Panel Paper: Disaster Shocks, Adaptive Management, and Policy Change: How Do Local Governments Respond?

Friday, November 8, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Court 3 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Carley A. Weted, American University

The U.S. federal government has abandoned the idea of climate change as an issue, and disregards the science backing those that understand the current environmental crisis, which has led to states and cities beginning to step up as leaders in policy entrepreneurship. While local governments have not been extensively studied as initiators of climate change mitigation and adaptation, they deal with various crises, including crime and budget changes, along with environmental disasters, and are thus perhaps some of the best equipped to deal with climate change impacts in a timely and effective manner. This paper looks to investigate whether shocks to local systems, in the form of natural disasters, combined with individual climate change perceptions result in policy change regarding climate at the local level.

In this paper, I study the impact of natural disasters and climate change perceptions on energy policy. If there is a positive effect on energy policy following a disaster linked to climate change and/or an increase in climate change perceptions in a locality, there is an undefined mechanism of management that is creating the policy change. I propose that this mechanism is managers (in the form of local policymakers) operating through a combination of Punctuated Equilibrium Theory and Adaptive Management. Punctuated Equilibrium Theory highlights policymaking environments that result from bursts of dramatic change in attention, while adaptive management includes monitoring and evaluation of performance of management programs or activities, and responses to those evaluations with appropriate changes. Based on these ideas, cities undergoing “shocks” and seeing high levels of citizen perception of climate change are potentially more likely to implement policy that is encouraging transformation of the energy system.

I run multiple models to estimate the effect of exposure to disaster, severity of the disaster, and change in perceptions on change in city efficiency policy scores, along with interactions of those variables on the change in score. My hypotheses are that as cities experience more or worse disasters, and as their perceptions of climate change as threatening increase, the city’s attention to efficiency policy will increase and their score will rise correspondingly. I build my measure of shock through exposure to a disaster, declaration of emergency, and aid provided through FEMA, within the Department of Homeland Security, while the outcome variable is measured by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) City Energy Efficiency scorecard.

Do cities manage themselves? Can the management of cities through policy be measured and analyzed? If the governments are exposed to shocks, do they change course in terms of policy beyond budgeting changes? And, does disaster or constituent understanding of an issue cause a city to shift from reactive to proactive, with regard to climate change? These are the questions this paper seeks to answer.