Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice

The relationship between social hierarchy and climate change is multifaceted and requires solutions that prioritize the voices and needs of those who experience social, political, and economic disadvantages and exclusion. The disproportionate distribution of environmental benefits and burdens across race, ethnicity, class, gender, and even nationality is well documented, but considerations of these disparities are rarely meaningfully incorporated into environmental and climate policy and decision making. To date, research at the intersection of stratification and environmental justice has largely focused on documenting the problems and identifying technological solutions, but ignores the interdependent social, cultural, and political transformations that will be required to create systemic change. In addition, the climate crises we are facing extends beyond the mitigation of carbon emissions, which often becomes the sole focus. Research that instead focuses on the complex interactions between social hierarchy, power, and a full consideration of the variety of climate change impacts can contribute valuable insights to better shape solutions.

By focusing on the interplay between social, cultural, and political transformations, we aim to contribute valuable insights to inform inclusive and transformative solutions. Our research through the Cook Center explores community-led resilience strategies, power dynamics in utility regulation, challenges, and barriers to just transitions including lessons learned from early renewable energy transitions. Our research methods include qualitative and quantitative analyses, case studies, and engagement with affected communities to ensure their voices are central to our findings.

We bring together a network of scholars from an array of disciplines whose expertise range from the technical, social, and regulatory parameters of sustainable infrastructure, to access to justice for those frontline communities most affected by climate change, to the complex legal and regulatory landscape for governance of climate issues. We focus on the ways in which social hierarchy and inequities related to race, ethnicity, gender, income, and education influence the differential access to resources and support in times of climate extremes and disasters and the differential access to resources provided by governmental infrastructure investments and job creation programs.

We center our research on energy systems, which present an opportunity to focus on the behavior, social, cultural, and technological aspects of the global climate crises, and explore the following research questions:

  1. What are the power dynamics within utility regulation and the utility industry, and how do they shape decision-making related to climate change?
  2. How do community-led strategies for resiliency, such as community-owned resilience centers, solar microgrids, and battery backup systems, contribute to adaptive capacities and address social inequities in the face of climate change impacts?
  3. What are the barriers to just transitions, particularly in communities experiencing energy poverty and environmental injustices, as well as in communities facing economic shifts due to the need to de-prioritize fossil fuel-based energy production? What lessons can be learned from early transitions to renewable energy resources, and how do they impact receiving communities?