Dr. Juan Declet-Barreto is a senior social scientist for climate vulnerability. He studies the impact of environmental conditions on the people of South Phoenix—his research makes him a leader in the community.
Declet-Barreto was born in Puerto Rico November 10th, 1975. He grew up in Guaynabo Puerto Rico with a great support system. Declet-Barreto recalls growing up in the city with a clean environment and with an adequate education. Even though poverty did not affect him as an individual, he was not foreign to the poverty within his community. From a young age, Declet-Barreto enriched his mind by reading and speaking up for himself and his fellow classmates.
Potential Interview Clip: 7:07
Declet-Barreto started his collegiate education at the University of Puerto Rico but came to Arizona in 1997 to attend a small 2-year charter IT school in South Phoenix. Barreto then transferred his credits to kickstart his career at Arizona State University (ASU). At ASU he majored in Geography and put his IT skills to use by getting a minor degree in Geographical Computer-Based Mapping. During college, he dived into extracurriculars with research assistantships and network assistantships. Declet-Barreto earned his bachelor’s degree and then pursued his master’s degree in Geography. His master’s program took him to Nogales, Arizona to do field work so he could understand the toxic industrial substances people could be exposed to. Declet-Barreto says this experience, “opened up [his] eyes to a lot of the inequities that a lot of Latinos have to deal with in the U.S.”
Potential Interview Clip: 11:06
What he gained from his education only grew his interest in finding the sources of the racial and social inequities in Arizona, especially South Phoenix. Declet-Barreto found himself asking questions such as, “Why do people [of color] end up living in places that have more environmental contamination? Why has South Phoenix been the place that gets dumped on for the longest time? Why were [people of color] the ones that lived in the worst parts of the city?” These are the questions he would tackle through his research on climate vulnerability.
Potential Interview Clip: 13:03
Dr. Declet-Barreto’s main motivation for studying climate change is that this phenomenon is the defining crisis of our era. Through his research, Dr. Declet-Barreto concluded that climate change is a common factor for multiple iniquities. South Phoenix is low-income, has lower economic power, and has less access to government resources. His research expresses how Phoenix is an interesting city because it simply cannot exist without refrigeration and transportation (cars). With that said, Dr. Declet-Barreto notes that although Phoenix is losing water, the population of Phoenix only continues to grow. So, comparing climate change in the older generations to younger generations, Phoenix is extremely heated right now. For Phoenix to sustain itself as a city, its communities need resources to survive in such a heated climate. Just like every other part of the city, South Phoenix must deal with the pressures of water, drought, and heat. Since South Phoenix is lower income, has lower economic power, and lacks resources, it struggles to adapt to the heated climate change happening. Dr. Declet-Barreto’s research also shows people within the South Phoenix community are outside labor workers, so labor workers are more prone to heat-related sickness.
Dr. Declet-Barreto has faced challenges and frustrations within his career. He expresses his frustrations with faulty things being said in the name of science which turns people away from the reality of climate change. Dr. Declet-Barreto also explains the disconnection between the people in power and the people in need. Political figures and higher-classed people are simply uneducated about the lifestyle of their lower-income citizens. This creates a disconnection which leads to faulty resources for the lower-income citizens (mostly people of color). These challenges have only made Dr. Declet-Barreto’s voice louder so smaller communities like South Phoenix can be heard and understood. He engages with communities being affected by climate change and helps them fight for better resources. Dr. Declet-Barreto has created himself a legacy here in South Phoenix through his research. Dr. Declet-Barreto said “[He] would hope the research [he] conducted with the [South Phoenix] community can serve to effect real change.”
Potential Interview Clip: 01:07:44
Dr. Juan Declet-Barreto has been a trailblazer for not only the minorities of South Phoenix but all minorities affected by climate change. He likes to use science to speak truth to power. He speaks out against justifications that keep people of color in poor neighborhoods and justifications that cheat minorities out of opportunities. Dr. Declet-Barreto has shown the use of the social and physical aspects of science to gather facts. Those facts allow Dr. Barreto to demand and re-address the social environmental/political climate problems.
|Place of Origin||Guaynabo, Puerto Rico|
|Place of Residence||Washington, DC|
|Years active in South Phoenix||2004-2014|
|Occupation||Senior Social Scientist for Climate Vulnerability|
|Date||March 31st, 2022|
|Location||South Mountain Community College|
|Interviewed by||Lucero Barrey, Hector Sandoval, Gracie Henderson|
|Written by||Lucero Barrey, Hector Sandoval, Gracie Henderson|