head_shot_bwI’m an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. I work on the politics of climate change. More specifically, I investigate the intersections of climate change, inequalities of race and social class, and the political projects of both elites and social movements in urban spaces, with a focus on global cities of the North and South.

In an article about the politics of a climate-linked drought in São Paulo, The Rationed City, I argue for a closer focus on the links between housing and climate politics, by showing how housing and land use mediate water access, and water-oriented political mobilization, during a drought. In a book chapter, also about São Paulo, called The Other Low-Carbon Protagonists, I advance a new, encompassing framework for understanding urban ecological politics, and show how housing movements can slow or advance low-carbon policy even without speaking (or thinking) in terms of carbon.

The diagram below, from that chapter, is a heuristic grid that I developed to help us think more holistically about urban ecological politics. Of course, in practice, the placement of any particular project or development will depend on local context.


Screenshot 2017-06-12 13.52.14

From Cohen, D.A. (2017). “The Other Low-Carbon Protagonists: Poor People’s Movements and Climate Politics in Sao Paulo.” In M. Greenberg and P. Lewis (Eds.), The City is the Factor. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, p. 144.

I am increasingly interested in working collaboratively on quantitative techniques to address these research concerns through comprehensive carbon-footprint analysis, coordinating that analysis with other approaches to socio-spatial segregation. To that end I have founded the Socio-Spatial Carbon Collaborative, or (SC)2; more details soon.

In my urban research so far, my most consistent finding is that social inequality is a barrier to rapidly and deeply reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To be effective, climate policy needs to be equitable.


“Carboniferous” map in “Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas” (Solnit and Schapiro 2016). Cartography: Molly Roy; artwork: Bette Burgoyne. Underlying data from Kevin Ummel, adapted from research he did for the Center for Global Development. Courtesy of University of California Press.

This is partly illustrated in a map that I helped produce, which runs alongside my essay “Petro-Gotham, People’s Gotham,” in Nonstop Metropolis: A New York Atlas, eds Rebecca Solnit and Joshua Jelly-Schapiro (2016). This is the first per capita map of New Yorkers’ carbon footprint (including full consumption data), by zip code. On a podcast called Forecast, I discussed the map’s data, and the complex politics beyond the numbers. The show is hosted by Michael White, the climate science editor of Nature. I was the first sociologist to go on.


Screenshot from Nature website.

With David Wachsmuth and Hillary Angelo, I published a commentary essay in Nature in August 2016 that builds on our research and collective thinking, called: “Expand the frontiers of urban sustainability: Social equity and global impacts are missing from measures of cities’ environmental friendliness.”

The piece argues that for urban sustainability policy to be both more effective and more equitable, it needs to work with data that is global in scope, and it needs to engage more people—national policymakers and social movement activists (even when these don’t talk much about the environment). That piece ends with a discussion of social movements, which are at the center of my qualitative fieldwork and most of my writing.

Our argument echoes conclusions about the unequal aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York that my co-author David Wachsmuth and I found, working with several others, through the Superstorm Research Laba mutual aid research collective that I co-founded.

Writing for a wider readership, I try to tell stories that foreground low-carbon leisure and the sensual upside of slashing carbon emissions. My favorites so far are Seize the Hamptons and Forget Fertility, Get Feral.

With Kate Aronoff, I co-hosted Hot & Bothered, a podcast on climate politics hosted by Dissent magazine from 2015-17.


My dissertation, Street Fight: Urban Climate Politics in an Age of Finance and Revolt, looks at the intersection of socio-economic inequalities, housing-oriented social movements, and urban climate policy-making in global cities, especially in São Paulo and New York. That research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and a number of grants and research awards from Columbia and New York University. I completed my PhD in sociology at New York University in June 2016.

Several articles and chapters building on this research, and the theorizing that has gone with it, are in the review and publication process.

Some of my research on São Paulo appeared in Public Culture in May 2016 in an essay called “The Rationed City: The politics of water, housing, and land use in drought-parched São Paulo.” The piece argues that the relationship between government actors, environmentalists and housing-oriented social movements, and fights over housing and land use, are the core dynamics of urban climate politics. To understand how scarce water is and will be rationed in a warming world, we need to focus on those core struggles around social inequality.

In fall 2013, I was a visiting scholar at the Centro de Estudos da Metropole in São Paulo. In spring 2014, I co-organized a debate series about Democratizing the Green City; in January 2016 and February 2017, we organized two academic symposia further developing the theme. I’m also a co-founder and co-principal investigator of the Superstorm Research Lab, a mutual aid research collective investigating changes in New York’s politics after Superstorm Sandy.

Future research interests include: deepening and expanding quantitative, spatial data on carbon footprints; the financial and investment challenges of building dense, livable suburbs; the relationship between democratic politics and expertise in both governance and labor; social movement organizing around commodity chains; re-wilding and de-extinction; climate violence; challenges and opportunities for progressive groups to develop and implement long-term strategies; precedents and prospects for low-carbon leisure for all; and, the role of anonymity in revolutionary politics.

I’ve been a writer and editor since getting started at the McGill Daily as an undergraduate in Montreal. After that, I worked as a journalist in Toronto and Cochabamba. I’m still writing: there are links to older and newer journalism here. Check my news page for updates and blog posts. I overshare more frequently as @aldatweets.

(Speaking of oversharing: Follow me on Academia.edu.)