head_shot_bwI’m an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2018-19, I’ll be a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

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. In new qualitative work, I’m turning toward urban-rural links (especially energy landscapes). I’m also 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 Climate Collaborative, or (SC)2; more details soon.

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.

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 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-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, 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.

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

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