I’m an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey (2018-19). I work on the politics of climate change, investigating the intersections of climate change, political economy, inequalities of race and social class, and political projects of elites and social movements in global cities of the North and South. I’m working on a book about housing, inequality, and climate politics in New York and São Paulo.
I’m also working collaboratively on a big data project to address the intersections of climate change, inequality, and the built environment at the neighborhood level. To that end I have founded the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2; its main project is “Whole Community Climate Mapping.” More details on that soon soon. In new qualitative work, I’m investigating urban-rural links in the form of energy landscapes.
And I’m intensely engaged in an emerging conversation about the Green New Deal Idea. I’m presently co-editing (and writing for) a special series on the Green Deal Deal for Jacobin Magazine. With Billy Fleming, I’m co-organizing a major event, Designing a Green New Deal, in September, 2019.
In other recent public writing, I have explored the rise of eco-apartheid in Brazil; the un-reported, mostly hopeful, conclusions of the latest IPCC climate report, especially the finding that feminist, egalitarian, and internationalist climate politics would do the most to decarbonize quickly while making up to a billion people safer from extreme weather; and the importance of public housing to a truly effective Green New Deal.
In a peer-reviewed 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. In a paper on carbon gentrification, my co-authors explore the contradiction of ostensibly low-carbon (but likely high-carbon), pro-density policies pursued by tech companies and cities with climate-friendly rhetoric, like Amazon in Seattle.
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.
URBAN ECOLOGIES: A HEURISTIC GRID
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.
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.
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 Lab, a mutual aid research collective that I co-founded.
Writing for a wider readership, I try to tell stories that foreground the clean energy transition and the built environment of low-carbon leisure. My favorites so far are Seize the Hamptons, Forget Fertility, Get Feral, and The Last Stimulus.
With Kate Aronoff, I co-host Hot & Bothered, an occasional podcast on climate politics hosted by Dissent magazine.
My dissertation, Street Fight: Urban Climate Politics in an Age of Finance and Revolt, looks at the intersection of socio-economic inequalities, the political economy of place, 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.
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.
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