Areas of Expertise

ClimatE Justice

I am in the process of co-editing a special issue of the journal Climatic Change, with Dr. Chris Knudson at University of Hawai’i at Hilo. The issue, titled “Climate finance justice: International perspectives on climate policy, social justice, and capital,” critically explores emerging financial mechanisms used to address climate change. The idea grew out of a successful paper session at the American Association of Geographers annual meeting in spring 2018 in New Orleans. I have a research article in the issue titled, “Navigating the new carbon economy: What the commodification of carbon means for climate justice discourses,” which argues that understandings of climate change are increasingly distilled to engagement with a single variable-- anthropogenic carbon emissions—which challenges common ways of conceptualizing marginalization, risk, vulnerability, and responsibility.

carbon offsets

My dissertation research was driven by the question: How is a forest carbon offset made? What are the specific political, technical, institutional, environmental, and policy-based factors that contribute to the creation of a tradable carbon offset credit? To answer this, I researched a forest carbon offset project in Maine tied to California’s cap and trade program, and another in Peru tied to a voluntary carbon market. I supplemented these case studies with participant observation in professional carbon accounting training courses. Ultimately, my dissertation demonstrated how a mechanism originally designed to address industrial greenhouse gas emissions has become a major tool for forest conservation and economic development— essentially how climate policy in one place has driven large scale investment in another. I found that, in achieving mutually exclusive goals, these mechanisms often overlook the atmospheric carbon concentrations they were designed to address.

Recently I've been researching the emerging use of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology to verify carbon offsets.

I have been working to articulate a subfield in the critical social sciences that situates carbon as an object of inquiry, and asks how, and by whom, carbon is made a commodity. In the context of climate change, and in particular markets for carbon, this theoretical work can help us think through the complexity of bureaucratic governance structures, the role of expertise, and the messiness of policy production and implementation.

In that vein, I was invited by the editors of PoLAR: Political and Legal Anthropology Review to write a response to an online symposium on Climate Transformations. The pieces were highly theoretical and have informed my work on the commodification of carbon. You can read my contribution here:

Carbon commodification