Ron Brownstein, CNN’s senior political analyst, kicked off Arizona State University’s Ten Across Los Angeles Summit: The Future is Here earlier this month in an intimate fireside chat at the City Club Los Angeles.
The three-day summit brought together more than 180 policymakers, industry and thought leaders, and other experts to discuss the country’s critical, climate-related problems related to water, energy, land use, extreme heat and more — and considered collaborations and innovative solutions for the future.
The term "Ten Across" refers to U.S. Interstate 10, the country’s southernmost transcontinental highway. It represents the conceptual and geographic line that runs from California to Florida, including cities in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama — where many of these key issues are most extreme.
Brownstein was introduced by Wellington “Duke” Reiter, founder and executive director of ASU’s Ten Across initiative.
“For those of you who don't know what Ten Across is all about, we would make the case that if you drove the I-10 from L.A. to Jacksonville, you would see the future of the country,” Reiter said. “You would see where we're going to have an energy transition, where we're going to have to deal with water, too much or too little — usually too little out here where we are — migration and global trade and more.”
Brownstein’s talk was titled “State of the Nation: Can We Build a Sustainable Future in a Time of Distrust?”
Brownstein said the magnitude of the challenges are underscored by shared common climate-related difficulties. Climate change is affecting Americans in every community in every state in the U.S.
“The red states are getting hit by climate change just as hard as blue states,” he said.
The solution is simple but not easy.
“It requires you to do things, some things that are objectionable to one side or the other. And that's why one side can't do it alone. The only way to do them is everybody holds hands and jumps in,” Brownstein said.
Assessing the current climate state
The first full day of the summit started with a talk on “The National Climate Assessment: What it Tells Us and How We Must Respond.”
The U.S. National Climate Assessment is produced every four years by a coalition of 14 federal agencies that brings together more than 700 contributors. It is the authoritative, consensus-based summary of climate change risks, impacts and actions.
Leah Fisher, program director of the philanthropic effort Invest in Our Future, explained the environmental risks outlined in the assessment.
Some of the impacts include: the effects of increased flooding, communities living near toxic sites, increases in childhood asthma and the reduction of the physical work capacity of outdoor workers.
“To be honest, this could have been a really bummer report,” said Brittany Moffett, senior resilience engineer for Arup Los Angeles Moffett.
But federal and state funding provide a source of hope. California was recognized for their commitments to climate change with a $48 billion budget last year — a record for any state in the country. Philanthropists and private sector enterprises are also an important factor in funding.
Panelists also noted the need to communicate the information from the assessment, which will be accomplished through a series of engagement workshops for every state in the Ten Across region.
“Until we communicate and people understand it — whether they're blue or red — I don't think we can address the issue in the most impactful way,” Moffett said.
“The second part of what we need to do is action,” she said. “It's time to stop planning. Action is the most important thing. We just don't have time, and we are not going to have another opportunity like this.”
“The final word is that this is the starting line, right?” said White, who is also a senior global futures scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. “We've completed the assessment. Now we must go through a multi-year process of sustaining that assessment and engaging communities, engaging people, to get the information into the hands of those who can use it.”
Two sides of water supply
Another panel discussion focused on “Water Diplomacy: Can the Colorado and the Mississippi Rivers be Models for Decision Making?” The talk was moderated by Amy Scott, senior correspondent and host of Marketplace on American Public Media.
The problems flowing from each river are extremely different. For the Colorado River, the crisis is around too little water, while the Mississippi River faces the challenges of an overabundance of water.
What they do share is the complexity of problems involving multiple stakeholders with different priorities.
The Colorado River provides water to 40 million people in seven states, 30 tribal nations and two different countries.
“It is the lifeblood of the region,” said panelist Elizabeth Koebele, associate director of the graduate program of hydrologic sciences at the University of Nevada in Reno.
Koebele said the river’s biggest challenges are drought, persistent overuse of the water and evaporation caused by rising temperatures from climate change.
She said we have an opportunity to rethink the current water rules at the end of 2025, when the 2007 interim guidelines that govern withdrawals from the Colorado River expire. She said that bringing tribal nations together to build a partnership is critical.
“We have a huge opportunity to address historical inequities and make changes that will assure that the river system is sustainable,” said Koebele, who is also an associate professor of political science at the University of Nevada in Reno.
Beaux Jones, president and CEO of The Water Institute, discussed the Mississippi River, whose basin covers parts of 31 states and two Canadian provinces.
“Since the 1927 flood, we have said, 'Chain this monster — make sure that it doesn't flow freely,’” Jones said. “And so, flood control, flood control, flood control has been the mantra for the Mississippi River.”
Jones said that — inspired by the collaboration around the Colorado River — a group of 30 mayors along the Mississippi came together last summer to address flood concerns, as well as economic and transportation issues.
“They recognize the shared risks and the shared salvation up and down the basin,” he said.
The heat is on
“Heat is the most dangerous climate hazard for Los Angeles,” said Marta Segura during a session titled “The Heat is On: The Summer of 2023 and Our Adaptive Strategies for a Warmer Future.”
The first chief heat officer for the city of Los Angeles was one of three panelists in the session that focused on extreme heat-related issues, including the connection between record heat waves and health. Homelessness and housing were also part of the conversation.
The session was moderated by Erin Stone, climate and environment reporter for LAist, who started off by asking panelists to “dig into the different ways they think about extreme heat.”
Segura, the director of climate emergency mobilization for the city of Los Angeles, said, “Emergency room visits, mortality rates and chronic illness tell us a story of how our investments are making a difference.”
She said extreme heat has a big impact on renters in L.A., who either don’t have air conditioning or can’t afford to turn it on.
Another challenge for the city is building healthy, resilient housing.
“Longer term, we need affordable, healthy housing for all,” Segura said.
David Hondula, director of the city of Phoenix’s Office of Heat Response and Mitigation, said that prioritizing health is factored into his seasonal and daily planning.
Short-term solutions include building cooling shelters for the summers. The city of Phoenix is also working to add more shelter beds and affordable housing.
“This will be the most impactful for reducing heat-associated deaths,” said Hondula, who is also an associate professor in ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.
Anne Coglianese, chief resilience officer for Jacksonville, Florida, echoed the other panelists’ health priorities for the most vulnerable communities.
She also said there is an economic impact to extreme heat — specifically on the tourism industry.
“If it is too hot, are people really going to Disney in the summer?” she said. “Are they going to come down and use our beaches in Jacksonville?
“Heat is really what's going to make people either want to live in Jacksonville or anywhere along I-10 over the next 20 years.”
Impact on insurance
Climate change has been directly connected to natural disasters that have become more frequent, more intense and more destructive.
A panel titled “Everything, Everywhere, All at Once: Is the Future Insurable and Can California Lead the Way?” addressed the cost — and loss — related to that destruction: insurance.
In 2017, California insurance companies lost $12 billion from wildfire-related events, and that rose to $15 billion in 2018.
Panelists said when the increase of the risk of providing insurance outweighs its cost, the cost skyrockets or policies are not renewed. The worst-case scenario is that companies refuse to even offer insurance.
“And it’s only going to get worse,” said panelist Dave Jones, director of the Climate Risk Initiative for UC Berkeley School of Law’s Center on Law, Energy and Environment. “We’re marching into an uninsurable future as it relates to some home and property coverage.”
In July, Farmers Insurance, one of the nation’s biggest insurers, withdrew from the Florida market due to the level of insurance risk posed in the state. They were one of many insurers to pull out of the state.
That left more than a million people with last-resort insurance polices — a product for applicants considered uninsurable by most companies in the industry.
And 2023 saw a record number of hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes and other extreme weather events. So how do we fix the issue?
One suggestion was using an Affordable Care Act model that provides consumers with subsidies to lower their insurance costs while still allowing insurance companies to maintain their rates.
Another consideration: What happens to states in the Ten Across swath if they didn’t have tax-funded rescues or insurance of last resort?
“We would be forced to think on the front end about cost,” said Anthony Kuczinski, executive advisor to the Munich Re board of management.
That could come in the form of preplanning, such as bringing insurance companies into the very first discussions of development. Predictive capabilities may allow for anticipatory finance or predictive insurance that can be used, for example, before a typhoon hits.
“It's about five times more to pay for the post-event than if we spent the time and energy and money before the event,” Kuczinski said.
Top photo: Ron Brownstein, a senior editor for The Atlantic, contributing editor for the National Journal and a senior political analyst for CNN (left) and ASU’s Wellington “Duke” Reiter, senior advisor to the president, founder of Ten Across and the executive director of the University City Exchange at ASU, hold a fireside chat at the Ten Across Summit in early December at the City Club Los Angeles. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
More Environment and sustainability
ASU faculty honored for contributions to extreme heat research
In a remarkable recognition of their contributions to the field of geographical research, several faculty and researchers from across multiple departments at Arizona State University have been…
The role of the university in changing the world
Editor’s note: This is the first story in a series exploring our biggest environmental challenges. In this article, leaders from across ASU discuss what universities can do to address complex global…
New ASU podcast looks at biomimicry through an Indigenous lens
The topic of biomimicry isn’t your typical water cooler conversation, but two Arizona State University professors are attempting to make the subject more accessible to the public and explore if it…