Listen to Berkeley Talks episode #143: Climate displacement and remaking the built environment.
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]
Intro: This is Berkeley Talks, a Berkeley News podcast from the Office of Communications and Public Affairs that features lectures and conversations at UC Berkeley. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. New episodes come out every other Friday.
Michael Premo: My name is Michael Premo. I’m executive producer of Storyline, which I co-founded with my primary collaborator Rachel Falcone. A through line in all of our work is this idea of home. What does home mean? What does home feel like spiritually, emotionally, physically, literally, metaphorically?
Rachel Falcone: We started Sandy’s storyline in the wake of hurricane Sandy. The primary design question was how do we collaborate with millions of people to tell a story.
Michael Premo: We created this sort of interactive web based experience… anybody who was touched by the storm in any way to share their experiences to really just try to create this picture of how the storm is affecting this metropolis of 20 million people. Another project that touches on this theme is Water Warriors. Water Warriors is a short film exhibition about a communities successful fight to protect their water.
Speaker off screen: Water is the gift of life. Nothing in this world can live without water.
Michael Premo: The Elsipogtog First Nation built this successful multicultural alliance with their white settler neighbors to protect their water from fracking.
Speaker off screen: We are all warriors and we are here to protect.
Michael Premo: Everyday average individuals who are coming together to fight and defend and protect what matters most to them.
Kieran Brosnan: Our recent purchases in your neighborhood include a two-family on 41 Gilooly Road, a three-family at 176 Clark Avenue, a condo at 67 Marlborough Street, a two-family at 13 Cheever Street, a two-family at 690 Broadway, and a six-family at 53-55 Maverick Street. Your home can be next. We will purchase your property in cash. We will pay all your closing costs. We will purchase your property in any condition. We look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Kieran Brosnan.
Puck Lo: Pretty much all of my works begin with the questions: What here is new? What here is not?
Speaker off screen: We would like to have a nice clean river and accessible water front but with the desire to have that comes the threat for us to be displaced.
Puck Lo: Climate catastrophe is a force multiplier of all things dystopic, fascistic and apocalyptic. But when you pull back the layers of say, COVID, super storms, seasonal fires, supply chain failures, war, what you can see is the enduring blueprints of asymmetrical imperial and colonial power.
Speaker off screen: On the 33 acre land will be a casino and resort as tall as the windmill.
Puck Lo: Climate catastrophe feels new to many of us, but we are right to suspect that the conditions that create that catastrophe feel like many familiar forms of racial, national and class oppression. I think that the main way that humans get stuck is we forget how to see outside ourselves and art can make it possible to try.
Speaker off screen: We organize at a grass root level. We need to fight for our place.
Pollution and environmental disasters have led to public health crisis. Some places are called cancer ally and children play while suffering from asthma surrounded by industrial pollution.
Jayeesha Dutta: Both my ancestral lands and the place that I call home now in the south east, in Louisiana and Florida, [inaudible 00:05:00] where I was born, we are prone to ongoing monsoons, ongoing hurricanes.
Speaker off screen: In Louisiana we are losing almost a football field of wetlands every hour. These wetlands serve as protection against increasingly terrible hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes.
Jayeesha Dutta: The idea of climate displacement is not just about the physical displacement that people experience, it is also the displacement of spirit, of soul, of being.
Speaker off screen: Many, many moons ago, the people of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean had a sacred relationship with the land, the water, and for the most part with each other, too, respecting cycles and rhythms of the planet.
Jayeesha Dutta: And this idea of where is home, where is my people, where can I feel safe, how can I survive, how can I create conditions for me to be well and to thrive, I think those are conditions that are really difficult for us to find for ourselves.
Speaker off screen: Together, we believe another Gulf is possible, where can survive and thrive without fear of each other, free of oppression. Where we can live in balance with our natural resources, our land and our water, and still meet our energy needs.
Lizania Cruz: My name is Lizania Cruz and I am a Dominican participatory artist based in Brooklyn, New York, formally known as Lenapehoking Land, which was taken away from the Lenape people.
In my practice I incorporate audience participation in order to investigate notions of being and belonging within the public sphere. Most recently I’ve been working on a project titled The Investigation of the Dominican Racial Imaginary, which is a participatory project that looks at the ways in which the nation state of the Dominican Republic has erased and repressed our African heritage from our identity. I’ve been thinking of sugar and specifically its links to the plantation system, our colonial path, and the ways it has racialized bodies.
I’m interested in finding ways that we could better articulate the human impact of these extractive economies and also if we could envision ways that we could create a change from them.
Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi: When I think about climate displacement something that kind of comes to mind right away for me living here in Puerto Rico is colonization. My name is Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi and I am the director/producer of We Still Here, or en español, Nos Tenemos.
Speaker off screen, in Spanish translated to English : To walk around my town and appreciate the river that crosses it, that’s what living in Comerío is like. That’s what living at home is like. When Hurricane Maria was arriving, we saw how the river was coming into town.
Unidentified youth: My room was right here. And as you can see, there is nothing now.
Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi: My film focuses on a group of youth in Comerío, Puerto Rico, that are fighting for justice in their recovery process.
Unidentified teenager: We waited for the municipality, the government, for the people who lost their houses, their homes. It’s really slow. I was disappointed in that part.
Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi: The people in power FEMA and the government decided that they would give families coupons to go to the United States and live in hotels rather than use money to reconstruct their houses. People do not want to leave their homes.
Speaker off screen, in Spanish translated to English: When you are asked what happiness is, you tell them happiness is sharing with those who don’t have.
Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi: So what is a response to that? What does it look like to stay? And the English name of my film is We Still Here, which are the people that decided to stay, are the people that against all odds are going to rebuild the future for themselves and they’re going to do that together.
Unidentified person speaking in Spanish, translated to English: It’s something that I’ve always loved to do: be a leader, help. This is me.
END OF FILM.
Jeremy Geffen: Good afternoon, good evening, everyone. I’m Jeremy Geffen, the executive and artistic director for Cal Performances. It’s my great pleasure to have all of you here this afternoon or evening depending on your point of view and to welcome you into this discussion of theme that we have been exploring for the past season — that of place and displacement, where we all feel we belong, and where for by or own design or because of forces greater than our own we wind up. And this has been a very illuminating and at times wrenching exploration.
This afternoon we have a fantastic panel to discuss what you’ve just seen on the film as well as many other topics that will be brought up by people far more knowledgeable than myself. And my primary role is to introduce to you David Ackerly who is a professor and the dean of the Rausser College of Natural Resources, who will introduce the rest of the panel. Thank you.
David Ackerly: Thank you, Jeremy, for introducing the introducer. I’m David Ackerly, dean of Rausser College of Natural Resources, and good evening. I’m pleased to welcome you all to tonight’s event, “Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Displacement,” which we’re hosting in partnership with the School of Cities at University of Toronto. We’re pleased to welcome all those a UC Berkeley who are here in person and those of you listening online here in Toronto and elsewhere.
Before proceeding further I would like to offer a land acknowledgement. UC Berkeley sits on the territory of Huichin, the ancestral and unceded land of the Chochenyo speaking Ohlone people, the successors of the sovereign Verona Band of Alameda County. This land was and continues to be of great importance to the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe and the descendants of the Verona Band. The Muwekma Ohlone peoples are members of the Bay Area community today, but the Berkeley community displaced them from this land. Berkeley community members continue to benefit from the use and occupation of this land. Consistent with our values of community, inclusion, and diversity we have a responsibility to acknowledge and make visible the university’s relationship to Native peoples.
Human-induced climate change is threatening populations through rising sea levels, drought, heatwaves, ever more severe storms and disruptions to energy and food production. On a global scale we are witnessing a climate gap of the benefits of the fossil fuel economy has accrued to the few and the impacts of these changes are disproportionately affecting vulnerable and marginalized groups due to historically entrenched inequalities and shifts of the nature of the global economy.
These populations not only feel the immediate impacts of climate change more significantly but also have the fewest resources to adapt to these impacts. Climate change had catalyzed forced migration from disappearing or unlivable land due to sea level rise, wildfire, drought, flooding, and more. In recent years severe flooding our drought have contributed to the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis, the Rohingya exodus from Myanmar and the violence and immigration from the Northern Triangle in Central America.
In 2017 the United States topped all countries in the world in the number of new asylum claims it received and in 2019 Canada received over half of all refugees in the entire world. The sheer numbers are staggering and only likely to increase. And when refugees reach our shores they often face political and social conflicts over inclusion, representation, and resources but meanwhile most refugees from poorer countries do not make it to high-income democratic communities. They’ll live in refugee camps.
We need to study the social and economic effects of climate change in rural, urban, and refugee communities and their impacts on democracy, inclusion and inequality around the world. And the only way to take on a complex problem of this scale is to combine experts on climate and environmental change with social scientists who model networks and population movements as well as researchers analyzing the consequences of such movements for the people involved, the countries they leave and the policies by which they are governed.
At UC Berkeley we embraced this challenge by launching a cluster hire to recruit the top emerging scholars across different disciplines. We recruited five assistant professors, four of whom are here speaking tonight. Maya Carrasquillo in engineering, Daniel Aldana Cohen in sociology, Zoe Hamstead in city and regional planning, and Danielle Rivera in landscape, architecture and environmental planning. Meg Mills-Novoa in environmental science policy and management had hoped to be with us but she is isolating with a mild case of COVID.
At the University of Toronto School of Cities, our partner in this event, director Karen Chapple, initiated a set of multidisciplinary activities around climate justice, which she’ll tell you about in a moment. She’s a professor emerita at UC Berkeley, where, as city planning department chair, she spear headed the climate justice faculty hires at the College of Environmental Design. So, to all the speakers please come take your seats on the stage at this time. A reminder to our audience if you haven’t already please silence your cell phones. And I will turn the Kerrin Chapel. Thank you again for being here tonight.
Karen Chapple: Thank you so much Jeremy and David for the introductions and thanks so much to our panelists for joining. And I want to give a special thank you to the artist circle on climate displacement at the Othering and Belonging Institute for lifting up the voices of both those who’s lives have been turned upside down by climate displacement and those working so hard to help.
A couple quick words about the School of Cities at the University of Toronto and the Urban Displacement Project, which is my own research lab. The School of Cities teaches the world why cities matter for justice and sustainability, and when I arrived as the director I decided to spend the first couple years focusing on climate justice.
To begin creating a community of practice around climate injustice issues, we provided scholars from over 20 different departments with a total of $600,000 in funding to fund their research on issues like health vulnerability to heatwaves and uneven access to parks. We also created a couple speaker series including the release of the IPCC sixth assessment report on cities just last month.
So, when Cal Performances asked me to organize an event for the Illuminations: Place and Displacement series, they were thinking of highlighting the Urban Displacement Project but instead I thought it would be a great opportunity to connect two great North American institutions, the universities at Berkeley and Toronto, to introduce the next generation of climate scholars and to lift up the issue of climate and displacement.
So, what do we anticipate in terms of the impacts of climate-induced displacement? Well, the latest World Bank estimates suggest that by 2050 the numbers will reach over 200 million each year due to slow onset climate change impacts from water scarcity, low crop productivity, and sea level rise and also less livability because of heat stress, extreme events and land loss. Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America will be the hardest hit. Where will those displaced by climate go? By and large, they’ll go to cities.
Seventy percent of the world’s population will be in cities by 2050 and history has shown that those who are displaced tend to go to cities, where there’s economic opportunities and where chances are they have contacts. By and large, they’ll go to cities that are cooler and these places are largely in the Global North. This is an enormous challenge for coming decades. Cities are going to have to learn how to accommodate millions of newcomers and this is going to require new thinking about equitable development or how to address inequality and increase opportunity on a large scale.
We’re trying right now to remake our cities with climate mitigation. Across North America, we’re trying measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We build new parks, bike ways, transit lines. But it isn’t easy and that’s partly because of the legacy of urban renewal. Neighborhoods were traumatized by government actions in the urban renewal era and they still don’t trust the public sector.
Just imagine all the standard sources of displacement that low-income communities face. Now add to that new pressure from climate mitigation measures. We call this double vulnerability and you can find lots of new research on this on our website urbandisplacement.org. This Illumination series at Cal Performances has largely been about the history and disempowerment of displacement. But let me just outline a few ways that climate displacement brings a new and different set of issues to cope with in the future. Solastalgia is a sense of loss stemming from place attachment and communities that are displaced by climate are particularly prone to suffer from this sense of loss because their places are usually gone forever.
The new displacement is also different from prior waves of immigration because we’re talking mainly about movement from developing countries in the South to advanced industrial nations in the North. And also, we’re seeing new cultural and political tensions. Receiving communities often battle over cultural issues and conflicts can be violent as migrants are forced to integrate.
There’s one interesting analogy we could look at. We could compare climate migration today to the great northern migration of Blacks from the South, that was 6 million people in 60 years. Remember, though, now we’re talking about hundreds of millions of people, even though only a fraction of those will be able to cross the boarders of their country to North.
Another important point to consider is that at the time of the Great Migration we had tremendous job growth, we had manufacturing, we had the war machine at work, and we had new mechanisms to build and financing housing construction at scale, for instance sub-division development and the VA Act.
We no longer have job and housing growth at this scale. We no longer have opportunities at this scale to accommodate newcomers and in fact we have an unemployment crisis and we have a housing crisis. So, there are important questions here about what justice will look like in this new era of climate displacement and with that I’m going to join our panel so they can share thoughts on that. Thank you.
So, welcome. Great to see you guys. I hope we could start by hearing a little bit from each of you about your own research and if possible how it relates to climate displacement. And I can start at one end or the other. How about Daniel.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: Sure. Hi here, and great to see you here. Good. Thank for everybody who’s joined us for this conversation, it’s a huge topic. My name is Daniel Aldana Cohen. I’ve been studying housing and climate politics for a little over a decade now and in particular what I’ve looked at in my academic research is how have housing movements dealt with low-carbon, or extensively low-carbon, green redevelopment schemes in big cities like Sao Paulo in New York, how have housing movements responded to climate disasters, and when housing movements have been able to join with progressive allies what kinds of climate policies have they supported in big cities.
And I’ve also done research on policy. I’m on the policy team of the Homes Guarantee Campaign, which is a national network of tenant movements. And proudly in that role I led the research for the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act, which was introduced in 2019 and again in 2021 by AOC and Bernie Sanders.
And I guess what I would quickly say, I think the work I’ve done that’s most relevant to this question is thinking about: What are the ways in which people who are at the front lines of housing and security right now, how do they imagine what housing security would look like? What kinds of large scale investments and non-market housing do they want to see? And I think we can learn quite a bit from efforts they’ve made to build housing and to build communities that they feel safe in, to say, okay, this is a model that we can scale up, build more rapidly, put more investments into as we think about far more people moving into these cities, whether these cities are in North America or cities in Brazil or elsewhere in the world.
Maya Carrasquillo: Good evening everyone. My name is Maya Carrasquillo and I am in civil and environmental engineering here. A bunch of my previous research has engaged stormwater management, storm water decision making, particularly working with Brown and Black communities in the Southeast U.S., particularly Tampa, Florida and Atlanta, Georgia. And more recently I’ve been focusing on this through line which much of my research has really focused on for the last several years around environmental climate justice and even more specifically social justice and engineering as well as equitable decision-making practices.
And I guess I would say that as it relates to my work, in particular when we think about stormwater, green infrastructure and developing systems I think the biggest thing that my work tries to center is community stakeholder involvement, in particular those who again are at the front lines, those who are most vulnerable or susceptible to especially large-scale flooding events, and really wanting to ideate with them and acknowledge the ways in which they are re imagining, as Daniel said, climate justice scenarios, environmental justice scenarios with the infrastructure that they engage with every single day. I think there’s an opportunity in the work that we do between engineering, planning, and across all of the different disciplines represented here to not only work with communities, but to I think expand the ways that engineering in particular has traditionally practiced building infrastructure and minimizing infrastructural violence so that we can actually imagine infrastructural futures that are liberating to these communities and no longer kind of relegating them to the places that they’ve been in the past.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: Hi, I’m Danielle Zoe Rivera and I’m an environmental planner and urban designer so I take a very different tack to a lot of this work that’s intensely spacial. So, most of my work in the past has been looking at in equitable access to environmental planning strategies across multiple different communities across South Texas and in Puerto Rico.
And one thing I’ve noted over time is that a lot of these historical inequities, a lot of which Karen was mentioning earlier, have generated all kinds of repercussions in terms of access in terms of environmental planning today. And seeing these issues on the ground they often times take the form in communities as environmental justice movements, climate justice movements, but my work has also been looking at issues after disasters.
So, looking at calls for disaster justice, equitable access to post disaster recovery and reconstruction. And that’s really where I think a lot of my work has been intersecting with issues of climate displacement, and this is something I’ll talk about more detail throughout today. When do we need to understand that displacement is necessary vs. when are we actually seeing historic trends of inequitable access to infrastructure overlaying and becoming used as a reason for why people need to be displaced? So, that’s something I’ve been talking to a lot of communities about and I’ll talk about more today.
Zoe Hamstead: Hi everyone. It’s great to be here with my colleagues having this really important conversation. I’m Zoe Hamstead. I’m a member of the faculty of city and regional planning here at Berkeley. And most of my research broadly looks at climate planning related issues and specifically around urban heat. Heat is considered to be the greatest weather related killer that is also exacerbated by climate change, and along with it extreme cold accounts for nearly all weather-related fatalities with disproportionately impact people of color, people living in the Global South, people living in poverty and other marginalized groups. And these health threats are exacerbated by the way that the built environment is constructed and by the way that the built environment is managed.
But a lot of those processes through which we construct these dangerous built environments are really invisiblized as are the experiences of people who are suffering the health impacts. And so, my research recently has becoming increasingly concerned with what are those processes through which these kinds of experiences are being invisiblized? And from an urban planning and public health perspective what can we do to protect people from weather that really threatens their health? And so, I call my research agenda to try to understand those things, “critical heat studies.”
And one of the things that I’ve learned, especially from my field research which has involved a lot of conversations with people who are experiencing the kinds of threats that I care about is that vulnerability to things like heat and cold are very placed-based experiences and people learn how to cope and adapt over long periods over time.
And I’ve witnessed some really incredible adaptations that people have been able to engage in, in really harsh weather conditions. So, I think that this issue of migration, climate displacement, is actually quite central to the work that I do and the problems that I care about. So, I’m looking forward to talking about that more.
Karen Chapple: Wow, aren’t they amazing? What a fascinating set of introductions. So, I’m going to jump right into some of the hard questions. So, there’s a question about how we should think about climate migration vs. climate displacement and why we’re focusing on displacement. And I want us all in answering that question to think about places and displacement, which is the name of this series. So, what does it mean to abandon places and how should we understand this in terms of Global South, North power dynamics? I mean, few of you really had comments that were relevant to this. Danielle, would you kick us off?
Danielle Zoe Rivera: I knew it the way you were looking at me.
Karen Chapple: Yeah, I had a feeling this was your baby.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: Yeah, certainly. So, for me I think I’m most concerned about equity concerns when we’re talking about migration and displacement and I think the reason that we should focus on displacement first and then migration is because obviously you’re going to get displacement before you get migration. And as I think the video showed really clearly and beautifully there is so many issues involved with displacement. And you can look at gentrification and displacement studies that already exist and exist in many different capacities not even just traditional gentrification studies but even those focused on ecological or environmental gentrification to understand the emotional toll that displacement takes on an individual.
But I think from my own research what I’m most concerned about when we talk about climate displacement is what I’ve seen in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, which is that in practice I’ve seen the term “climate displacement” used more than anything to underpin capitalist interests across the Archipelago.
So, after Maria there are two very well known examples of displacement in northwestern Puerto Rico. It was a coastal land, it’s also, for those who still have Indigenous ties to the Taino people, these are very important lands that are basically being called risky and unsafe and unfit for habitation, but in the process of removing people from the coastline, what we see is capitalist interest in the form of tourism coming up and suddenly this land is being repurposed as a resort.
And I have countless examples of this happening across Puerto Rico even before Hurricane Maria. We can look at the Caño Martín Peña in San Juan. Half that informal settlement was removed because of fears. They’re along a stormwater canal, it was too risky. The second those individuals were removed, a stadium was built along those lands.
And so, for me, I think when we talk about displacement and this issue of power dynamics, it’s really what are the visions we have for these lands if we’re removing people and in my case I’m seeing forceful removal and that has all kinds of other issues tied to it. But really that for me is my concern why we should focus on displacement and the equity concerns. How are we using these terms? When are we applying them? Whose interests are being served? Whose aren’t? These are all for me really important questions.
Maya Carrasquillo: I guess I’ll jump because there’s something that Danielle said that want to just kind of build off of. And I guess the first question of displacement vs. migration, I think that invisible through line between those two terms is really this idea of choice, whether or not you’re forced out vs. whether or not you make the decision yourself to leave or stay. And I think similar to what Danielle said, when we talk about certain communities that are at the front lines in coastal regions, we have kind of gotten to the point of characterizing these places as unlivable. Even in our introduction earlier I think we used that phrase.
And I think the piece there is as we try to characterize a lot of the challenges that we’re seeing with climate change, whether it’s unlivable, whether it’s risky, I think in the process of doing so we have a tendency to approach this from a very deficit framing perspective. And in doing so now we’re characterizing not only spaces but spaces that are not just spaces but they’re homes to people, they’re spiritual havens, they’re familial havens, they’re places that people have thrived for generations and now they’re being told that they can’t live there anymore.
And so, I think that conversation of choice and displacement vs. migration and why people make the decision to leave or stay is very complex and I think as we continue to talk about it it’s important that we’re even conscientious of the language that we use and how we characterize spaces and subsequently characterize the people who live in those spaces.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: Okay, I’m going to jump in on this. I don’t have something as profound as you two to say about the migration displacement disconnect, but I do want to jump in on the frame in question. Something I’ve been saying lately is that the history of the climate emergency is the history of colonialism and is the history of racial capitalism. And I actually think you characterize that as eco-apartheid, maybe that’s a separate conversation, but I think the word says enough and probably the theme is pretty clear in this conversation.
I think another way of putting that then is that the history of climate displacement or the history of climate migration is simply the history of migration and the history of displacement. And you evoked this, Karen, of course with the analogy which I think is appropriate to some degree of the Great Migration.
Of course, as you mentioned, the economic situation is different, the cities into which people are going to be moving will also be being battered by extreme weather in a way that’s never been seen before. And, of course, as Maya and Danielle were saying, in many cases you will have people being told they can’t live where they’re living and climate change is essentially an excuse. They’re essentially green washing displacement for economic purposes. We’re seeing this in the ways that peasants are being bullied into moving into cities in Bangladesh, we’re seeing in Puerto Rico, we’ve seen it in Staten Island, we’re seeing this all over the world.
My sort of view on this is there will be numeral cases of unjust displacement that should be fought, at the same time it is also true that there will be tens of millions of people moving if not more. Matt Hauer, who’s a great climate demographer has estimated that a somewhat high level of sea level rise this century, by the end of the century, 40 million people are projected to live on land that floods once a year. And we could elevate some houses but at the end of the day people will be on the move, mostly within countries but also between them.
And so, then to me this brings us to I guess a final reframing I’ll make right now and I’m sure we’ll return to it, the climate problem is not a problem of taxation, it is a problem of investment and then it becomes a problem of organizing.
So, how will trillions of dollars be spent on the built environment? This is going to happen. We could talk about the Financial Times, World Economic Forum, every major institution of global capitalism minus the Republican Party, has reconciled to trillions of dollars coming to the build environment. But we have the ability to organize progressive politics for movements organized on the ground for those trillions to build communities in which people feel at home. Are there conditions under which tens of millions of people could move that won’t feel as traumatizing, where the emancipatory potential won’t be ruined, as it was with the Great Migration landing in the midst of Jim Crow not being hardened.
So, I think these are big questions we have to wrestle with. And to me one of the biggest ones is how do you invest per family in building new communities in a way that the people who live amidst those investments embrace and even direct that change. That’s a really hard question but I think that’s something we have to grapple with. And I think you alluded to that as well, Karen, in your opening remarks.
Zoe Hamstead: I’ll just say very briefly and maybe we can continue talking about this in some of the following discussion, but I think what your question sort of raises for me is that perhaps we should resist a tendency to sort of homogenize what the experiences of migration displacement and probably a variety of other terms that we could use are because as Maya pointed out, some people are moving by choice, for others this is sort of a forced experience.
And so, for many people who have already moved because of climate change job opportunities, job stability is better in communities that have more hospitable climates. For other people, there’s a really intrinsic dependence upon ecosystems that are quite place-based, not only ecosystems but culture and identity are bound up in place. And so the abandonment is really existential in terms of culture.
At the same time, we’re sort of trying to understand what this means at a global scale, right? What population expansion and shrinkage is going to look like. Is that shrinkage going to look like what it did in rust belt cities when industry and capitalism abandoned Cleveland and Buffalo and Detroit? Or is it going to look vastly different because there isn’t going to be a possibility for any type of infrastructure or community? So, we’re trying to sort of do these predictions and trying to understand the kind of global mathematics and what the flight paths are going to look like.
But I think it’s also really important to sort of step back and try to understand, if you’re in a community that’s sort of receiving people they’ve had a really complex experience that in some cases is a real loss of existence that I think is sort of hard to wrap your head in the kind of positionally and affluence that we’re coming from.
Karen Chapple: Yeah, and that’s exactly what we saw in the film actually. It was talking about the loss of soul, loss of place. So, we’ll come back to these issues of investment. I want to circle back to the communities that are sending climate refugees and thinking about the context of the America’s because that’s where you guys have done most of your research. What can we add to the conversation about these sending places? And in particular if you want to talk about specific types of disasters or climate emergencies that you’re particularly worried about, what are the vulnerabilities here in these sending places?
Daniel Aldana Cohen: OK, I can start. So the first vulnerability is American imperial power. My mother is Guatemalan and we had a lot of stories about migrant caravans coming from Guatemala, often this is attributed in part, and in part correctly, to increased patterns of drought in a dry corridor.
But people who are fleeing are also fleeing from situations from extreme, extreme ecological and economic precarity and, in many cases, that can be traced to American political intervention. We can think about the coup in Guatemala in the early 1950s, which was essentially done at the behest of the United Fruit Company because they did not want to have last redistribution in that country. Land redistributions which would have made it much easier for peasants, many cases Maya peasants, to have a life for themselves.
And then since then we’re now seeing all across Central America and in many parts of South America a huge amount of violence occasioned by the drug wars, quote unquote the drug wars.
To me one of the biggest things we could do to alleviate the pressures of climate change and climate breakdown on people in these communities is to legalize drugs and to not have an enormous amount of violence reaped upon communities all over the Americas for totally unnecessary reasons, which are only making things worse.
Christian Parenti, who’s great journalist, has a book called Tropics of Chaos where he talks about in so many cases communities around the tropics are experiencing the converging threats of rising heat, all the violence left over from the Cold War, and then the impacts of structural adjustment policies that have weakened the social safety nets of those countries.
So, generally speaking, I think that there’s a lot to say about the social conditions in parts of Latin America, but in many conditions, the social conditions, that are causing so much distress can be traced to the actions of the American government, American corporations, and then to local elites which have been supported by U.S. power.
Karen Chapple: Hard to follow.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: Everyone’s looking at me. Definitely I agree with a lot of what Daniel’s been saying. And a lot of the work I’ve been doing with disasters has been tracing the use of disaster as a way of further entrenching injustice and inequity through what I call, it’s a compliment to Naomi Klein’s Disaster Capitalism, but also looking at the flip side of what we see so much in Latin America as that intricate relationship between capitalism and colonialism and understanding how disasters are not just used to further capitalist interest, but also colonial interest. And we see that really well in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria and we’ve also seen it across the Gulf of Mexico recently with the repeated hurricanes and tropical storms that they’ve been dealing with in the last two or three years.
And so, I think really we can’t really talk in any sophisticated way about climate refugees if we’re not understanding the conditions that caused them to be refugees in the first place. And I think of the incredible work of Farhana Sultana who has really done a good job of understanding how colonialism and colonial interests across the globe have lead to an increase in not just the effects of climate change but also the climate migration patterns we’re starting to see.
And so, I really think that, that often times when I hear about climate displacement in the communities I work in is lost. We just see the risk and we see the communities that are at risk and we’re not diving into the histories that lead those individuals to be more susceptible. And I think we can’t have valuable conversations about climate displacement if we don’t acknowledge those histories and make reparations as well for those histories.
Zoe Hamstead: Yeah, I mean just to sort of add another story that builds on Danielle and Daniel. We have a lot of Danielle and Zoes. We have multiple Danielles and Zoes.
I think about the Garifuna communities in Honduras. They were an Afro Caribbean community who was abandoned on the island of Roatán, now they’re facing sea level rise, I think it was just in the last year hurricanes and other disasters struck that region. But the displacement in part the diaspora to New York City that these communities are experiencing is also driven by land theft which is backed by U.S. corporations and supported by the state even though it’s illegal, cartel-driven violence.
So, there are all sorts of local contingencies and histories that I think are really important to understand where we’re sort of environmentalists and people who care about the climate crisis but we also need to understand the geopolitics and the really kind of place based local politics that people have experienced as well.
I know your question was about the communities from which displacement will be happening, but I think about that a lot on the receiving end as well. In part because I did quite a bit of my field research in a rust belt city that has been proclaimed climate haven or climate refuge because it has a relatively mild summer climate, plentiful fresh water, affordable housing, and so forth, and yet none of that comports with the experiences of people who I talked to who are living in poverty and facing struggles to pay energy bills. They’re facing indoor housing conditions that are really inhospitable in the winter time. I’ve spoken to people who have doors blown open, windows blown open during heavy wind, people who don’t have access to a personal automobile and are dependent on public transportation that subjects them to really harsh conditions.
And so, I think there’s a real need to look at these place based contingencies but also not just the kind of weather and average climate conditions but the sort of more holistic experience that people have with weather and climate. And what kind of infrastructure and social supports does it take to make communities really climate safe?
Karen Chapple: Just to note, that community is Buffalo.
Zoe Hamstead: Yes, that community is Buffalo.
Karen Chapple: So, I want to go back then to the receiving communities since we seem to have landed in Buffalo fortuitously. And so, this is an area that I think many of you research quite a bit is the transformations that are ongoing in American cities, the climate mitigation that we are putting into place. And who is benefiting and who is not? And this is something that we could actually spend hours, hour on. But let’s talk a little bit about that story. How can we make sure that our cities are ready? Or what is happening as folks are landing in these cities?
Maya Carrasquillo: I guess I can start with this one. As I’ve mentioned I’ve done quite a bit of green stormwater infrastructure related research and I think it’s tangentially related to the topic of climate displacement but I think very directly related to the broad conversation of displacement in that you have a form of infrastructure for example that’s kind of characterized to help treat flooding, localized flooding in particular.
And when you start to see more of these investments being made at city levels and county levels and just kind of these broader investments and these strategic efforts then you subsequently have what we know as green gentrification where you have these communities that are being built, typically even with these types of investments it’s intended for lower income communities, populations, those that are more vulnerable and susceptible to flooding. And after a certain period of time they are no longer able to actually benefit because they can no longer afford to live there.
And I think, again tangentially related to the topic of climate displacement, but we’re even seeing this, as Danielle mentioned earlier, specifically around climate and that for example in Miami, you’ve seen folks who live along Collins Ave., along North and South Beach, those who have more money to actually live coastal historically, now that Miami is kind of getting inundated with flooding and those spaces are no longer safe to live they are now pushing themselves into Little Haiti, which historically has been considered a place that is less desirable, but now because of lower cost of land and its distance from the shoreline, now it’s an area that is more attractive.
And so, I think you’re going to start to see those continual shifting patterns. We’re already starting, we already are seeing those shifting patterns within cities across the U.S. in particular where people are constantly being displaced. Those who were in places that were less desirable historically are now being shifted from their homes and the question is where do they go. And so, I think there’s so many different competing dynamics, especially when you’re talking about the migration from the Global South and places that are more vulnerable globally. But even within the U.S. we’re not currently equipped to handle those differences and those competing priorities.
And so, I don’t know what that’s going to take. I kind of want to defer to my sociologist colleague who studies a lot more policy than I do, but I do think one of the conversations that’s immersing in this space, particularly around green gentrification and how to minimize gentrification in general is more strategic policies at the city, county level, state levels and really kind of adding restrictions around development because were starting to see again those displacements happening.
Yes, we need more infrastructure, but really to refine the infrastructure that’s already created I think at some point we will need to see a cap if you will on the type of development that’s allowed in certain places so that we don’t continue to displace people but also make space and room for those who are still coming.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: Thanks, wow. Since you evoked me. I mean, number one of course, and a bunch of us have worked on this in different ways, we have to break the link between green investment and communities and displacement otherwise you have a zero sum game which is horrible. And of course this is what happens on a hot land market. You bring improvement to a neighborhood and the landlord sees a chance to turnover the tenant or to turnover the land.
One solution to this I think is clearly rent control. That to me is a major green policy. Another one is building social housing. One social housing project I saw, it’s pretty interesting to think about this question of receiving communities. I visited this project a few years ago before COVID, it had been built with public investment and then under essentially the supervision of control of a local housing movement. It was named for Nelson Mandela and Frei Betto, who was a sort of left-wing priest that the movement saw as an ally, and it was built in dialog with small farmers who were going to set up shop to sell basically organic groceries at a discount to these housing movement members once every week or so.
This was not in The Bay, this was in São Bernardo, which is an industrial suburb of Sao Paulo and it exemplifies one of the most interesting parts of Brazil’s public home building program which is that a small percent of the new housing complexes, too small, but a small percent of the new housing complexes are built in direct specific dialog with housing movement members, and that gives them a real ability to shape those projects from the political culture and internationalist political culture to a form of environmental politics, in this case in dialog with the landless peasants movements and an ability for a sense of community empowerment.
I actually visited this project at an amazing time. The buildings were half built and the future residents came and got to see what their apartments would look like. And hilariously they had all the new appliances represented by thin cardboard reproductions so you got a one inch deep fridge but you could see where it was going to go. And people were extremely, extremely happy.
And I think a lot of the lessons we could learn come from places in the global south like Sao Paulo which have been building a lot of housing in recent years. More movements have fought to rehabilitate abandoned buildings in central areas, to get zoning for public housing on new public transit quarters that were going to be densified, and to have significant control over the construction of new public housing with public funds.
So, to me, I think in a way what we have to do in the Global North is have a kind of green developmental state that uses public resources in dialog with community groups to literally rebuild the world that we live in. And we actually have far more experience and more lessons to learn from that in a place like Latin America I think than we have in the last few decades as Karen pointed out. And so far as the U.S. has tried that recently it’s been traumatic and in many cases a disaster.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: Yeah, I’d love to add to that because that was actually the exact direction I was going to take my answer. So, I’d add to that, what both Maya and Daniel said, that when trying to work as an environmental planner I think we have a very clear sense nowadays that we have been contributing to a major problem that we are trying to bring all kinds of environmental infrastructure systems, support to low-income communities and in effect what we’ve been doing is just further their displacement and gentrification.
And me this is, I always tell my students, the number one thing that we need to think about as planners is how do we invest in fully because I don’t really subscribe to the Just Green Enough answer to this question. I want to see us be able to fully invest in low-income communities of color, give them the exact same kinds of services that we would give to any other community. And as planners, then we need to protect those communities from being displaced by the very things that we’re trying to do to support them.
And actually, someone who I pull from a lot with this kind of work is actually the work that Daniel has done really trying to convince planners that we cannot have a division between environmental planning and housing anymore, that as environmental planners we need to think like housing planners, we need to work with housing planners who have a more sophisticated understanding of what’s happening on the real estate side of these communities. And we need to start working together to make sure we can have these full investments and in my case stormwater infrastructure without displacing communities.
And so, one thing my lab has been doing is we’ve actually been tracking the use of terms like ecological gentrification, environmental, green, climate, disaster, even food gentrification and it’s definitely on planners minds. In the last three years the number of journal articles and books that have been devoted to this topic have just exploded exponentially. But I think we’re at a point where we’re trying to figure out well how do we pair environmental planning with affordable housing strategies or strategies for housing that make sure the indigenous residents of a community can actually stay in place. And that to me is I think where we’re stuck and a lot of it comes down to a lot of these very foundational issues of racism, colonialism, patriarchy. How do we actually change the nature of how we’re planning in order to have these kinds of strategies? That’s a much, much more difficult issue to deal with.
Karen Chapple: I just want to make a quick intervention. The Just Green Enough movement that Danielle referred to is about making green improvements that are slightly lower quality, lower cost, in order to avoid gentrification. Going sort of the Wal-Mart route. A very contentious idea.
And I just want to point out actually, we recently have been looking at the unintended consequences of climate mitigation like parks, like transit lines, and we’ve actually been able to put a number to it finally, like this is how much displacement we’re actually going to see if we build the transit line here. And what the exercise told us is that we just have to mandate mitigation, we have to mandate that if you put a transit line in, or a park, or a bikeway, you have to preserve affordable housing around it. That just should be part of the law just like you mitigate the traffic signal timing, you mitigate the housing crisis that you’re causing, so. Sorry, go ahead.
Zoe Hamstead: Just a couple small comments to add to what everyone has said. I mean, I think that a lot of communities have refugee resettlement agencies and community-based organizations that have been helping to resettle people who have fled communities for reasons of political asylum and so I think that’s a real asset that we can look to in terms of what it takes to provide the resources that people need, access to jobs, access to training, access to language services. How do you navigate a transportation system? How do you dress in the cold weather? There are all sorts of really incredible services that so many communities are providing but as everyone has said on this panel, a lot of people and communities are going to be trying to figure out to capitalize on the climate crisis in general and climate related displacement in particular in ways that don’t really serve the needs of those communities and put long time residents at risk of displacement.
And so, I think it’s important to do really place-based locally driven work like what many of us are talking about that really tries to figure out not just following the advice of meteorologists who don’t necessarily fully understand. I mean meteorologists are amazing, they’re wonderful, but they don’t fully understand what it takes for a community to be climate-safe, and so we need to be thinking about energy systems, food systems, of course housing systems are going to be fundamental to all of this, transportation systems. How do people get safe affordable access to all of that? And how can we really engage with communities in ways that drive solutions both to accepting people who are going to need a lot of resources to have safe, healthy, environment lives and also prevent these kinds of secondary displacements that can occur.
Karen Chapple: So, I’ve been hearing a lot about community and place and initiatives at the very local level. I’m wondering if you all have thought about what level of government we should be taking action at and thinking about federal, state, local, provincial.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: Every day, all day. It’s stuck in my brain. And so one of the things I meant to mention earlier is that most of the work I’m doing is actually with rural communities and not in urban areas. And one of the things that I’m increasingly looking at is what, if anything, we’re doing as planners to actually help rural communities through the climate crisis. And so many of the tools that we have as urban planners for responding to these concerns are actually designed for strong local government.
And so, often times what we see is what I refer to as a deficit model in rural communities. We almost expect them to be working with the same tools that we have in urban settings but just slightly less sophisticated or fewer resources, fewer planners. And I think there are many, many of us out there, I can think of others like Andy Rumbauch, Esther Sullivan, who are really trying to change this perspective that we have about rural planning into relation to big climate crisis.
And I think it gets to this question of what scale we should be working at because I think in the United States we lack regional governments. And we can look at other countries where they have very, very strong regional government systems where we can actually understand what’s happening in rural spaces and how they connect to more urban spaces or we have the capacity to think of scales all in between ex-urban, suburban, and start to really think more fluidity about space and how these issues are occurring. And I think to me that’s the scale we need that we fundamentally lack right now in most of the U.S.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: So, like you said, all day, every day. Every scale of government needs to work on this. But I think there are two reasons that federal governments really need to work on this. One, no level of government in the world has the fiscal fire power of a federal government. I don’t think we want the World Bank to run this thing. And there is a lot that cities can do, that states can do to facilitate good things, to create demonstration projects, to get things moving. But at the end of the day, for the kind of just fiscal fire power you need a federal government.
Of course, we’re also talking about migration and if we want to demilitarize our boarders, which I really hope we will do, and ultimately make them obsolete to echo the abolitionist, demand to make prisons obsolete, that’s going to have to be done ultimately at the federal level.
The other thing is that only people who get to call the Americas home really are Indigenous peoples, and so when we start talking about things like land back, the necessity of reconceiving the places we live as kind of plurinational assemblages and dialog with Indigenous nations that ultimately is going to have to get up to the federal level.
There are interesting local projects. There’s going to be this really fascinating housing development in Vancouver led by the Squamish Nation I believe and this will be a very interesting case of kind of mixed-use, mixed-income, super-dense development that some people in Vancouver are thinking of it as a kind of land back.
So, there’s a lot that can happen at the city, regional, et cetera level. But the treaty is that Indigenous nations, those that did sign treaties, signed then with federal governments and I think nation to nation relations is an appropriate way to think about politics of Indigenous sovereignty which we should have. And so I think once again the kind of holy grail here is real action at the federal level in dialog with other nations that also occupy this space, or that should say, rather who have long lived in this space, lived indefinitely in this space in which we now occupy.
Karen Chapple: Anybody else? So, as we’ve been talking and just the film that really set off this whole discussion, I’ve been thinking about these communities that people land in and as you guys are talking about the type of resilience that you need in these receiving communities in order to organize I’m wondering if any of you have thought about the social networks that these communities have? In particular because, I’m just thinking historically immigration has taken place through social networks. So, you have migration chains and you have communities landing in particular places. And just in your experience have you seen these communities coming from a climate displacement problem clustering in an area and working together?
Zoe Hamstead: I mean one of the observations I made when I was in Buffalo, and I think this has been pretty well-documented, that a large number of Puerto Ricans migrated to Buffalo after Hurricane Maria because there were existing networks and really strong communities of Puerto Ricans. And I think that there were sort of two observations that I made.
One is that there were really strong social institutions and really strong cultural institutions that were able to provide many resources to people, especially immediate following that displacement just in terms of shelter and housing and supplies. But then what happened over time is students started not showing up at school because they didn’t get all of the language services that they needed or they didn’t get access to the other members of their community who they could relate to. The children couldn’t develop the social ties or over time people couldn’t necessarily find jobs. So there was sort of an immediate relief effort that happened where those community based institutions were able to draw resources from broader networks but then over time people sort of fall off the radar.
So, I think that is exactly what we’re going to see, that people are going to move where they have family members or existing social ties. And I wonder how sustained those networks and resources are going to be over time unless they are sort of a broader community investment beyond those cultural institutions.
Karen Chapple: So, let’s return to the people that are in a place that’s hit by a climate disaster or a climate change of some kind and the stories we saw in the film, Nos Tenemos, we want to stay in the area. So how can we help? How can we help? What can we do? Because we think a lot about what we can do in the Global North to prepare our communities when we think a little bit about it at least, but we haven’t really focused on helping people stay because most people say well, those places it’s not rational. Those places are going to go, so why should we help them stay? So, I’m just wondering if you all would like to speak to that question.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: I can go first. And yeah I think it’s one word, it’s just reparations. When we look at who has contributed the most to the climate crisis, it’s the Global North and who’s going to suffer the most from climate change is the Global South. And so I think there needs to be reparations and there have been so many proposals and different levels of governance, especially in international governance to make those reparations but they haven’t been followed up on. And so, I think that’s a really important first step.
I think in the example of Puerto Rico after Maria the video talked about something that I saw on the ground, too, which is Puerto Ricans being compelled to leave the Archipelago, move to Florida or to Atlanta, being given vouchers and one-way tickets and if they stayed then having this massive fight with FEMA trying to get any funding to fix their homes and you still see the blue tarps on house all across Puerto Rico, even now it’s been almost five years since the hurricanes.
And so, I think reparations are most important because all of this like we talked about earlier is tied to historical inequities, historical wrongs and I think to really address those issues where displacement is happening you have to start there first.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: I think there are two parts to your question Karen, which are a really interesting and one of questions, in a way, is if we take the logic of reparations, if we do what you’re saying which I think we should, maybe you’re suggesting there’s some danger of like, oh, okay, this neighborhood is going to be underwater, we’ll build up right next door. And is there maybe some danger of pouring resources into defending communities where it doesn’t make sense? You don’t want to build endless sea walls up, and up, and up, and up. So, I think that’s a really hard question. I don’t know what the answer to that is certainly.
My friend Liz Koslov, who’s at UCLA, has done fascinating research in Staten Island, where she found communities of people who are essentially politically Republican, Libertarian-leaning, organize collectively after Hurricane Sandy and said, “We actually want to be bought out. We want a chance to move to a safer place.” But they had a condition: Don’t replace what we just left with a luxury beach side development. It has to be given back to mother nature so that it can be a kind of ecological zone. And I think there’s a lesson there.
And so, again I come back to what does it take to make moving less traumatic? And it might be in part that you don’t have to move very far, right? So, climate projections, migrations projections, which are just numbers on a page, but they might find people from the Gulf might move just to Austin, might not move that far away. But again, I want to think what are the conditions under which you could build a truly vibrant, beautiful world.
Like as I said, I do research in Sao Paulo, where many of the people in the housing movement are people who themselves or their parents migrated from the northeast for opportunity. And I think they want that cultural connection to the northeast of Brazil, but they also want to live well where they are. And I think of places like Vienna, where two-thirds of the housing is practically off the market, but half of that is built by the public, a city in which the social democratic party since it’s first election in 1919 has never lost a free election because it has put high-quality social housing at the core of its agenda.
And think, there is a huge opportunity to build multi-racial, working-class communities of architectural splendor, people living in temples of public luxury, using the best architectural techniques available, creating the cutting-edge of green construction. That is all real, that is all possible, that could be scaled up, and the power of that promise I think is really, really substantial.
And I do wonder if part of the reason why it’s so terrifying to get displaced in the U.S. is because where would you go? I mean if you’re given a voucher for $200,000 what is that worth in the Bay? You get bought out of your home almost anywhere and then you look at the housing market that you’re moving into. So, we have to help people stay as much as it’s possible, but we have an opportunity to make moving and arriving so much better than it currently is and I think that does deserve a lot of focus.
Zoe Hamstead: Your comments remind of some research that I participated on back in the day when I was a master’s student in North Carolina. There had been several FEMA flood plane buy-outs following Hurricane’s Floyd and Fran and they were all sort of somewhat different in nature. In one case, there was really good, I think, financial conciliating and in the others, there weren’t. In one case they actually tried to move the entire community to the same receiving community and it was really interesting in interviews. But those buy-out participants, they did seem to have much stronger social ties and were sort of coping better with the move than others.
So, there are all different sorts of creative strategies and ways of doing this. In that case, it was a community that had experienced a lot of population loss in the past and was really eager and happy to receive these folks and they weren’t moving to an entirely different state, let alone entirely different country.
And I also think that we make this assumption that because people are living in a place that is at risk to climate related disasters that they’re exacerbating it or that they’re increasing the vulnerability and that’s not always the case, right? Like Danielle was saying, I think it has to do with the way that we’re developing in those places and this assumption that things are going to be better if people are relocated is not always true. And so, we really need to sort of think about that on a case-by-case basis.
Maya Carrasquillo: I guess I’ll just add one additional thought. If we’re talking about different and specific locations and anecdotally I think this kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier in regards to people’s choice to actually stay and I think there’s layers built in there where you have history.
So for example, my family has roots post-slavery in South Carolina along the coast not to far from James Island, Hilton Head, that region, and it’s an area where they’re building up quite a bit commercially. And historically we can trace back that family land to post-slavery, 40 acres and a mule, right? That was the land that my family got. It was given if you well and we’ve held onto it for generations and we’re still holding onto it, but this is also still an area that is one of those regions that susceptible to flooding.
I can’t emphasize this enough, that when we talk about solutions and we just think about what it means to actually have people move from places, there can be such deeply embedded pride and history in places that can’t be overlooked. In the case of my family, like I said, we’re fighting to hold onto this land that they’re actively trying to take from us, but the pride that’s in that, that for generations we’ve held onto this land for over a century now, there’s something there that I think given the choice to stay my family’s going to try to hold on to that for as many generations as we can.
So, back to Danielle’s point around reparations and what does it look like to still equip and families and communities to stay where they are. Particularly because there can be such deeply embedded history in these places I think it’s important that we keep that in mind, too, in these conversations.
Karen Chapple: Yeah, this makes me think again about urban renewal and how we picked up families and we made them move and then those urban renewal sites sat for decades empty and they had to watch and look at the sites where homes were, where their grandmothers has raised them and so forth. And so they had experienced that sense of loss, that root shock, the Mindy Fullilove term over and over again. So, though I really love in theory of being able to move somebody, people, nearby to some other safe place, in reality it doesn’t really mitigate the trauma.
We’re kind of nearing the end of our time and I wanted to just open it up a bit because I know you guys have studied a lot of different things and I want to make sure that you have time to talk about some of the work you’re doing and some of your other thoughts that you didn’t get to express tonight. The dreaded open-ended question.
Danielle Zoe Rivera: Yeah, well I guess I’ll just jump in and say, I kind of mentioned it in passing earlier but we often times focus so much on urban areas that we forget that there are many people who live in rural areas and that they need a fundamentally different set of strategies to deal with what they’re dealing with, that they too are dealing with climate change. And my own work in South Texas where we don’t have very strong land use and zoning regulations to really help people deal with the flooding and the issues of increasing hurricanes and tropical storms. We need to remember rural areas as much as urban areas, stitch those together somehow so we have a broader set of strategies. Yes there’s only 30% of people in the U.S. that we think in incorporated areas but that’s still 30%. So, that’s something I’ve been really thinking about and trying to protect them from potentially unnecessary displacement.
Maya Carrasquillo: I guess I’ll add on to that. My focus isn’t necessarily in rural communities, but I’ve been very interested in this idea that even in urban spaces, a lot of our solutions are on infrastructure and even around climate adaptation requires you still be connected to the grid. So, if you’re disconnected from the grid even within urban spaces, particularly when we think about unhoused communities in the Bay Area in particular what does that look like? What does water access look like? What does energy access look like? What do access to these basic public services if you will, these basic forms of infrastructure that kind of govern how we navigate through lives or kind of dictate our quality of life, what does that look like?
And so, I think just going off of what Danielle said, there are people that even in our current strategies we’re constantly leaving out and I think it’s just going require us to again kind of reimagine and get a little bit creative in terms of our solutions around what do we mean when we say underserved. Who are the folks who are most vulnerable? And making sure that we’re not excluding even those who may be within the spaces but disconnected from the services that we often provide.
Zoe Hamstead: I guess I would just emphasize that we need to be really cautious about homogenizing places because people experience places in different ways depending on what resources you have access to. And so, I’m sort of fixated on this idea of climate refuge in that context and for whom is a particular climate a refuge and what is the experience of that climate like depending on who you are and just this call to really hold leaders accountable.
When you say that you want to be a receiving city in the midst of this crisis than make it so, don’t just pronounce, but actually do some planning, make some investments, work with communities to analyze the types of threats that long time residents could experience as well as new migrants, new refugees, new displaced peoples who you want to welcome.
Daniel Aldana Cohen: I really appreciate the constant reference, there is no big sweeping answer to this 100% and I’m really appreciative also of the rural focus because politically, morally, it’s essential. And I really appreciate the point you made about your family wanting to stay in their land. And the truth is that if it were impossible to stay in flood-prone land, then the Netherlands wouldn’t exist and yet, they are one of the truly thriving empires of all of the last half a millennium. So, clearly there are things that can be done, at least for now.
I think that just a couple things I want to highlight. One is, just, scale. I mean I think we’ve been talking at it from a kind of intimate community level which is appropriate, but again as Karen’s statistics, the amount of change coming from climate from breakdown and our reactions to it is unfathomably vast.
I think we have to be thinking at the scale of Second World War, the great anti-colonial revolt of the last century, the rise of capitalism itself, it’s just this will be the story. To me, the road we’re on is the eco-apartheid really. I mean we haven’t dwelled on it, but yes, militarized boarders, boarder walls getting people elected, what we’re seeing in places like Europe. That is the horrible road we’re on. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and I don’t know what the answer is, but I think the opposite of eco-apartheid would be something like multi-racial economic democracy. Not just multi-racial democracy, which would be good, but multi-racial economic democracy.
And we’ve raised endless questions about how would you decide and it shouldn’t be a decision that’s made by hired officials appointed by Donald Trump and his friends. And so, I think we have to even figure out what are the right questions to come up with the answers where people are assigned different categories are not pitted against in each other in a really grim world but where we are making decisions out of solidarity within communities and across boarders together to find some new way to flourish in a different kind of era.
So, those are the kind of big ideas I’m wrestling with. How it actually pans out, I don’t know. Hopefully we’ll all find out together. I’m very grateful to have a bunch of friends who work physically on the built environment because my abstract social graphs are very limited. And I think those of you who are specialists in the built environment are very, very important in an era when the remaking of the built environment is probably the single biggest decider of our future. So, thanks for hanging out with me.
Karen Chapple: Yeah. As an urban planner and somebody that thinks about the future, I always like to end panels on an up note: This is a solvable problem. And I’m sorry to say we can’t do that tonight, can we? But you know what? What we can do is be more conscious together of the places and the people that are traumatized on an ongoing basis by climate change and disasters.
And right now, we have an estimate that it’s almost half of the United States of the counties that have experienced climate change-related stresses in this last year and it’s growing and soon it will be most of us that will be experiencing this. And it’s going to take really remaking our institutions and opening our hearts in a way that we haven’t done really perhaps ever in some countries, a different way of thinking about sharing the resources that we have and collaborating together to make a more equitable future in the face of this disaster that we’re facing.
So, ladies and gentlemen, the climate equity and environmental justice cluster at University of California, Berkeley. Sorry Meg, we missed you tonight. I hope you’re feeling better. And please stay tuned because this is a community practice that’s growing at Berkeley, Toronto. Many universities around the world are focusing on this. There’s going to be a lot of creative work coming out and we’re counting on it to really raise awareness. So thank you tonight for joining.
[Music: “Silver Lanyard” by Blue Dot Sessions]
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