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2022-23 Projects

The EarthLab Innovations Grant Program was launched in 2019 to fund actionable environmental research. The 2022-23 EarthLab Innovation Grants program received 33 high-quality proposals for research at the intersection of climate change and social justice. Proposals were evaluated by an 11-member review committee that included faculty and staff from several disciplines and a community member from outside UW. The following programs were each awarded up to $75,000 to generate equitable and actionable science and knowledge that make a positive impact on people and communities. The award period lasts 16 months and final products are due by September 30, 2023. 

Image of Willapa Bay

Centering Place and Community to Address Climate Change and Social Justice

The proposed community-based participatory action research project is a collaborative research, planning and design initiative that will enable a UW research team to work with the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe to explore sustainable and culturally relevant strategies for an upland expansion in response to climate change-driven sea level rise and other threats to their coastal ecosystems and community. The situation is urgent as the reservation is located in the most rapidly eroding stretch of Pacific coastline in the US, on near-sea-level land vulnerable also to catastrophic tsunamis. The project will advance the Tribe’s master plan and collaboratively develop a model of climate adaptive, culture-affirming and change-mitigating environmental strategies for creating new infrastructure, housing and open spaces in newly acquired higher elevation land adjacent to the reservation. Design and planning strategies will draw on culturally-based place meanings and attachments to support a sense of continuity, ease the transition, and create new possibilities for re-grounding. Sustainable strategies generated by the project will draw on both traditional ecological knowledge and scientific modeling of environmental change. The project will involve the following methods and activities:

  1. The creation of a Tribal scientific and policy Advisory Board with representatives from the Tribal Council, elder, youth, state and county agencies, and indigenous architects and planners;
  2. Student-led collaborative team-building and research activities that will also engage Tribal youth;
  3. Systematic review of the Tribe’s and neighboring county plans;
  4. Interviews, focus groups and community workshops to identify priority actions, needs and strategies;
  5. Adaptation of existing research on sustainable master planning, design and carbon storing construction materials; and
  6. The development of culturally meaningful and sustainable building prototypes.

Deliverables include a report of findings summarizing community assets and values, and priorities for the upland expansion vetted by Tribal leaders, documentation and evaluation of the UW-community partnership and engagement process, digitized web- based geonarratives and storymaps, and technical recommendations for culturally-informed schematic designs, sustainable construction methods, and low-embodied carbon storing materials. The project process and outcomes will have broad applicability for other vulnerable coastal communities and can be used to support their climate adaptation efforts as well.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Daniel Abramson, College of Built Environments, Urban Design and Planning, University of Washington Seattle
Community Partner: Jamie Judkins, Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe


Duwamish Valley

Seattle Assessment of Public Health Preparedness and Response (SASPER): Duwamish Valley Pilot Project

The burden of climate change impacts are, and increasingly will be, disproportionately and unjustly experienced by communities of color, populations with lower incomes, and indigenous peoples. Disparities in wealth, income, social support and health status limit the capacity of individuals within these communities to prepare for and cope with climate impacts. Moreover, systemic racism and social marginalization limit political capital and voice of such communities in resilience planning. To counter this injustice, equitable approaches to adaptation require centering the voices and needs of those most vulnerable. Residents of Seattle’s own Duwamish Valley (DV), home to the designated “environmental justice communities” of South Park and Georgetown, are already experiencing their “unfair share” of climate change impacts. Over the past several years, flooding events have become more frequent and severe, and the area is expected to be among the city’s hardest hit by sea level rise. In response, the City of Seattle (City) and other partners plan to establish the Duwamish Valley Resilience District (DVRD) to center environmental justice and racial equity in adaptation to flood risks and other climate impacts. In partnership with the City, Duwamish Valley Community Coalition, and state and local public health agencies, we propose to conduct a “Seattle Assessment of Public Health Emergency Response” (SASPER), building on the CDC’s Community Assessment for Public Health Preparedness (CASPER) door-to-door survey methodology for pre- and post-disaster needs assessments, to identify and document household- and community-level climate change and health impacts and access to and needs for information and resources to promote resilience, as well as to provide pathways for community input into ongoing climate change adaptation planning. Leveraging community-engaged research partnerships developed and nurtured over many years, our goal is to facilitate the empowerment of the DV and other climate-vulnerable communities to actively engage in assessing and building resilience strategies tailored to their local conditions and needs. Our team of community and government partners will ensure results directly inform ongoing preparedness and resilience initiatives, and lessons learned from the project will drive future equity-centered approaches and guidance to climate and disaster needs assessment.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Nicole Errett, School of Public Health, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, Center
for Exposures, Diseases, Genomics and Environment (EDGE Center)
Community Partner: Alberto Rodriguez, City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment/Duwamish Valley
Program


Cultural Ecosystems in a changing world: building a network across the Northwest to support food sovereignty, climate adaptation, and land rights

This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars and community members from Washington State and British Columbia to convene the Salish Sea Cultural Ecosystems Knowledge Sharing Network. Pacific Northwest cultural ecosystems include forest gardens, camas prairies, mountain huckleberry meadows, and estuarine root gardens. These systems have been stewarded by Indigenous peoples for millenia and are central to their livelihoods and food systems. Many Indigenous cultivation practices that sustain these ecosystems–such as fire regimes or regular harvesting–have been suppressed in the US and Canada. Despite these disruptions, a growing number of Pacific Northwest Indigenous communities are revitalizing these ecosystems as part of their food sovereignty initiatives. The purpose of the Network is to connect Indigenous Nations and researchers who are engaged in cultural ecosystem and climate change impact research to support these efforts. Our primary goals include:

  1. Defining the Network: Creating a research agenda and action plan reflecting the needs and priorities of participating Tribal and First Nations participants;
  2. Cultivating the Network: identifying, perpetuating and restoring cultural ecosystems in support of Indigenous food sovereignty in a changing climate through intertribal and transborder exchange of information related to cultural ecosystem conservation;
  3. Perpetuating the Network: training future leaders in cultural ecosystems conservation and management. To accomplish these goals we will organize three Convenings. C1, Summer 2022: Community representatives and researchers will discuss interfaces between this project, community interests, and research. C2, Fall 2022: Field trip to Sts’ailes First Nation forest gardens to continue discussions about cultural ecosystems and climate change. C3, Spring 2023: Workshop at the Living Breath of wǝɫǝbʔaltxw symposium, to solidify the action plan and launch the digital platform and educational materials. Proposed deliverables include the Action Plan, development of a digital platform to facilitate knowledge-sharing, and development of educational materials designed for broader audiences. These products will serve as a departure point for future work to identify, safeguard, and revitalize cultural ecosystems and expand the Network to advocate for land and resource sovereignty for Indigenous Peoples in a changing climate.

Research Team
Principal Investigator: Sara Gonzalez, Arts and Sciences, Anthropology
Community Partner: Joyce LeCompte, Camassia Resource Stewardship


Person holding freshly picked berries

Hunting for healing: An academic and Colville Nation collaboration seeking to examine traditional food sources in light of environmental changes

The academic partners, Dr. Derek Jennings (Anishinaabe Sac & Fox, Degiha Sioux Quapaw) and Dr. Michael Spencer (Kānaka Maoli/Native Hawaiian) and student, Benally, are seeking to partner with the Confederated Colville Nation Traditional Territories Advisor, John Sirios (Colville) to address traditional forms of diet as related to land, health, and climate change. They are currently seeking to identity needs and develop effective strategies to mitigate the influence of climate change on traditional lands and foods. The Colville Nation has identified climate change as a factor in altering traditional food practices and hunting, as well as related heath. Drawing from Dr. Jennings’ expertise with photovoice, the team will work with the Colville nation, with Mr. Sirois as point of contact, to accomplish the following aims:

  • AIM 1. They will identify an advisory council of approximately 5-10 CCT key stakeholders (ages 18 and above).
  • AIM 2. The team will work with Mr. Sirois to identify and map Colville traditional territories, food sources and identify how food access has been impacted by climate change; thereby producing a community report.
  • AIM 3. The team will further conduct one photovoice project in which they will work with the advisory council to identify 20 CCT adults, ages 18 and over, to participate.

This exploratory study will identify barriers and supports for traditional food practices in the face of climate change. It will further provide the basis for future land and health interventions, as well food sovereignty, in tracking and revitalizing traditional foods, as guided by the voices of the community. This project further has applicability to other tribal nations who are also facing climate change and a change in traditional food practices, which could improve overall health and social justice.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Derek Jennings, Public Health, HSPOP, UW
Community Partner: John Sirois, Confederated Colville Tribal Reservation Traditional Territories Advisor


Snapshot of Seattle neighborhoods in an aerial view

The Housing Spectrum, Temperature Extremes, and the Costs of Thermal Safety and Comfort: A Community-Informed Policy Evaluation of Weatherization and Energy Assistance Programs

This project addresses a basic but fundamental question faced disproportionately by the Seattle area’s least-resourced residents: how to stay dry enough, warm enough, or cool enough to be healthy, comfortable, and alive amid increasing climate and temperature extremes. As a changing climate brings with it the likelihood of more frequent extreme weather and temperature events, policymakers worldwide are pursuing climate adaptation strategies to improve the resilience of public and private systems and infrastructure. Following decades of organizing largely led by BIPOC communities, “fenceline” communities, and other historically marginalized groups that have long borne the disproportionate impacts of environmental harms, policymakers are beginning to include climate justice, environmental justice, and the idea of a “just transition” in their plans. At the federal level, this includes the Biden administration’s “Justice40” Initiative; at the state level, the Washington legislature’s 2021 Climate Commitment Act; at the local level, Seattle’s Green New Deal Oversight board. While encouraging, these policy projects are just the beginning of what is needed to ensure that the next century is one in which all members of society can survive and thrive in the face of mounting climate risks. Among the most fundamental of these are the challenges faced by underserved and historically marginalized neighbors in maintaining thermal comfort and safety. This project focuses on the methods, challenges, and costs of achieving thermal comfort and safety amid increasing temperature extremes faced by people living on the cusp of very low-rent housing and improvised housing (including people living in RVs, tents, temporary shelters, etc.) This is at the intersection of energy transition and resilience impacts, which sits at the very heart of what can make or break a “just transition.” Dealing with temperature extremes comes at a high and disproportionate cost, whether it is fuel for a generator to cool an RV with air conditioning, electric heat in a poorly insulated apartment, or the pale-blue flame of hand sanitizer being burned to heat a tent. This begs the question: What are the implications for climate justice of disproportionate energy-cost burdens on low-income renters and unsheltered neighbors?

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Samuel Kay, College of Arts and Sciences, Geography, University of Washington
Community Partner: Debolina Banerjee, Puget Sound Sage


Image of Seattle Freeway System

Reverse Redlining

Zip codes remain a remarkable predictor of life expectancy in the United States. The law has played an unflattering role in shaping that reality. In particular, legal frameworks – redlining, mortgage lending practices, environmental siting of industrial and waste facilities – have combined over time to create a disturbing pattern of health disparities across the United States. It is a pattern in which communities of color and low-income communities bear the brunt of environmental pollution and the associated health consequences. And though some efforts have been made to address environmental justice issues in law, those efforts have made little progress in undoing the systemic patterns of health inequities across communities.

This project – Reverse Redlining – is driven by community demand and participation. It uses the tools of environmental health, community engagement, and law to reduce existing environmental health disparities and build community resilience in adapting to the health effects of climate hazards. At its core, the project designs a regulatory response to protect areas facing disproportionate environmental health risks from further harm by prohibiting new environmental burdens of disease until the community has achieved certain acceptable health metrics.

The Reverse Redlining project starts by recognizing that geographic place based laws have played a substantial role in the creation of environmental health inequities and that a place-based response is therefore necessary to undoing the existing patterns of harm. It advances the idea that addressing health resiliency in overburdened communities is part and parcel of climate adaptation and mitigation. Because climate change intensifies existing health disparities, climate adaptation efforts must expand beyond infrastructure planning (e.g. building storm water capacity, sea walls, or fire management systems) and actively work towards building resiliency in community health. Reducing exposure where it is historically worst has the potential not only to reduce environmental health disparities, but improve environmental outcomes statewide as adding to the collective environmental burden of disease becomes more difficult and resilience at its most threatened points is strengthened. Improved outcomes can be expected for both conventional pollutants as well as greenhouse gas emissions.

Research Team:
Principal Investigator: Sanne Knudsen, School of Law, UW
Community Partner: Deric Gruen, Front and Centered