Portrait: Daniel Aldana Cohen

I’m an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, where I direct the Socio-Spatial Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2. In 2018-19, I was a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey (2018-19). I’m the co-author of A Planet to Win: Why We Need a Green Deal. I’m currently completing a book project called Street Fight: Climate Change and Inequality in the 21st Century City, under contract with Princeton University Press, to be published in 2022. My research and writing have  have appeared in Nature; Environmental Politics; Public CultureThe International Journal of Urban and Regional ResearchCity: Analysis of Urban Change, Theory, Action; NACLA Report on the Americas; The Century FoundationThe GuardianThe NationJacobinDissent; and elsewhere. (Photo: Eric Sucar, UPenn.)

I work on the politics of climate change, investigating the intersections of climate change, housing, political economy, social movements, and inequalities of race and social class in the United States and Brazil. And I’m working on Green New Deal policy development, including the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, through collaborations between (SC)2, the McHarg Center, Data for Progress, People’s Action’s Homes Guarantee campaign (where I serve on the policy committee), other social movements, and progressive elected officials in the United States and Brazil.

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Through (SC)2, I led collaborative research with Data for Progress and the office of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in particular our work on the Green New Deal for Public Housing.

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Also working through (SC)2, I co-organized a major event at Penn, Designing a Green New Deal, on September 13, 2019, with Billy Fleming.

Through (SC)2, I’m working collaboratively on a big data project, Whole Community Climate Mapping, to explore the intersections of climate change, inequality, and the built environment at the neighborhood level. Read more in our first policy digest, Follow The Carbon.

Follow the Carbon

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In recent public writing, I have made the case for a Green New Deal for housing, have explored the rise of eco-apartheid in Brazil and the United States; 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

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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.

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.

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“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.

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.

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.

There are links to my writing and research here. I overshare more often as @aldatweets.

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