflected in Wiener’s bill: many such census tracts with concentrated poverty and minority residents are those that Senate Bill 50 will temporarily exempt as “communities of concern.” But in terms of having affluent, expensive neighborhoods that compel longer commutes, the City as a whole has little in common with them. In this respect, San Francisco bears more resemblance to Marin County, a notorious violator of the Fair Housing Act.

By importing their workforces, Marin and San Francisco outsource their transportation emissions. A 2011 report by the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH), a co-sponsor of SB50, outlined the climate and social equity impacts of Marin’s workforce and housing disparities. According to the California Employment Development Department and data from the American Community Survey (ACS), over a third of Marin’s workers commuted from outside the county. But in the latest census, San Francisco led the nation in workers commuting from other counties.

San Francisco’s leaders don’t seem interested in reversing this calamity. Its recent approval of the Central SoMa plan, which plans space for over 3 new jobs for every new housing unit, suggests that City Hall is unanimously eager to see booming job growth continue apace. But rejecting state reforms to plan for those workers to be housed nearby—some of whom indeed will earn six-figure salaries and earn the ire of lower-income workers struggling to stay in their homes—is just planning for accelerating displacement.

Nonprofit affordable housing developers don’t build multi-million dollar detached bungalows—they build apartment buildings with units numbering in the double digits, which are prohibited under current zoning in nearly three quarters of the City. Notably, though Supervisor Fewer has called for more affordable housing to be built, her District has not been rezoned for the densities that make it possible.

One would think that elected officials concerned about displacement would be rushing to add more housing to balance out the job growth they approved. Instead, Supervisor Matt Haney bravely stood up for abundant sunshine, leading a unanimous vote in rejecting a housing development on Folsom Street with 25% Below Market Rate homes, because it would cast shade on 18% of the area of a nearby park, for 100 minutes in the afternoon, during the longest day of the year. Haney campaigned on fighting for affordable housing, not against shadows—and if climate change continues apace, his future constituents may wish he had approved some cooling shade.

Under the status quo favored by the Supervisors’ majority bloc, jobs will keep coming, workers will be forced to move out and drive from farther away, and no affordable housing will be built in their tony suburban neighborhoods to balance that out. It’s a transparent sham that the mainstream press and alt-weeklies alike are calling out—but will that make the Supervisors care?

Growth is Good, Actually!

Some local Progressive-branded thinkers have intimated to me that the housing shortage and climate crisis is inherently a crisis of capitalism itself: that growth necessarily brings inequality and destruction. This of course ignores the experience of our most recent recessions, in which all but the wealthiest suffered the most.

It is true that American cities have been strained under periods of prosperity, and emissions have increased as production increases. But a city’s emissions come from its residents, and people make individual choices within their society—they generate emissions per capita that are increasingly a function of their dependence on the automobile. The latest report from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) notes that the bulk of our car trips won’t switch to carbon-free electric vehicles soon enough; we will need to reduce car trips by 25% meet the state’s emission reduction goals. Fewer car commutes, however, does not mean fewer workers.

When a job is lost, the corresponding human being does not disappear. They continue to look for work and consume, though perhaps they will move to a more affordable part of the country with a much larger carbon footprint, such as Texas or Arizona. California loses a taxpayer, San Francisco loses revenue to pay its pensioners and service providers, but the planet does not lose a consumer of resources. So limiting job growth to achieve sustainability, as proponents of the 1980’s Prop M office cap would hold today, is not a real choice we have now.

San Francisco has seen major economic growth along with both net and per capita emissions declining since 1990—but in the transportation sector, it is lagging significantly, as is the rest of the state. Urban infill and transit-oriented development is the most environmentally sustainable way for California’s economy to grow—not the inequitable, sprawling growth that has been the norm for too long.

To understand this complex issue, we turn to UC Berkeley climate scientist Dan Kammen’s work. Critically, Jones, Wheeler & Kammen et al (2018) found that emissions reductions were greater when urban infill development was concentrated within pockets of higher household income. In other words, packing rich people closer together reduces GHG output three times more than simply adding density wherever it is possible.

Infill development is a more potent emissions reduction strategy in rich neighborhoods, the authors argue, such as“most of San Francisco, and the wealthy hillside of the East Bay.” Why? “While these neighborhoods have higher than average carbon footprints, they have lower than average carbon footprints for their income level. Low carbon footprint cities that make housing available at all income levels help share the burden of meeting housing demand, while lessening the impact on the climate across the population.”

This should come as no surprise. Rich people consume more, and can afford the poverty trap of car ownership more easily. When they don’t drive, their emissions fall more steeply. Already, San Francisco workers drive alone at a rate less than half of the national average. And further, research from UC Berkeley’s Terner Center and Urban Displacement Project has predicted that SB 50 will focus more market-rate housing production precisely in the affluent, high-opportunity neighborhoods that exclude it today.

But does this mean our climate solutions should exclude the poor from our booming cities? Of course not.

Take the recent research on Seattle by sociologists Rice et al (2019), which found that gentrification in Seattle resulting from Amazon’s infusion of high-paying tech jobs displaced lower-income residents with smaller footprints out to far-flung suburbs. This describes the status quo in many American cities, not the Smart Growth policy suggested by SB 50 and its proponents. As the authors noted: “In so far as densification paired with climate policy remains limited to parts of cities only, rather than the urban fabric as a whole, evidence strongly suggests that gentrification seriously undermines GHG reduction efforts.”

The goal of smart housing policy and evidence-based climate solutions should be to increase residential capacity in low-carbon urban cores, not a zero-sum, one-to-one replacement that outsources poverty to suburbs that lack a strong commercial tax base to support its safety net.

It should come as no surprise that Kammen’s research on hundreds of California municipalities predicts significant emissions reductions from urban infill development in places like San Francisco. This is not the case in more rural and suburban counties like Stanislaus County, where carbon-intensive sprawl absorbs displaced urban growth.

SB 50 presents a radical departure from the status quo in enabling California cities to grow more equitably and sustainably. It would expand affordable housing requirements to many cities in California that currently don’t have them. It explicitly prohibits the demolition and redevelopment of tenant-occupied housing and recently Ellis-evicted properties (something a statewide rental registry could help enforce), and it targets high-opportunity suburbs that have seen major job growth, but currently lack good transit, to discourage car traffic.

Again, while Supervisor Fewer insisted that she wanted to see more permanently affordable nonprofit housing in her district, she has made no effort to rezone District 1 to allow for the densities at which it can be built. Indeed, in most of the city, it is still illegal to build even the low-rise apartment buildings that pencil out for nonprofits, and SB 50 can change that. It is exactly the kind of policy the world’s top climate scientists and gentrification critics should be lining up to support—which is why Kammen co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times with Sen. Wiener to support it.

The evidence is consistent on averting climate disaster, and on eliminating traffic deaths: people need to drive less, and drive slower. Meanwhile, the City has had data on its High-Injury Network of deadly streets for years, and has well-documented numbers on car commutes comprising the lion’s share of its emissions. Given that it seems to take grisly, well-publicized cyclist deaths to impel the political action for protected bike lanes, what will it take to truly make San Francisco a car-last, Transit First city? Will City Hall wait until the Ferry Building is underwater before acting with any urgency to take some unpopular decisions? What will it take to replace on-street parking spots with bus lanes, or block some sunshine new apartments in western neighborhoods?

In light of all this evidence, San Francisco constituents should all have one question on their mind: do your Supervisors care? We should all be furious that so much evidence suggests they do not—and whatever happens after that, is called politics.


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