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.
The book was awarded the Harold & Margaret Sprout Award by the International Studies Association. The Sprout Award is given to the best book in the field of international environmental studies and politics - "one that makes a contribution to theory and interdisciplinarity, shows rigor and coherence in research and writing, and offers accessibility and practical relevance." The book was also listed by the United Nations Foundation as one of the “Climate Books for Changemakers.”
Disparate Impacts of Wildfire on Undocumented Migrants
Co-authored with community-based partners:
Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE)
Link to Geoforum journal article: www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413658/
As climate change advances, communities across the United States are adapting to the increased threat of wildfires, drought, heatwaves, and infectious diseases. Such disasters are expected to become more frequent and severe. Now more than ever, it is crucial to understand how these events amplify existing inequalities, and how to lessen the resulting harms. Differences in human vulnerability to disaster stem from a range of social, economic, historical, and political factors. We argue that given their social status, undocumented Latino/a and Indigenous immigrants are particularly vulnerable to disasters and require special consideration in disaster planning. They are disproportionately affected by racial discrimination, exploitation, economic hardships, less English and Spanish proficiency, and fear of deportation in their everyday lives— their pre-disaster marginalized status. In the case of the Thomas Fire in California's Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, we show that emergency response and recovery efforts ignored their needs. Resources were directed toward privileged individuals, leaving local immigrant rights and environmental justice groups to provide essential services such as language access to emergency information in Spanish and Indigenous tongues; labor protections for farmworkers endangered in the fields; and a private disaster relief fund for undocumented immigrants ineligible for federal aid. The article concludes with preliminary participant observations from the COVID-19 pandemic response in the region, indicating how lessons from the fire have informed official actions. As governments grapple with the increasing severity of disasters, understanding the differential impacts on undocumented immigrants can help improve disaster planning to protect the most vulnerable and stigmatized populations.
**New project with community co-authors:
Movimiento Cultural de la Union Indígena
North Bay Jobs with Justice
This on-going project replicates my previous community-engaged wildfire research to understand the unique and contextual impacts of wildfire to undocumented Latinx and Indigenous migrants in Sonoma County after years of multiple extreme wildfire events in the region.
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.
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.