Environmental crises first strike the poor and dispossessed, who have the least resources to avoid or prepare for, cope with, and recover from natural and technological disasters like climate change and chemical contamination events.

Inequality and the environment are recurring themes for major research initiatives across the university. The Environmental Change Initiative seeks to foster collaborative work across disciplines with faculty working groups and post-doctoral fellowships. Initiative coordinator Timmons Roberts, a sociologist of comparative development and political economy, has been working on inequality and climate change for over twenty years. Timmons has published a book on globalization and environmental crises in Latin America, has conducted research on a global analysis of responsibility for climate change and suffering from climate disasters, and has also authored a major study on the impacts of foreign assistance on the environment. Also in sociology, Phil Brown works on questions of environmental health and social movements, Leah VanWey (Sociology, ECI) conducts research on how land use impacts the environment with a particular interest in the Brazilian Amazon.