099: The politics of environmental access and risk with Jesse Ribot

In this episode, Michael speaks with Jesse Ribot, Professor at the School of International Service at American University. Jesse is a human geographer who studies environmental justice and rural wellbeing. They discuss several aspects of Jesse’s research, including his foundational work on the theory of access, which he developed with Nancy Peluso. This theory broadens the traditional framing of environmental property rights to consider a broad suite of social factors, such as market access and access to technology and capital, that enable or limit access to the environment and the benefits that come with this access.

Michael and Jesse also talk about Jesse’s contributions to understanding climate change and climate risk. Here Jesse and his co-authors question the apolitical attribution of climate risk solely to the most proximate physical events such as hurricanes. Echoing Amartya Sen’s work on famine and entitlements, Jesse argues that this framing avoids the underlying dynamics of inequality that lead some to be more vulnerable to such events than others. This work continues a thread in Jesse’s research of unpacking concepts that have taken on a veneer of technicality, and reminding us that we cannot avoid asking about social inequality and the politics involved in addressing the underlying drivers of our environmental problems.

Jesse’s website: https://www.jesseribot.com/


Giridharadas, A. 2018. Winners take all: the elite charade of changing the world. Alfred A. Knopf.

Kashwan, P., and J. Ribot. 2021. Violent silence: the erasure of history and justice in global climate policy. Current history 120(829):326–331.

Lahsen, M., and J. Ribot. 2022. Politics of attributing extreme events and disasters to climate change. Wiley interdisciplinary reviews. Climate change 13(1).

Peluso, N. L., and J. Ribot. 2020. Postscript: A Theory of Access Revisited. Society & natural resources 33(2):300–306.

Ribot, J. C. 1998. Theorizing access: Forest profits along Senegal’s charcoal commodity chain. Development and change 29(2):307–341.

Ribot, J. C., and N. L. Peluso. 2009. A theory of access. Rural sociology 68(2):153–181.

Hidden Brain podcast interview with Eitan Hersh that Michael mentions: https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/passion-isnt-enough/