The climate crisis is an impartial phenomenon; however, its effects are not. They vary widely from community to community, shaped by geography, society and history. Understanding these dynamics and identifying our solutions is an important goal in the growing field of environmental justice.

Researchers and scholars from around the world have met at UC Santa Barbara to discuss innovative approaches to researching and addressing environmental injustices. A diverse group of 27 participants – including sociologists, environmental economists and scholars of ethnic studies – visited the university’s Coal Oil Point Reserve Nature Center for two days of presentations and discussions.

“We really wanted to dig deep into the assumptions and have a candid conversation about how we think about and approach research and interventions to address environmental injustices,” said Michaela Clemence, executive director of the Environmental Markets Lab (emLab) at the ‘UCSB. “We wanted to discuss how to bring together different types of expertise, methods and perspectives in order to inform with equitable environmental solutions in the future.”

The two-day workshop, hosted by emLab, was envisioned and planned by an interdisciplinary steering committee comprised of UCSB faculty members Christopher Costello, David Pellow, Kyle Meng, and Tamma Carleton, as well as sociologist from University of Oregon Julius McGee and University of Oklahoma sociologist Ian Carrillo. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) funded the event and the research leading up to it.

“We need to build our own capacity to recognize the systems that can create inequality,” said Erica Morehouse, director of fair and just policy solutions at EDF. “And I think the workshop was very much in line with that way of thinking.”

The topics were wide and varied. Carrillo spoke about the impact of climate change on the exploitation of workers in South America’s sugarcane plantations, an issue with deep historical roots. Meanwhile, Laura Pulido of the University of Oregon explained how white nationalism spills over into seemingly unrelated issues, such as climate change mitigation and adaptation. The rabid polarization, a threatened but powerful minority and the complex intersection of group identity have contributed to some dismissive, even derisive attitudes towards climate issues, she explained.

Lala Ma of the University of Kentucky found racial disparities in federal buyouts of properties in flood-prone areas. Although no one in these programs guarantees the full market price of their home, she found that black and Hispanic households received 8 to 10 percent less than their white neighbors. This sentiment was echoed by Costello, director of research at emLab, who discussed how race affects the success of people who have to relocate due to environmental hazards. Climate adaptation could exacerbate the gap between rich and poor, privileged and disadvantaged, Costello pointed out.

Topics, trends and case studies come to life on the Workshop Ideas Board.

Photo credit: CARRIE KAPPEL

Although the presentations were uplifting, their main purpose was to provide material for further discussion and reflection. As Clémence explained, it was a two-day opportunity to take a step back and assess the big questions and assumptions everyone had about environmental justice and think about what can be done in the future. : and the institutions we use and what to do about it,” she said.

emLab staff are synthesizing the results of the workshop to share with the Environmental Defense Fund and to discuss how it could catalyze future interdisciplinary research. Two EDF members who attended the event – Chief Economist Suzi Kerr and Matthias Fripp – will share key insights with their colleagues.

Billing itself as a “think-and-do” group, emLab seeks not only to understand the problems facing society, but also to put solutions into action. This is where relations with administrations, NGOs and organizations such as EDF bear fruit. “Our mission is to examine the power, limits and design of market-based approaches for environmental and social good,” Clemence said. “Our partners are truly the ones with the boots on the ground and our job is to provide them with cutting-edge, actionable research to help them inform their decisions, programs and policies.”

EDF and emLab organized this workshop to help build a community of scholars who feel they can collaborate with each other on issues at the intersection of science, society and culture. Additionally, Clémence hopes this will spark conversations that will lead to future research collaborations and further action.

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