Environment and Society

Research Collective

In both local and global contexts, humans are radically modifying the environment and producing new societal risks. In light of these developments, my program of research examines (1) why we respond to these changes in the ways that we do; and (2) what our actions reveal about society and our fraught relationship with nature and each other. This research frequently involves working with students at CU Denver and collaborating with scholars across the academy, making this a true international collective for environment and society research.

I am involved with several projects, which seek to (a) detail how environment and development objectives are defined rhetorically, substantiated scientifically, organized administratively and negotiated politically; (b) expose program/policy tensions that produce undesirable and inequitable social/environmental conditions; and (c) describe the emergence of new governance arrangements that reconcile program tensions and produce alternative and more socially and ecologically just outcomes. 

Use the research links below for descriptions of research areas. A full list of Publications can be found in the tab above.

Vulnerability, Urbanization and Wildfires

Climate change, wildfires and urbanization are changing the American West.

We explore the relationship between affluence and vulnerability to understand these changes and the risks and rewards they produce.

This research area explores conditions influencing social vulnerability to wildfire hazards, climate change and urban environmental transformations, while also examining factors that inhibit risk reduction efforts. This research is inspired by my own exposure to wildfires growing up in California, and the increasingly serious threats wildfires, climate change and economic development pose to the region.

Central to this research are the concepts ‘Vulnerability-in-Production’ and the ‘Affluence-Vulnerability Interface’, which help us think through the interwoven relationship between economic development and vulnerable communities and households. My book Flame and Fortune in American West explores these topics in great detail. I have also co-edited a book with Dr. Sarah Dooling titled Cities, Nature, Development: The Politics and Production of Urban Vulnerabilities.

For a detailed examination of 'Vulnerability-in-Production', please read here and also here. Further insights on the 'Affluence-Vulnerability Interface' can be found here in relation to wildfires, and here in relation to climate change related hazards. Many insights in these essays and visualizations were developed while a researcher in Stanford University’s Spatial History Lab, and later with Dr. Christine Eriksen as a Visiting Scholar at ETH Zurich. This essay explores how fires are depoliticized and stripped of political economic considerations. This article with CU Denver colleagues connects accelerated environmental change, economic growth and vulnerabilities to pandemics

 

Relevant Publications

  • C. Eriksen, GL. Simon, F. Roth, S. Lakhina, B. Wisner, C. Adler, F. Thomalla, A. Scolobig, K. Brady, M. Brundl, F. Neisser, N. Grenfell, L. Maduz, T. Prior. (2020) “Rethinking the Interplay Between Vulnerability and Affluence to Aid Climate Change Adaptive Capacity” Climatic Change, 162:1, pp. 25-39

  • A. Chin, GL. Simon, P. Anthamatten, KC. Kelsey, BR. Crawford, AJ. Weaver. (2020) “Pandemics and the Future of Human-Landscape Interactions” Anthropocene 31,100256

  • GL. Simon. (2018) “How the West Was Spun: The De-politicization of Fire in the American West” In, Lave R, Biermann C, Lane S. (eds) Handbook on Critical Physical Geography Palgrave Macmillan 

  • GL. Simon. (2017) Flame and Fortune in the American West: Urban Development, Environmental Change and the Great Oakland Hills Fire University of California Press, Oakland, CA

  • C. Eriksen, GL. Simon. (2017) “The Affluence-Vulnerability Interface: Intersecting Scales of Risk, Privilege and Disaster” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 49:2 pp. 293-313

  • A. Kinoshita, A. Chin, GL. Simon, C. Briles, T. Hogue, A. O’Dowd, A. Gerlak, A. Uribe*. (2016) “Wildfire, Water and Society: Toward Integrative Research in the “Anthropocene”” Anthropocene 16 pp. 16-27

  • A. Chin, L. An, J.L. Florsheim, L.R. Laurencio, R.A. Marston, A.P. Solverson*, GL. Simon, E. Stinson*, E. Wohl. (2015) “Investigating feedbacks in human-landscape systems: Lessons following a wildfire in Colorado, USA.” Geomorphology 252 pp. 40-50

  • GL. Simon. (2014) “Vulnerability-in-Production: A Spatial History of Nature, Affluence and Fire in Oakland, California” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104:6 pp. 1199-1221

  • GL. Simon and S. Dooling. (2013) “Flame and Fortune in California: The Material and Political Dimensions of Vulnerability” Global Environmental Change 23:6 pp. 1410-1423 

  • S. Dooling and GL. Simon. (2012) (Co-Editors) Cities, Nature, Development: The Politics and Production of Urban Vulnerabilities Ashgate Publishing. Aldershot, UK. 

 

International Development and Clean Cookstoves

What can domestic cookstoves and energy use tell us about the failures and achievements of international development projects? From climate change mitigation to forest conservation and gender empowerment, the answer is a lot!

This longstanding project examines technology-based, international development projects targeting kitchens and cookstoves to address complex socio-environmental problems—including climate change, deforestation and women’s empowerment. Based in India, this National Science Foundation funded research is motivated by a continuous stream of development rhetoric and practices that fail to meet the needs of targeted communities.

For a review detailing how the pursuit of climate change mitigation through carbon finance influences and undermines program effectiveness please read here, and here. For a critical review of misleading deforestation and fuelwood collection narratives associated with these projects, please read here. We argue here that efforts to regulate indoor air suggest that indoor environments are an important (though often overlooked) frontier for environmental research. 

We fundamentally challenge the notion of ‘women’s empowerment’ and ‘time savings’ as they relate to development projects here. The role of brokers and intermediaries in development projects are detailed here and here. A detailed review of current debates and research needs in the clean cookstoves sector can be found here. Based on drawings of fuelwood collection routes, this article offers a framework for assessing counter maps, critical cartographies and drawings that may counter top-down development perspectives. I am currently working on a project with Dr. Deepti Chatti using qualitative and spatial data to assess access to liquified petroleum gas in two field sites in India. 

 

Relevant Publications 

  • GL. Simon, B. Wee, D. Chatti, E. Anderson*. (2021) “Drawing on Knowledge: Visual Narrative Analysis for Critical Environment and Development Research” Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space

  • GL. Simon, C. Peterson*, E. Anderson*, B. Berve*, M. Caturia*, I. Rivera*. (2021) “Multiple Temporalities of Household Labour and the Challenge of Assessing Women’s Empowerment” Development and Change 

  • GL. Simon, C. Peterson*. (2019) “Disingenuous Forests: A Historical Political Ecology of Fuelwood Collection and Forest Cover Change in South India” Journal of Historical Geography 63:1 pp. 34-47

  • GL. Simon. (2014) “If You Can’t Stand the Heat, Get Into the Kitchen: Obligatory Passage Points and Mutually Supported Impediments at the Climate-Development Interface” Area 46:3 pp. 268-277

  • GL. Simon, R. Bailis, J. Baumgarner, J. Hyman, A. Laurent. (2014) “Current Debates and Future Research Needs in the Clean Cookstove Sector” Energy for Sustainable Development 20 pp. 49-57

  • GL. Simon, A. Bumpus, P. Mann. (2013) “Win-Win Scenarios at the Climate-Development Interface: Challenges and Opportunities for Cookstove Replacement Programs Through Carbon Finance” Global Environmental Change 22:1 pp. 275-287

  • D. Biehler and GL. Simon. (2011) “The Great Indoors: Research Frontiers on Indoor Environments as Active Political Ecological Spaces” Progress in Human Geography 35: 2 pp. 172-192 

  • GL. Simon. (2011) “Mobilizing Cookstoves for Development: A Dual Adoption Framework Analysis of Collaborative Technology Innovations in Western India” Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space 42 pp. 2011-2030

  • GL. Simon. (2009) “Geographies of Mediation: Market Development and the Rural Broker in Maharashtra, India.” Political Geography 28:3 pp. 197-207

 

Environmental Knowledge and Ignorance

What do we know and what don't we know about the environment. Are we aware of our knowledge and ignorance? This research examines how power influences knowledge and knowledge deficiencies in environmental decision making. 

The delineation between what we know and don’t know about the environment appears straightforward. This research challenges this dichotomous thinking by examining the illusory nature of our knowledge in relation to our knowledge awareness. I examine how power and influence shape when, what and why environmental knowledge is known and unknown by different groups. To do so, I use a ‘critical first- and second-order knowledge’ (C-FSOK) framework, which is based on the following concepts: ‘disavowed known-knowns’, ‘accepted known-knowns’, ‘regressive unknown-unknowns’, ‘pernicious known-unknowns’ and ‘stealth unknown-knowns’. I argue this framework is useful because it helps us understand the relationship between an individual’s or group’s knowledge of the environment and that party’s awareness of their knowledge. It guides us to explore, for example, whether we know our ignorance or are ignorant of what we know. 

 

A full description of these knowledge types can be found here (check back soon for details). For insights on the concepts ‘stealth unknown-knowns’ and ‘disingenuous nature’ read here. Check back here soon for an article, with Dr. Trevor Birkenholtz, describing modalities of ignorance and uncertainty in geography and environmental research. 

 

Relevant Publications 

  • GL. Simon. (In Review) “Known-Knowns, Known-Unknowns, Unknown-Knowns, Unknown-Unknowns: A Critical Environmental Appraisal” Geoforum

  • T. Birkenholtz and GL. Simon. (In Review) “Not Knowing: Uncertainty and Lack of Knowledge in Environmental Decision Making” Introduction to Special Issue in Geoforum

  • GL. Simon. (2018) “The Rise of Disingenuous Nature and Neoliberal Stealth Unknown-Knowns” In “Reflecting on Neoliberal Natures: An Exchange” P. Bigger, J. Dempsey, A. Asiyanbi, K. Kay, R. Lave, B. Mansfield, T. Osborne, M. Robertson, G. Simon Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1:1-2 pp. 25-75

 

The People and Patterns of Food Delivery

Home food delivery is a rapidly expanding economic sector in US cities.

Who are the people and what are the risks associated with this "last food mile"? 

Cities across the United States are experiencing a surge in food delivery from restaurants and grocery stores using online apps such as Instacart and GrubHub. While there have been many studies on the food supply chain and the people who work within it, there is little information on how food is delivered to consumers – i.e., the “last food mile.” Using a robust online survey, semi-structured interviews and analysis of driving data, this research illuminates the demographics and experiences of food delivery drivers (FDDs) and their patterns of movement. 

 

Despite being deemed “essential workers” during the Covid-19 pandemic, surprisingly little is known about this workforce. Our research is gathering baseline data asking: Who are these workers? What do they do? Where do they live and travel? Why do they work? When and how are they made vulnerable? This research will raise broader questions of FDD culture, economics and policy, and their impacts on social justice and environmental sustainability. 

 

Critical Environmental Inquiry and Pedagogy

We work in an era heralding interdisciplinarity environmental collaboration. 

What strategies exist for improving critical inquiry and learning?

This longstanding area of research explores diverse strategies for improving interdisciplinary teaching and learning. I am particularly interested in how different pedagogies may converge to advance ‘critical environmental literacy’. Read here for an argument in favor of blending systems thinking and service learning to promote breadth and depth of knowledge in environmental education. Read here to learn more about the important role field settings play in connecting students to class content, and here to explore strategies for effective graduate student involvement in interdisciplinary environmental education. A discussion of the unique role Geography plays in interdisciplinary education can be found here. Please read here for a foundational essay articulating the field of critical physical geography, which advocates blending critical social science and physical science inquiry.

 

I am pleased to report a book contract with Routledge Press titled Doing Political Ecology: A Handbook for Critical Environmental Inquiry. This book is being co-written and co-edited with Dr. Kelly Kay. We have compiled an extraordinary list of contributors who detail approaches for framing and doing political ecology research using 18 different analytic lenses. Look for this book in late 2022!

 

Relevant Publications 

  • GL. Simon, K. Kay. (Under Contract, 2022) Doing Political Ecology: A Handbook for Critical Environmental Inquiry. Routledge Press 

  • R. Lave, M. Wilson, E. Barron, C. Biermann, M. Carey, M. Doyle, C. Duvall, L. Johnson, M. Lane, J. Lorimer, N. McClintock, D. Munroe, R. Pain, J. Proctor, B. Rhoads, M. Robertson, J. Rossi, N. Sayre, GL. Simon, M. Tadaki, and C. Van Dyke. (2014) “Intervention: Critical Physical Geography” The Canadian Geographer 58:1 pp. 1-10

  • GL. Simon, B. Wee, A. Chin, A.D. Tindle*, D. Guth*, H. Mason*. (2013) “Synthesis for the Interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences: Integrating Systems Approaches and Service Learning.” Journal of College Science Teaching 42:5 pp. 46-53

  • GL. Simon and J. Graybill. (2010) “Geography in Interdisciplinarity: Towards a Third Conversation.” Geoforum 41: 3 pp. 356-363

  • P. Alagona and GL. Simon. (2010) “The Role of Field Study in Humanistic and Interdisciplinary Environmental Education.” Journal of Experiential Education 32: 3 pp. 191-206

  • J. Graybill, S. Dooling, A. Greve, V. Shandas, J. Withey, GL. Simon. (2006) “A Rough Guide to Interdisciplinarity: Graduate Student Perspectives.” Bioscience 56: 9 pp. 757-763

 

Spatial and Ecological Classifications

Geographical and environmental classifications organize our world.

What are their origins and implications?

Like all geographers, I routinely encounter spatial and environmental classifications in my research. Sometimes these delineations defy any clear rationale, yet are deployed uncritically within management contexts. I pause to assess these spatial categories on occasion. For a sympathetic critique of regions in geographical research please read here. For a more targeted review of the 100th Meridian as a climatic and land use demarcation please read here

 

Relevant Publications 

  • GL. Simon. (2016) “How regions do work, and the work we do: a constructive critique of regions in political ecology.” Journal of Political Ecology 23 pp. 197-203

  • GL. Simon. (2011) “The 100th Meridian, Ecological Boundaries and the Problem of Reification.” Society and Natural Resources 24:1 pp. 95-101

 

The Recreation Industry and Leave No Trace

The outdoor recreation industry brings consumerism to the outdoors. The LNT ethic brings conservation to outdoor recreation. We explore the contradictions.

Based on many years of outdoor recreation travel, this research project provides a sympathetic critique of the pervasive leave no trace (LNT) ethic. Conducted with Dr. Peter Alagona, this research reveals the inherent contradictions of this seemingly non-controversial environmental ethic when placed under spatial and historical scrutiny. Our original essay can be found here, and our response to criticism here. For a more updated and incisive geographical critique of outdoor recreation consumerism and LNT, please read here

 

Relevant Publications 

  • GL. Simon and P. Alagona. (2013) “Contradictions at the Confluence of Commerce, Consumption and Conservation; or, An REI Shopper Camps in the Forest, Does Anyone Notice?” Geoforum 45 pp. 225-236

  • P. Alagona and GL. Simon. (2012) “Leave No Trace Starts at Home: A Response to Critics and Vision for the Future” Ethics, Policy and Environment 15:1 pp. 119-124 

  • GL. Simon and P. Alagona. (2009) “Beyond ‘Leave no Trace’” Ethics, Policy and Environment 12:1 pp. 17-34

 

Gregory L Simon

Department of Geography and Environmental Science

University of Colorado Denver

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