My research agenda centers on the justice implications of climate change & water governance
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, book manuscript under contract)
This book argues that for society to successfully resolve the phenomenon of climate change, critical attention must be placed on the cultural and human dimension 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.
The book uses a combination of theoretical and policy-relevant research to analyze the narratives of climate change as articulated by social movements, experts, and subnational governments. Particular focus is placed on the story of how environmental justice groups in California are enacting multiscalar climate solutions, not only to tackle a global phenomenon, but also to address the needs of local communities already facing air pollution’s adverse impacts. Their example illustrates the potential for new directions in climate change policy worldwide. From the streets of Oakland to the legislative halls of the state capitol, and beyond the tropical forests of Mexico and Brazil, I trace environmental justice groups as they travel between geographies and policy scales to contest or legitimize climate policies. The movement of environmental justice actors across space and time demonstrates how these community-based groups are influencing climate change policy formation and implementation within and between nation-states. Through this multiscalar analysis, I argue that the integration of alternative types of knowledges and practice can inform better climate policy solutions.
The book highlights the importance of subnational actors’ involvement in facilitating relationships among nations, states, diverse communities, and industries to address climate change. In the past decade, California has signed bilateral and multilateral Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) agreements with nearly 200 nation-states and subnational governments. These MOUs facilitate global climate policy transfer and cooperation. In diverse places like China, Canada, and Mexico, California is setting the example of how climate policy is crafted and implemented. Internationally, subnational governments are now looking to California as a global laboratory for lessons on comprehensive climate action. Just as California has influenced broader U.S. environmental policy, Climate Change from the Streets argues that the methods by which California achieves global GHG reductions while addressing the needs of low-income communities of color has important policy implications worldwide.
This book asks how environmental justice advocates, confronted with persistent exposure to local pollution and injustice, are strategically engaging the policymaking process. In answering this question, Climate Change from the Streets analyzes three multiscalar and interconnected case studies: (1) public health and environmental justice aspects of municipal climate action plans; (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 carbon-offset projects in the Global South allowed under California’s market-based climate law.
The book is based on more than a decade of fieldwork and analysis. This included my first-hand observations while working for the California State Legislature as a senior consultant, lobbyist, and as a gubernatorial appointee during the passage of California’s internationally acclaimed climate change laws. Through an extensive mixed-methods analysis of the state’s multiscalar climate policies and in-depth interviews with key stakeholders, this is the first book of its kind to highlight the challenges California faces in influencing global climate policy while addressing the health of local communities.
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, Texas, and Tennessee. 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) - "Recommended for Approval"
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 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) 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 research culminated in the “Best Master’s Thesis” award from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and I published a book chapter in ‘Casa y Communidad: Latino Home and Neighborhood Design’ (co-edited by former U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros) and a peer-reviewed article in Opolis: An International Journal of Suburban and Metropolitan Studies. The policy-relevance of these peer-reviewed 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 profiled in several national planning publications, and I was invited by the American Public Health Association (APHA) 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 Dialogue Series went on to win two awards from the American Planning Association (APA) for Equity Planning in Communities of Color.
The Innovation Economy and Social Equity
Based on my experience as the legislative director of academic and biomedical research in the Office of the President for the University of California (UCOP), I published the peer-reviewed journal article, University Social Responsibility: Balancing the Economic and Societal Benefits of University Research. The article examines the increasing demands placed upon the university by elected officials, industry and the public to engage in technology transfer that have both economic and social value. This article argues that while university licensing revenue and local economic development provide important monetary benefits, it is also critical that public universities promote the social impact of research and adopt a socially responsible licensing program (SRLP). SLRP provides economic incentives to licensees to distribute university inventions to low-income countries and other targeted disadvantaged groups in the United States for free or at affordable rates. Particular focus is placed on the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries.
Refereed Journal Articles
Mendez, Michael (2015). Assessing Local Climate Action Plans for Public Health Co-Benefits in Environmental Justice Communities. Local Environment: The International Journal of Justice and Sustainability.
Mendez, Michael (2011). University Social Responsibility: Balancing Economic and Societal Benefits of University Research. Journal of Science Policy and Governance, Volume 1, no. 1.
Mendez, Michael (2005). Latino New Urbanism: Building on Cultural Preferences. Blakely, Ed, J. and Lang, Robert, E. (eds.). Opolis: An International Journal of Suburban and Metropolitan Studies, Volume 1, no. 1.
Mendez, Michael (2015). The Civic Epistemologies of Urban Climate Change. In Wendel, Delia and Samuels Aidoo, Fallon (eds.), Spatializing Politics: Essays on Power and Place. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Mendez, Michael (2006). Latino New Urbanism. In Cisneros, Henry (Former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development), and Rosales, John (eds.), Casa y Communidad: Latino Home and Neighborhood Design, (pp. 101-127). National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
Mendez, Michael (2002). Achieving Equity: Realities and Prospects of Latino Homeownership in California. Latino Issues Forum. San Francisco, CA.
PUBLICATIONS IN PROGRESS
Carbon Fundamentalism and Public Health: Climate Justice in Oakland, California.
Abstract accepted to the Journal of International Development: Policy Arena. Special issue on Development in the Light of Climate Change. Manuscript in preparation.