Reflections on Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change
On November 7th and 8th Urban@UW, in collaboration with the University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group (CIG), hosted a symposium to begin transdisciplinary conversation on the multifaceted dynamics and consequences of Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change (UEJ). Below are some reflections from this event, and a sample of the resources we’ll be sharing from our time together.
Urban environmental justice has been impacting cities for centuries, if not millennia, where unequal power distribution creates disparate living conditions that typically fall along racial, ethnic, and class lines. Climate change is expected to accelerate already existing injustices in vulnerable communities. Flooding islands and coastlines, drought conditions, erosion, aridity, and soil loss are already impacting multitudes of marginalized as well as traditionally subsistence and agricultural communities.
Jacqui Patterson, Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, argued during her Walker-Ames lecture that these communities are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine, but that impacts will not be isolated to such communities. Rather, given time and continued inaction, people of all races and classes will invariably experience the hardships wrought by the adverse conditions of climate change.
Given the scale of impacts of these challenges, a major goal of the UEJ symposium was to gather community leaders, academics, and the public to begin learning from each other on the topic of urban environmental justice: what are you studying, what are you finding, what’s working and what’s not, what partnerships could be made? Perhaps most critically, how does academia engage with communities and institutions in a way that is not only respectful, but collaborative and community-driven?
While academics have been working on environmental justice issues for decades, this work too often tends to operate within the confines of the academy and overlooks stakeholder input. Speakers at the UEJ symposium, experts in this field, explained that this tendency leads to insulated input from those most affected, and further confines data and analysis to traditional quantitative information such as geospatial data, census results, and other forms of ‘hard data.’ This pattern thus restricts the inclusion of “non-traditional” forms of data, notably those understandings drawn from the lived experiences of those most affected. Therefore the goal is not simply to include more types of information, but to combine quantitative and qualitative data through collaboration between researchers and communities in order to more robustly and comprehensively document injustices in a way that allows legibility, participation, and engagement of a greater diversity of people, scholars, and community members.
A further challenge comes in addressing the deep structural issues of racism, sexism, and classism that pervade the behavior of some communities as well as larger social and political institutions. Tom Goldtooth, director of Indigenous Environmental Network, spoke to us via live audio feed from Standing Rock and made clear to the audience that although the scale of this particular protest may be significant, this is just an example of the repeatedly lived experiences for disenfranchised peoples wherein the needs and actions of state actors and/or corporations are able to avoid repercussions of land seizure, pollution, or treaty infringements.
Furthermore, the scope of injustices is not simply urban. While cities have increasingly been the focus of a trove of writing on the topic, a more accurate perspective must recognize that urban does not simply mean “city” – but should better refer to the regions that urban, peri-urban, and rural communities all participate in. While cities may have denser populations, environmental justice persists across the entire spectrum of environments. Julie Sze, professor and Chair of American Studies at UC-Davis, explained the demarcations of neighborhood, town, or city all fail to account for the scale of consequences of climate change effects and environmental injustices, and argued for the necessity of deep, inclusive collaboration and communication.
Many visiting scholars and panelists, including Mia White, Rachel Morello-Frosch, Kim Powe, and Jill Mangaliman, indicated that environmental injustices are not rooted in isolated moments of conflict, but rather are the result of a sustained conflict where market forces and structural disenfranchisement may repeatedly infringe upon sovereignty, food systems, human health and well-being, and environmental integrity. Discovering points of action in these complex issues will require that academics and others collapse the usual barriers of collaboration and information access.
Looking forward, the conversation among scholars, activists and other attendees argued that a failure to reach across usual lines—of discipline, sector, class, race, gender, and other differences—will effect the continued, critical loss of skills and experiences for both students and scholars, that may be compounded by a collective loss for the academy and their communities to know and learn from each other. Scientists, policymakers, community members and others can make it so their work is not only collaborative, but inclusive and broadly informed.
Below is a selection of readings from the speakers who joined us for this event. More resources, including video from the event, will be published soon.
Tom Goldtooth,Why REDD/REDD+ Is Not a Solution, No REDD Papers Volume 1, edited by Hallie Boas,13-25, Indigenous Environmental Network and Carbon Trade Watch, 2011.
Julie Sze, “Exploratory Concepts, Case Studies and Keywords for Teaching Environmental Justice and Climate Change from the Humanities”,Teaching Climate Change in Literary and Cultural Studies, edited by Stephanie LeMenager, Stephen Siperstein and Shane Hall, 184-190. Routledge, 2017.
Urban@UW hosted the Urban Environmental Justice in a Time of Climate Change Symposium together with the Climate Impacts Group, and was a sponsor for the Graduate School’s Walker Ames lecture featuring Jacqui Patterson.
Looking ahead to July, Recapping June
Looking forward into July - Unlikely Allies is coming to Seattle right after July 4th weekend.
Impact Hub Seattle is hosting the Unlikely Allies: Future of Cities Festival in partnership with the Impact Hub Company - the organization that coordinates the network’s 89 locations worldwide. More than 200 delegates from 70 cities will be joining us for this exciting event!
Unlikely Allies is a two-day festival that takes place in one new city each year, bringing together global and local thought leaders, change-makers, inspired citizens and their unlikely allies: the hackers, artists, policy makers, activists, corporate innovators and designers needed to make real change happen on key issues of our world today.
The full program agenda is available online and includes keynotes by Majora Carter (Startup Box), Carol Coletta (Kresge Foundation), Shayna Englen (Change.org), Jason McLennan (Living Futures Institute) - and master classes, think tanks and learning expeditions around the city focused on homelessness, arts + creativity, climate change and civic engagement.
Urban@UW compiles monthly recaps highlighting the urban research happening across the University of Washington.
Q&A: CLPP’s Sam Méndez on Washington’s pot industry and how marijuana is becoming like wine
The Cannabis Law and Policy Project, based in the University of Washington School of Law, was formed by professor Sean O’Connor in fall 2014 to be a center for researching regulatory issues around the state’s new legal cannabis industry. The group recently published its first report for the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), which found that the amount of marijuana currently allowed to be grown by state-licensed producers in Washington is enough to satisfy both the medical and recreational marijuana markets.
The project’s executive director, , recently sat down for an interview with UW Today to talk about the report and the state’s rapidly evolving pot industry.
Q: Your study estimates that between 1.7 and 2 million square feet of marijuana plant production will be needed to meet Washington’s medical marijuana market. How did you reach that estimate?
SM: We had our phone survey of dispensaries, which produced a couple of figures we relied on, the two big ones being the estimated number of dispensaries in the state, 273, and the estimated average monthly sales of marijuana flower. From those monthly sales, we then estimated annual sales for the whole state. With those figures, we utilized other research to estimate the canopy, or square footage, of marijuana plants needed to satisfy patient demand.
Smoking marijuana is not the only way people use it. It can be consumed in a variety of ways, and we made three broad categorizations of these uses: flower, which is generally smoked, edibles and concentrates. We realized early on that not accounting for these other forms of use would create a big hole in our estimates. I think as time goes on, you’re going to see those being consumed more. A lot of people, particularly new entrants to the cannabis market, are concerned about the health effects of smoking, so I expect market share of edibles and concentrates to grow over time.
Q: What challenges were there in conducting this research?
SM: We had to learn as we went along. Something that the students and I learned as we were producing the report was the difficulty in generalizing edibles and concentrates. First of all, there’s a huge variety of products out there of varying size and prices, though most servings now contain 10 milligrams of THC. Second, these products are generally not made from buds — flower — they’re extracted from “shake,” or basically leftovers of the marijuana plant. This was just one of many complications in the calculations that we had to account for. There were other complications that, given the time and resources we had, we simply couldn’t account for.
Also, there was the challenge of finding solid data on what has long been a black market and a stigmatized market. How many dispensaries are in the state? That’s actually a pretty hard number to come up with. Other states have medical marijuana systems where product and stores are regulated and tracked, but for a variety of reasons that never really happened in Washington. So the state didn’t really know how many dispensaries were out there. Just about anybody could set up shop, put a green cross out front and start selling product.
The other challenge was what we could do with our limited time and resources. We had about three months to do it. It wasn’t just 273 dispensaries that the students called. We came up with 467 potential dispensaries. Some of those were wrong numbers; some had gone out of business. But we had to call every single one. Of the ones that we got no response from, we had to call back. It was 600 to 700 phone calls that the students had to make in those couple of months.
Q: Under state law, all dispensaries must convert to retail stores or close by July 1 of this year. What does that mean for dispensaries and their customers?
SM: Under the new laws, registered patients will be able to grow up to six plants on their own, and they can set up collective gardens. Aside from that — or buying illegally, which is still a significant issue — they will have to go to a licensed retail marijuana store. These new laws effectively end the medical marijuana system as we’ve known it by bringing it under the umbrella of the recreational marijuana system. Stores will have to get an endorsement by the state to sell medical marijuana. To date, about 80 percent of stores will have this. The LCB has capped retail licenses at 556 for the state. To date, 359 licenses have been issued, and 276 of those have reported sales.
One thing I’ve heard that has people in the medical marijuana community frustrated is that patients have to get onto a patient registry that the state government is setting up. Patients can possess a larger amount of marijuana and don’t have to pay sales tax on it. But some patients, at least, don’t want to be on some government list. There are also claims out there that the LCB is underestimating patient demand. I’m sure there are other complaints as well, and the LCB is doing the best they can to accommodate patients and the market as a whole.
Q: What does the change mean for the industry overall in the state?
SM: It’s transforming the entire market, so it’s going to change a lot. A lot of dispensaries have shut down, some have left the state, and many have converted to retail stores. That’s been going on for the last year or so. There’s a limited number of stores that can operate in each locality. For example, Seattle was recently allotted an additional 21 retail licenses by the LCB, far lower than the number of applicants out there. So not everyone, even if they were good actors, could get a license to operate.
The market right now is pretty volatile. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s going to settle down. You’re going to see a system that is now tracked and taxed, and the state will know in a way it didn’t before how many stores are operating, how much product is being sold and moved around, and how many patients are using product, at least in the legitimized system. Again, combating the black market will continue to be an issue.
Q: How much is the recreational market worth?
SM: According to the LCB’s dashboard webpage, total retail recreational marijuana sales for 2016 to date in Washington are nearing $850 million, compared with about $260 million in 2015. Certainly a lot of growth for one year. Give it five years. It’s going to be a lot bigger.
A report from ArcView in California estimates that the national market will grow from $7.1 billion this year to $22.8 billion in 2020 – three times as big in the course of four years. A number of people I’ve spoken to, policymakers as well, believe the horse is out of the barn — that this is not going to be shut down by the federal government. You already have 58 percent of the American public that is in favor of legalization. The federal government would be picking a big fight at this point if they shut down state-legal marijuana.
Q: Where is Washington’s marijuana grown?
SM: Most outdoor marijuana is grown in Eastern Washington, where there’s more sunlight and more cheap space. Indoor operations are all over the state, but it becomes a simple question of profitability. Where is real estate cheap? Indoor grows are not restricted by weather like outdoor grows are, but it’s a lot more expensive to grow indoors.
The advantage with indoor is you can do multiple harvests a year. You’re not restricted by the seasons and lack of sunlight in winter. But indoor operations take a lot more capital to set up. It takes a lot of money to set up a greenhouse and all the systems and equipment.
The price of marijuana is going down, and long term there’s no reason to think it’s going to go up again. One producer has told me the future of marijuana production is outdoors, simply because it’ll be so much cheaper to operate. He’s probably right.
Q: How do you see the market evolving over the next five years?
SM: I think the biggest change you’re going to see is the market divided into different price points. Some have compared it to the wine industry — on the bottom you have your cheap wine that is produced and consumed in massive quantities, and on the top you have the high-quality and expensive stuff. Different customers will be attracted to different parts of this spectrum.
The Washington market is also going to be affected by what’s happening nationwide. The big one that everyone’s talking about is California possibly going legal. That will transform the entire industry. California is the seventh largest economy in the world and is responsible for 80 percent of all marijuana grown in the United States. It’s easily bigger than all the other four legal marijuana states combined, and just about everyone in the industry thinks California will legalize it this year.
So that will affect the market in Washington, because as more states go legal you’re going to see less marijuana tourism. It’s going to be less of a novelty. It will affect the economy in a number of other ways too.
Q: So that’s not necessarily going to be good for the market here?
SM: Well, it depends on your perspective. Good for consumers? Probably. Cheap goods are generally good for consumers. A lot of people are not happy about this becoming a corporatized industry, and I think that’s something you can expect in the next five years. There are public health concerns too. I think you’re going to see a lot more investing in the market, and you’re going to see the system increasingly corporatized, which is to say you’re going to see some very big players, and that’s going to squeeze small businesses.
Anybody who had some notion that this would just be a bunch of local mom-and-pop shops is going to be disappointed. For better or for worse, we live in a country with some very large corporations that dominate our economy. For small businesses, being bought by those corporations is often the path to success. Is that a good or bad thing? It depends who you ask.
For more information, contact Méndez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 206-616-3920.
(Originally published by UW Today Blog & Deborah Bach)
Quick Recap: Here’s What Happened in May!
May saw a lot of wonderful events, visitors, and research coming out of the University of Washington community. Here’s a quick recap:
One Year On, Seattle Explores Impact Of $15 Minimum Wage Law
NPR’s Ari Shapiro talks with University of Washington Professor Jacob Vigdor about the state of the minimum wage in Seattle, as California and New York move to lift their minimum wages to $15.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Now, let’s dig deeper into what has happened in Seattle, one of the first big cities to pass that $15 minimum wage law. That happened in 2014. Joining us now is Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington professor who’s running a city-funded study on the minimum wage law. Welcome to the show.
JACOB VIGDOR: Thanks for having me, Ari. It’s a pleasure to be here.
SHAPIRO: And so Seattle is phasing in the minimum wage law over time. It’s going to hit $15 an hour in a few years. So far, what have you seen with the wage hike?
VIGDOR: So far, as of January 1 of this year, the large employers in Seattle are now paying $13 an hour, and the smaller businesses get to pay a little bit less. So far, the impacts seem to be not too great here. We’ve seen some impacts on prices, but in terms of employment or other sorts of things, not too much.
SHAPIRO: So things are not costing a lot more. Employment is not dramatically dropping. It doesn’t look like people are getting laid off because of the wage hike. What about people who were making the minimum wage who are now making more money? Has it had much impact on them?