Pacific Institute Insights

First-Time Researcher

By Christina McGhee, Diversity for Sustainability Summer Intern 2013

September 12, 2013

When I think of climate change, I think of the doom and gloom associated with it. I think big world changes or bust! I wonder what the near future will look like with necessary high-rise infrastructure and climate change survivors along the coastlines forced to relocate from their homes, now permenantly flooded. The words “resilience” and “adaptation” are at the back burner of my thoughts. However, when I began my Diversity for Sustainability Summer Internship with the Pacific Institute, I found myself constantly challenging my previous notions of how to deal with climate change. This was my first intensive research project just outside of school.

Christina McGhee, Diversity for Sustainability Summer Intern

The purpose of this internship was to research and find useful information for the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) to create indicators that measured the resilience levels of neighborhoods to climate change. I began organizing my research according to OCAC’s four issue-based committees: Energy, Food Justice and Land Access, Transportation and Land Use, and Resilience and Adaptation. I used the committees’ target goals and priorities as the foundation for my research.

The Energy Committee was concerned with locally generated renewable energy and sustainable job creation. I quickly learned that finding information about local energy sources would be difficult. There was little information about local energy production. I ended up focusing my search on case studies of specific building projects with energy efficiency upgrades as a model for Oakland neighborhoods to incorporate.

The Food Justice and Land Access Committee was concerned about access to food and open spaces. I found there were plentiful and accessible data about access to food and recreation. The most interesting piece of data I found came from a study by Nathan McClintock, where he mapped out local gardens as a way to document the urban agriculture movement in Oakland as well as open a discussion on accessible alternative food sources.

The Transportation and Land Access Committee was focused on accessibility to affordable public transportation as well as affordable neighborhoods that are walkable and bikable. Finding data that aligns with these particular needs led me to a website called It was here that I found data on walkability, bikeability, and accessibility to transportation divided into neighborhoods. This was the most exciting part of my data hunting because I was amazed at how accurate the maps were. They visualized data for each neighborhood and even included a space at the bottom where community members could add their own local knowledge about their community, such as restaurants that they recommended visiting.

Finally, the Resilience and Adaptation Committee concentrated on tapping the potential of community members to better prepare and protect residents from the local impacts of climate change in their communities. This was where I unearthed some of the most unexpected data sources. For example, one way of measuring resilience is to measure community cohesion, which led me to surveys that would reveal information about how safe or happy residents feel in their community. I also researched how well a community could cope with climate change disasters by looking at access to technology, access to warning alert systems, and disaster preparedness of a community. It didn’t stop there. I found resources for using rooftops for food cultivation, rainwater harvesting, and energy production, as well. This information was included because developing green infrastructure in a community can help strengthen resilience to climate change by creating job opportunities for local residents while meeting local needs for food, water, energy, and other basic necessities. The incorporation of sustainable energy production on rooftops would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the air, as well.

Overall, this research project was about imagining what a sustainable ideal community would look like and finding existing data to show that it is possible. I was part of a team that works to build resilient and adaptive communities that have resources that usually are not afforded to low-income individuals and families or people of color – especially important as the negative effects of climate change intensify. One of OCAC’s goals is to challenge the ways people think about climate change by including the words “adaptation” and “resilience” into the conversation. My internship allowed me the opportunity to gather research for OCAC to begin to piece together the first steps to prepare Oakland communities by giving community members the tools to make change. This was an exciting opportunity for me to challenge the way that I think about climate change and use this new way of thinking to build my researching skills.

Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.

Leave a Reply