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David Ciplet


David Ciplet

Environmental Studies
University of Colorado Boulder
MacAllister S208
397 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309

Tel: 303-735-4533

David Ciplet is a sociologist focused on understanding how relationships of power, ideas, and institutions in environmental governance both hinder and strengthen efforts for a more socially just society. From United Nations negotiations, to corporate board rooms, to local city council meetings, he integrates qualitative methods and theory and concepts from sociology, political science, geography and philosophy, to build knowledge in relation to three questions:

First, how do relationships of power and accountability shape inequality in global environmental governance? Answering this question is critical to understand why and how environmental agreements often fail to reflect basic considerations of equity and fairness. As such, he has sought to add nuance to the particular processes through which inequitable policy is adopted and implemented in global environmental governance, and international climate and energy politics, in particular. His book, with Timmons Roberts and Mizan Khan, Power in a Warming World: The New Global Politics of Climate Change and the Remaking of Environmental Inequality (MIT Press, 2015), explores how we arrived at an inequitable and scientifically inadequate international response to climate change, and what is needed to shift course.

Second, what factors shape the ability of networks of socially marginalized peoples and allies to make international environmental policies and practices more socially just? Clarifying the forms and conditions of influence of such networks is critical to understand the potential for global environmental governance to respond effectively to the concerns of those most directly impacted by environmental problems and related forms of inequality.  

Third, how can communities, governments and universities advance policies that simultaneously support sustainability and justice? This final area of study considers how a ‘just transition’ to a low-carbon society can be best achieved, particularly in urban contexts. Mainstream approaches to sustainability, environmentalism, and conservation have long been critiqued for neglecting issues of social and environmental justice, or for exacerbating forms of injustice. The concept of a just transition emerged directly from movements on the ground including those for labor rights, Indigenous rights, civil rights, environmental health and environmental justice. It refers to transitioning to a sustainable economy with workers, communities and those most impacted by environmental and economic problems at the center of decision-making and solutions. Identifying and intentionally responding to emerging tensions and conflicts in urban sustainability planning is crucial to advance a just transition in the context of growing domestic and international inequality, the erosion of worker rights, and a warming climate. 

In related work, he is a founding member and Executive Co-Director of the CU Boulder Just Transition Collaborative, which works to ensure that transitions to sustainable energy are rooted in the leadership and needs of those most directly impacted by forms of social and environmental inequality. As part of this work, he is currently working with community partners to ensure an equitable and socially just transition to a renewable energy economy in the city and county of Boulder.

His current research builds directly upon the themes discussed above in two ways. First, he is collaboratively studying how the governance of international renewable energy projects shape inequality, particularly as it relates to the lack of energy access in many parts of the world. Second, he is investigating the conditions under which activist and advocacy campaigns have found success in efforts to persuade private and public banks to divest from fossil fuels and to adopt related rights protections. 

Ciplet's research has been featured in journals such as Global Environmental Politics, Global Environmental Change, Review of International Political Economy, and International Studies Quarterly. With a commitment to broadening the public conversation on climate justice, his work has also been featured in media outlets including, The New York Times, Washington Post, The Guardian, Bloomberg Businessweek, Reuters, Radio Australia, and The International Herald Tribune. 

Ciplet is passionate about research and teaching that engages directly with community and policy organizations to work for social and and environmental justice. He is recipient of the Robert Dentler Award for Outstanding Achievement, from the American Sociological Association Section on Sociological Practice and Public Sociology and is a Switzer Fellow alumnus. He works to create a classroom environment where students can engage critically and directly with real world problems. This includes running a student radio project with KGNU Radio station, called the Brink. At CU Boulder, he teaches courses including Foundations of Environmental Justice; Waste and Justice; and Power, Justice and Climate Change. 

Prior to earning his Ph.D. from Brown University, he was co-founder of the Climate and Development Lab, focused on engaged research for a more just approach to international climate policy. He has also produced numerous international policy reports, worked for U.S. and international NGOs on community and policy issues of waste, energy, and climate justice, and as a middle school teacher focused on experiential education. Ciplet is an avid trail runner, mountain biker, novice guitar player, and lover of good fiction.