Katy Seto

2020 Hellman Fellow


Assistant Professor; Environmental Studies
UC Santa Cruz

Project Title: Turning the Tide: Shifting Access, Equity, and Vulnerability in Coastal California

Project Description: In the last several decades, two major challenges have emerged for the communities of the central California coast. First, increased wealth and economic opportunities for certain populations have transformed the demographic composition of coastal populations and their relationships to the landscape. Second, future climate change projections have developed into current climate change impacts; altering the frequency, intensity, and severity of diverse phenomena such as wildfires, droughts, groundwater intrusion, and erosion. While these impacts themselves are to some degree inevitable, some social groups experience greater loss of resources and greater impacts to health and livelihoods than others. These differences are not explained by random chance, but rather a combination of differential exposure to shocks and differential vulnerability to their impacts; therefore risk is primarily a function of social rather than biophysical factors. While evidence on environmental justice, environmental health, and racial/ethnic disparities is growing, the connections to coastal policy and planning are extremely limited and sorely needed. With the proposed research, we seek to understand: how coastal communities in central California have changed over time; the primary drivers of those socioeconomic and demographic changes; and the potential consequences for community resilience in future scenarios of climate change.