JoAnn Carmin was born on 17 October 1957 in Philadelphia and had a successful career as a chef before reinventing herself as an academic. She studied for a BS (1990) and MS (1993) in management and organisational theory at Cornell University and then a PhD on environmental politics in the Czech Republic at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (1999).
This led to a job as assistant professor in Virginia Tech’s department of urban affairs and planning as well as a temporary position as a visiting research scholar at Duke University before she joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s department of urban studies and planning in 2003. She ranked as a tenured associate professor at the time of her death.
Although she never described herself as a scholar-activist, Professor Carmin focused her research work on “environmental governance” and “urban climate adaptation planning”, with a view to “understand[ing] how civil society actors can achieve voice in decision processes and local governments can develop environmentally sound and socially just policies and plans”. She carried out extensive fieldwork in cities such as Durban, South Africa and Quito, Ecuador, noting how poorer countries often introduced more effective planning for climate change than wealthy Western nations. She also often returned to the ways that environmental NGOs and environmental justice activists can give marginalised groups more meaningful participation in decisions that have an impact on their land and lives.
Widely recognised as a leading expert in the field, Professor Carmin was regularly consulted by the World Bank, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, C40, the global league of cities addressing climate change, and other major institutions. She published four books, most recently Environmental Inequalities Beyond Borders: Local Perspectives on Global Injustices (with Julian Agyeman, 2011) and Green Activism in Post-Socialist Europe and the Former Soviet Union (with Adam Fagan, 2011). And she acted as the lead co-author of a forthcoming chapter for the American Sociological Association’s Task Force on Sociology and Climate Change, boldly confronting the challenges of adapting to climate change while most policy and academic discussions are still centred on carbon emissions.
Eran Ben-Joseph, head of MIT’s department of urban studies and planning, described Professor Carmin as “a friend and a close colleague” who had “quickly established herself as one of the world’s leading environmental sociologists. Her work on the role of social movements and institutions in shaping climate change policies has helped define climate-adaptation planning in cities across the world.”
Professor Carmin died of cancer on 15 July.