My research agenda centers on the implications of climate change policy on environmental justice communities at scales ranging from the local to the global. The following research projects are representative of that agenda:
Climate Change from the Streets
(Yale University Press, 2020)
This book argues that for society to successfully resolve the phenomenon of climate change, critical attention must be placed on the cultural and human dimensions of climate policy. Central to this argument is the demonstration that environmental protection and improving public health are inextricably linked and maintaining that link is key to advancing future climate action policies.
My analysis includes firsthand observations that I gathered while working on public policy as an advisor, senior legislative consultant, and lobbyist, and as a gubernatorial appointee during the passage of California’s internationally acclaimed climate change laws. I gained valuable insight into ways in which governments, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations interact to shape climate policy. My connections with environmental justice groups helped me understand how community and public health benefits can be more effectively integrated with global climate policy. While most scholarship in the field of environmental politics has focused on elite actors, my research provides a more nuanced analysis of the influence of environmental justice activists in transforming climate policies. My book amplifies their efforts and voices, which have largely been ignored in the narrative of global leadership on climate change.
In Climate Change from the Streets, I analyze how environmental justice advocates in California have strategically engaged in the policymaking process to orient climate policies toward public health impacts at multiple scales. My account weaves together analysis of three interconnected case studies: (1) climate and public health activism in two heavily impacted communities of color; (2) conflict over subnational carbon pricing and use of its revenue for investment in local communities most impacted by air pollution; and (3) international and local impacts of forest conservation projects in the Global South (Mexico and Brazil) allowed under California’s market-based climate laws. These cases shed new light on the links between climate change and local environmental inequities, as well as the impacts of climate policy and action at multiple scales. They highlight the diverse forms of knowledge that environmental justice activists use to challenge conventional policy solutions, reconceptualizing climate change to redress underlying environmental inequities in communities globally.
Through these case studies, I examine the dilemmas that policymakers and activists face as they seek to address these problems, sometimes in collaboration but often in conflict with each other. This book makes three major contributions. First, I demonstrate to policymakers that public health and environmental justice perspectives can be central to successful climate policy development and implementation. Second, the book provides scholars an interdisciplinary framework for theorizing the kinds of negotiations between scales and worldviews that are involved in the development of socially robust climate science and policy. Finally, I provide activists with both a set of findings that can be used to negotiate with governments and a conceptual framework that legitimizes their embodied perspectives about the differential impact of climate change on their communities. These contributions will be crucial for future discussions of climate change and societal efforts to address environmental problems.
In writing the first book that analyzes California’s environmental justice movement in the context of climate change, I foreground the fact that activists living next to polluting sources have moved from the margins to the center of global environmental policies. I explore the profound impact of groups rooted in some of the nation’s poorest neighborhoods that have been most directly affected by climate change and pollution. I highlight their advocacy campaigns, community-based research practices, and lawsuits, and I show how these activists have transformed environmental protection paradigms by insisting upon the importance of their own “embodied perspectives.” In sum, I document how individuals and social movements have organized to ensure that climate solutions tackle both global problems and local needs. I offer their example as a critically important case study for scholars, policymakers, advocates, and practitioners seeking new directions in climate policy and justice worldwide.
Undocumented Immigrants, Wildfires, and Climate Adaptation
PI: With Community-based partners MICOP and CAUSE
This research examines how racial and ethnic minorities face greater vulnerability to wildfires compared with primarily white communities. In particular, the most socially vulnerable, such as undocumented Latino immigrants often face even greater challenges. Using the case study of the 2017-2018 Thomas Wildfire in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties (the largest fire in California history until recently) to highlight how governments overlooked the needs of low-income farmworkers, Spanish and Indigenous Mixteco speakers and immigrant families. The research analyzes the methods in which local immigrant rights and environmental justice groups are collaborating on climate adaptation and disaster planning initiatives to ensure: language access to emergency information, protection of farmworkers exposed to heavy smoke, and a disaster relief fund for undocumented immigrant residents ineligible for federal aid. The initial research findings have been provided to the California Governor's office for consideration in funding of disaster prevention and outreach grants.
Climate Resiliency & Drought Planning in Rural Disadvantaged Communities:
What Does Climate Policy Look Like in Hot, Dry, & Conservative Regions?
PI: (Research Grant - California Endowment)
This research grant investigates climate resilience planning and challenges to the access of safe and affordable drinking water in rural disadvantaged communities in California. The research focuses on how universal calls for a right to water are understood, negotiated, and experienced in the face of a changing climate. In particular, the research seeks to analyze how calls for such rights are articulated through local historical geographical contexts, governance, politics and social struggles. This analysis highlights the policy implementation challenges and the possibilities that exist within disadvantaged communities in rural regions.
Climate Adaptation through Urban Greening & Cooling
Phase 3: Policymaker/Community Engagement & Analysis of Climate Modeling Results
Co-PI: Research Grant (U.S. Forest Service)
PI: Lawrence Kalkstein, University of Miami and David Eisenman, UCLA.
This research project will define and quantify the relationship between increases in urban tree canopy and albedo (i.e. solar reflectivity) and reductions in heat-related mortality and other negative health outcomes. As a multi-phase project, it will also determine heat-resilience strategies for disadvantaged communities, design and implement solutions at the local scale, and design solutions for scaling interventions for socially-equitable climate resilience across the country.
Latinos, Health, and the Built Environment
My peer-reviewed publications contributed to the urban policy debate by introducing to the field a new culturally-sensitive and sustainable urban development model, “Latino New Urbanism.” This research examines urban development policies that pressure Latinos to conform to the established U.S. notion of appropriate space use and how it undercuts the economic, social and environmental health benefits of cultural preferences for compact city living favored by many Latinos. The research argues that Latinos are playing a central role in adapting and transforming existing neighborhoods to promote New Urbanist landscapes.
The policy-relevance of these publications on the intersection between communities of color, health, and the built environment has been profiled in national publications including Urban Land, published by the Urban Land Institute, the American Planning Association’s Planning Magazine, and feature news articles in USA Today and Fox Latino News.
In response to my research, a nonprofit urban research institute partnered with the real estate development industry to sponsor the Latino New Urbanism Conference and Dialogue Series at the University of Southern California and other venues throughout the Southwest. The policy-relevance of my research was also highlighted by national thought leaders, and I was invited by the American Public Health Association to participate in an informational hearing in Washington D.C. on Latinos, health and the built environment for the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and caucus staff. The Latino New Urbanism Dialogue Series went on to win two awards from the American Planning Association for Equity Planning in Communities of Color.