Profile picture of Leigh Johnson

Leigh Johnson

Assistant Professor
Environmental Studies, Geography
Phone: 541-346-2644
Office: 151 Condon Hall
Research Interests: Climate change and environmental risk, political ecology, finance, development studies, East Africa, labor, firefighting


B.A. Columbia University, 2003; Ph.D. UC Berkeley, 2011


I am a human geographer focusing on the intersection of disaster and climate risk, vulnerability, finance, and labor. I investigate how configurations of public and private sector actors and financial arrangements shape disaster vulnerability and livelihoods.

My work spans multiple regions (Africa, North America, and Europe) and scales. A longstanding focus is catastrophe and weather insurance. I study why and how insurance and other risk transfer tools have become solutions of choice, and with what impacts for climate governance, justice, livelihoods, and landscapes. This includes a hallmark drought insurance program for livestock in Northern Kenya, a continental-scale sovereign insurance pool for humanitarian drought relief in sub-Saharan Africa, and growing catastrophe bond markets for ‘natural’ disaster risks around the globe. 

A second element of my research program focuses on climate change "adaptation labor": the under/unpaid, undervalued, and often gendered work of modifying and repairing socioecological systems to bear the brunt of climatic changes.  Adaptation labor has been a missing analytical category in global climate policy, climate justice scholarship, and labor geography. With collaborators, I study how this labor is organized, valued, distributed, and governed across global development institutions and NGO actors.

A third focus is on carceral forest firefighting labor in the U.S. West, exploring how Western states are organizing incarcerated labor for fire supression amidst unprecedented fire regimes and labor shortages.

Prior to joining the Geography Department in 2016, I was a lecturer in Economic Geography at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

I am interested in working with students studying environmental risk, disaster, development, and finance.