In 2020, SSL launched a Seed Grant Program to incentivize interdisciplinary climate justice research. This initiative is part of a broader goal to foster scholarship that examines the impact of climate change on those most vulnerable to systemic inequities. Each Seed Grant award is for $7,500.
Novel Research in Climate Justice: Developing a psychological ecosystem services approach for linking access to blue and green spaces with mental health challenges in vulnerable urban communities.
Mental health stressors that stem from climate-change-related hazardous events disproportionately affect marginalized communities, and there is a growing body of literature that demonstrates the positive mental health effects of open spaces. Ellen Douglas, Associate Dean and Professor of Hydrology for the School for the Environment, and Tania Ploumi, PhD candidate in the School for the Environment, are researching the benefits of open space for a vulnerable urban community through the lens of psychological ecosystem services and climate justice using Dorchester as a case study.
“Given the specter of climate change and the imperatives of climate justice, it is crucial to identify the connections between mental health and natural features in the urban environment and use these insights to inform resilience planning for vulnerable communities, especially those who are at risk of climate change impacts and lack access to safe urban blue and green spaces,” says Douglas.
Dorchester, a racially and economically diverse, historic Boston community, experiences various forms of climate impacts, including risks for flooding and extreme heat conditions. In addition, Dorchester residents reported higher rates of persistent mental health issues than in other parts of the city.
Hurricanes, Floods, and Fires: What are the Employment Impacts of Climate Change?
Keren M. Horn, Associate Professor of Economics, College of Liberal Arts, and Dania V. Francis, Assistant Professor of Economics, College of Liberal Arts, are exploring the employment impacts of natural hazards, particularly for lower-income and minority individuals in their study titled, “Hurricanes, Floods, and Fires: What are the Employment Impacts of Climate Change?”
"Our work will examine how natural hazards, which are becoming increasingly more likely, affect individual employment trajectories,” said Horn. “We are very much looking forward to working with SSL to inform federal policy responses to natural disasters in a way that will lead to more equitable economic recoveries."
Horn and Francis are particularly interested in studying the impacts of these events on those most vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change, specifically households that have weaker connections to the labor market and fewer personal resources to cushion them from the negative impacts of such a disaster.
Living in an Environmental Justice Community and its Impact on Birth Outcomes
Media stories and policies often focus more on property damage and flood insurance rates than on displacement or public health. The second seed grant winner Lisa Heelan-Fancher, Assistant Professor of Nursing, College of Nursing and Health Sciences, is working to fill that gap in focus with her research project titled “Living in an Environmental Justice Community and its Impact on Birth Outcomes.”
Air pollution and climate change have been associated with preterm birth and low birth weight infants, and Black women have the highest rate of preterm birth in Massachusetts. Heelan-Fancher's study will examine the association between living in an environmental justice community in Boston and Suffolk County and its impact on birth outcomes. (An environmental justice community is at increased risk of experiencing disproportionate environmental harms.)
“Our goal is to contribute the needed evidence so that the environmental justice advisory council in Massachusetts can determine how to allocate funding and support for the projects in the areas we will study,” said Heelan-Fancher.
Leave the Trees: Culture, Climate Justice, and Black Diasporas in Boston
Professor Quito Swan and Assistant Professor Layla D. Brown-Vincent of the Africana Studies department in the College of Liberal Arts are using their SSL Seed Grant to explore how the Black Diaspora has engaged in climate justice through a pop culture lens. The aim of the “Leave the Trees” project is to generate an archive of discourse and experience that can support the development of sustainable solutions for the Black community. Additionally, they will map contemporary Black climate justice activists and organizations in the Boston area.
Climate Justice and the Power of Knowledge in Gloucester's Fishing Industry
Over the last fifty years, federal and state policies driven by environmental factors have profoundly affected the fishing industry of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Assistant Professors Antonio Raciti and Alan Wiig and Associate Professor Rosalyn Negrón of the School for the Environment are applying their SSL Seed Grant funds to a project that integrates three disciplines (anthropology, geography, and planning) to examine how climate justice is perceived by the fishing industry and the community.
The research team is evaluating the impact of stakeholders in the fishing industry having different understandings of what climate justice means. The main goal is to identify a path that takes those varied climate justice philosophies and transforms them into a shared vision of what equitable decision-making looks like in the face of climate change.