UMass and Tufts Research Team Reports on Climate Injustice

UMass iCons | Mila Sherman

On Friday, December 17, 2021, an interdisciplinary team of faculty and undergraduate researchers from UMass Amherst and Tufts University reported their research at the fall online meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The team, which is led by UMass finance professor Mila Getmansky Sherman and Tufts civil and environmental engineering professor Deborah Sunter, focused on social justice in federal flood mitigation funding.

“Examining federal spending for flood mitigation across different regional and socio-economic risk factors is critical to ensure that our most vulnerable citizens are protected from the dangers of climate change,” said Dr. Getmansky Sherman (pictured).

The team included four undergraduates – Chloe Fischer, Carter Paul, and Kale Abrha from the UMass iCons Program, and Johanna Steinbock from Tufts University – representing finance, chemical engineering, and applied math majors. The team also included UMass economics and public policy professor Michael Ash, and UMass chemistry professor Scott Auerbach – the founder and Mahoney Family Executive Director of the UMass iCons Program.

For each of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States, the team analyzed local flood risk data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, socio-economic indices from the US Census, and federal spending by the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) extracted from a 2020 ACE report.

“We discovered an alarming signal in the data that for high-risk areas including our most vulnerable populations, flood mitigation projects are simply not as likely to receive federal dollars,” said lead study author Johanna Steinbock, a Tufts undergraduate majoring in applied math.

The team plans to continue the research by collecting and analyzing more extensive datasets to investigate systematic inequities in federal funding and to study federal allocation mechanisms to help explain the story behind the data. The research was funded at both UMass Amherst and Tufts University by several awards from the National Science Foundation.

Professor Sunter from Tufts said that “Shining a light on social injustice in climate resilience requires an all-hands-on-deck approach. Our interdisciplinary team embodies this approach, bringing together students and faculty from across STEM, Social Science, and Business fields. We’re concerned by what our team has initially found and remain dedicated to further investigate this problem.”