ESI Principles of Conduct and Engagement: 2021 updates

Each year, the entire ESI team undertakes a review of our Principles of Conduct and Engagement, our public commitments governing both our internal practices as an organization, and our partnerships with individuals, companies, governments, research centers and community groups around the world.

We have now completed our 2021 update to this document, and want to take this opportunity to publicly share some of the more significant changes.

Above all, ESI has stepped up our dedication to advancing environmental justice across our programs. While we have always, since our founding, been deeply concerned with the ways environmental harms fall disproportionately on marginalized communities, our principles did not previously make express commitments to environmental justice that we could be held to. Today, we can share new commitments on both our selection of research and engagement activities, and the participation of community partners in those activities, to better ensure that environmental justice remains a central and permanent element of our mission.

We have also refined the principles governing our choice of external partnerships. When we first published our Principles of Conduct and Engagement, front of mind for our team was articulating clear standards for when we would refuse, or discontinue, a partnership with a corporation or donor. While this remains a critical part of our thinking, our revised principles are now more inclusive of other types of organizations, such as nonprofits and community groups, whose partnership is equally important to the success of our programs.

Finally, we wish to thank MIT for undertaking its own reflection on its gift acceptance policies, allowing us to reference and reinforce new MIT-wide rules and recommendations in this area.

ESI is proud to be on the leading edge of a growing trend at MIT, of publicly committing to high ethical standards of conduct as they relate to the work of individual departments and centers. We would be pleased to hear feedback on our revised principles, or speak to you about our process for creating these principles—reach out to us at

Read our revised Principles of Conduct and Engagement.

Three questions on cities and climate change with Norhan Bayomi

ESI’s newest member is Norhan Bayomi, a post-doctoral fellow who studies climate adaptation in urban environments, using emerging technologies like drones and AI to better map the effects of extreme heat in cities, with an eye toward urban design for heat resilience in the developing world. Norhan joins ESI from the MIT Building Technology Program, where she recently received her PhD, advised by ESI Director John Fernández. Here, she will join and expand our research programs in cities and climate change.

To introduce Norhan, we asked her three questions about climate impacts in cities.

How much influence do cities have in developing effective climate solutions?

Cities are a key contributor to climate change solutions, as they can provide significant opportunities as places where high living standards can be achieved with much lower levels of emissions and resource use. Cities have also long been places of social, economic and political innovation, and we have seen many examples of city politicians demonstrating a greater commitment to greenhouse gas reduction and climate solutions than do national politicians.

What have you learned from studying climate preparedness in a variety of different cities around the world?

Through my research on extreme heat events impacts, especially at the urban level, I found that there is a dire need to prioritize areas of high vulnerability when looking into climate preparedness strategies. This kind of assessment is important for low-income and underrepresented populations who are lacking resources for adaptation, and is also essential to rapidly track and monitor health threats under extreme climate events. Because many of the threats associated with global warming are generally predictable, it is possible to design or adapt buildings and communities to be more resilient, but that will also require preparedness at the policy level and access to better data.

What can MIT and ESI do to help cities better prepare for a warming world?

MIT and ESI can advance climate change preparedness in cities through putting emphasis on urban communities. We need to pursue research to improve the understanding of the likely timing of impacts, the possible size of the impacts, and how to address uncertainty, including specific responses such as how to use novel technologies to assist with evacuation during a flood or to help an elderly relative during a heat wave.

Mining, water resources and community relations

By Scott D. Odell | Postdoctoral Associate | Mining, Environment, and Society Program

September 2021

Lea en español


The MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI) has released a new white paper detailing recent research on conflict over water in regions affected by both and climate change and mining. The document, “Hydrosocial Displacements: Climate Change and Community Relations in Chile’s Mining Regions,” was written by Scott Odell, a postdoctoral associate in ESI’s Mining, Environment & Society Program, and summarizes the results of fieldwork he undertook in three case study sites in Chile from 2017–2018.

The ESI white paper complements articles published from the project in academic journals (see links below). It provides an executive summary of the research project along with key insights for policymakers, communities, and business leaders wrestling with the challenges of water consumption by the mining industry in the context of climate change.

Copper production in Chile increased by 8 percent between 2009 and 2018, contributing to a 9 percent increase in the consumption of continental water supplies—such as rivers and aquifers—by the industry over the same period. While mines in and around the Atacama Desert in the north of the country have always operated under arid conditions, the Central Region experienced new water constraints due to an unprecedented “mega drought” beginning in 2010.

These converging dynamics of extractive industries and climate change have contributed to the emergence of conflicts over water between local communities and mining companies. Though particularly prominent in Chile, such conflicts are not unique to the country. The Environmental Justice Atlas, which tracks socio-environmental conflict at a global scale, has identified 519 cases of conflict related to mining with impact on water worldwide.

The research on which this white paper is based examines the nature and impacts of new forms of responses to these conflicts. Specifically, it investigates how collaboration between mining companies and communities, as well as expanded desalination production that allows mining operations to use seawater, have affected the management of water resources and conflicts over them. In addition, it analyzes how these issues may differ between mines operated by state-owned and private companies.

Read the full white paper in English here


You may also view two formal academic articles resulting from the dissertation project:

Odell, S. D. (2021). Hydrosocial displacements: Sources and impacts of collaboration as a response to water conflict near three Chilean mines. Resources Policy, 74 (December).

Odell, S. D. (2021). Desalination in Chile’s mining regions: Global drivers and local impacts of a technological fix to hydrosocial conflict. Journal of Cleaner Production, 323 (November).

Minería, recursos hídricos y relaciones comunitarias

Por Scott D. Odell | Asociado Postdoctoral | Programa de Minería, Medio Ambiente, y Sociedad

Septiembre de 2021

Read in English


La Iniciativa de Soluciones Ambientales del MIT anunció un libro blanco nuevo que detalla una investigación reciente sobre conflicto hídrico en regiones afectadas tanto por el cambio climático como la minería. El documento, “Desplazamientos hidrosociales: Cambio climático y relaciones comunitarias en las regiones mineras de Chile,” por Scott Odell, asociado postdoctoral en el Programa de Minería, Medio Ambiento, y Sociedad de ESI, resume los resultados de trabajo de campo que el autor llevó a cabo en tres sitios de estudio de caso en Chile entre 2017 y 2018.

El libro blanco de ESI complementa artículos del proyecto publicados en revistas académicas (vea enlaces abajo). Ofrece un resumen ejecutivo de la investigación, junto con recomendaciones para formuladores de políticas, comunidades, y empresas enfrentando retos del consumo de agua por la minería dentro del contexto del cambio climático.

La producción de cobre en Chile aumentó un 8 por ciento entre 2009 y 2018, contribuyendo a un aumento del 9 por ciento en el consumo de suministros de agua continentales—como ríos y acuíferos—por parte de la industria durante el mismo período. Si bien las minas en el desierto de Atacama y sus alrededores en el norte del país siempre han operado en condiciones áridas, la Región Central experimentó nuevas limitaciones de agua debido a una “megasequía” sin precedentes que comenzó en 2010.

Estas dinámicas convergentes del cambio climático y la industria extractiva han contribuido al surgimiento de conflictos por el agua entre las comunidades locales y las empresas mineras. Estos conflictos no son exclusivos del país, aunque sí destacados particularmente en Chile. El Atlas de Justicia Ambiental, que rastrea los conflictos socioambientales a escala global, ha identificado 519 casos de conflictos relacionados con la minería con impacto en el agua en todo el mundo.

La investigación en que se base el libro blanco examina la naturaleza e impactos de nuevas formas de respuestas a estos conflictos. Específicamente, investiga cómo colaboración entre empresas mineras y comunidades, además de un aumento en la producción de agua desalada que permite el uso de agua de mar en operaciones mineras, han afectado la gestión de recursos hídricos y conflictos relacionados. Además, analiza cómo se diferencian estos temas entre minas operadas por empresas estatales y privadas.

Lea el libro blanco completo aquí


También se puede ver dos artículos académico formales que resultaron del proyecto de la disertación (en inglés):

Odell, S. D. (2021). Hydrosocial displacements: Sources and impacts of collaboration as a response to water conflict near three Chilean mines. Resources Policy, 74 (December).

Odell, S. D. (2021). Desalination in Chile’s mining regions: Global drivers and local impacts of a technological fix to hydrosocial conflict. Journal of Cleaner Production, 323 (November).



Covering local climate stories

by Ilana Hirschfeld

In recent years, national news outlets like The Washington Post and The New York Times have greatly increased their reporting on climate change, employing dedicated climate journalists to cover climate change science, impacts and solutions, sometimes as front page stories. Yet this treatment of climate change as a critical story, demanding regular coverage, is still mostly reserved for national and specialty publications. In local papers, climate issues receive far less coverage, and are usually reported by journalists covering other beats such as politics or economics.

This means that most Americans rarely hear how climate change will affect the areas where they live. It also means that climate topics are covered least by the outlets that Americans rely on and trust the most. “Climate change is or will impact all of us, but many Americans don’t see it as relevant to their lives,” says Laur Hesse Fisher, Program Director at the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative (ESI). “We’re working to help change that.”

To connect climate science with local priorities, ESI launched the MIT Environmental Solutions Initiative Journalism Fellowship in April 2021, supporting new reporting on climate change by local journalists across the U.S. This four-month Fellowship offers a select group of journalists a stipend and a budget that allows them to produce deeply reported, longform or serial pieces that bring climate change science together with local on-the-ground impacts and solutions.

“This project aims to weave people’s lived experiences and priorities with how climate change is playing out locally and the options that we collectively face,” says Hesse Fisher, who leads the Journalism Fellowship. “Our goal is to meet people where they are.”

An exceptional community of journalists

The inaugural cohort of ESI Journalism Fellows consists of five experienced journalists, chosen for their histories of strong local reporting, the importance and relevance of their projects, and to reflect a wide range of climate challenges and solutions in different regions of the U.S.

Tristan Baurick, an environment reporter for the Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate, will cover the potential for offshore wind development off the coast of Louisiana. Reporter and editor Dustin Bleizeffer, a Report for America corps member who covers Wyoming education and energy issues for WyoFile, will capture how Wyoming residents are seeing the environment change in the places they love and tie this to climate science. Melba Newsome, an independent journalist specializing in health, environmental and investigative reporting, will report from communities in southeastern North Carolina where climate change is making environmental and health disparities ever more severe. Nora Hertel, a government and investigations reporter at the St. Cloud Times, will explore the potential for carbon sequestration in the fields and forests of Minnesota. And Alex Schwartz, a Report for America corps member and environmental journalist who writes for the Herald & News in Klamath Falls, Oregon, is investigating the interplay of climate change and water rights in the Klamath Basin.

A focus on local storytelling

According to a study by researchers at the University of Colorado and the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, using local stories to identify changes to climate is more likely to convince individuals that climate change is happening. Unfortunately, local reporting is on the decline. Over the past 15 years, about 2,100 newspapers — more than one quarter of the country’s total newspapers — have permanently closed, leaving over 65 million Americans without a local paper.

This has deprived many Americans of the very outlets that are best positioned to connect climate change with local concerns. “Now more than ever, Americans are seeing massive environmental changes and large-scale clean energy deployment in their backyards, and are wondering what to make of them,” says Hesse Fisher. “By tying personal experiences to the science, we hope to stimulate more support for climate action.”

All five ESI Journalism Fellows have participated in a series of workshops with climate experts and environmental reporters, and have received funding to pursue their projects, technical support to develop multimedia publications, and access to literature, databases and other relevant resources at MIT. The Fellows will publish their pieces in their respective media outlets upon completing their Fellowships this October. They will also have the opportunity to present their findings at an ESI People, Prosperity and the Planet event this fall.

“We’re impressed with the passion, dedication and talent of our first cohort of journalists,” says Hesse Fisher, “and the goal of our Fellowship is to give them what they need to make a real impact with their reporting. Now more than ever, Americans need to hear stories on climate change that dig into the dangers and opportunities right here at home, from voices they know and recognize.”


Climate and sustainability classes expand at MIT

MIT offers over 120 undergraduate classes related to sustainability, a sign of growing student and faculty interest in the environmental impacts of their fields. Read the fully story at MIT News.

Advancing Land Rights in Colombia

August 19, 2021

In recent decades, Colombia has become a regional leader on policies to further the autonomy of Afro-Latin American communities, promote sustainable livelihoods, reduce deforestation, and conserve biodiversity. A legal landmark in this process was Law 70, passed in August 1993, which created a legal pathway for Afro-Colombian communities to receive collective title to historically occupied territories in rural areas. This right to collective title has major potential ramifications for environmental conservation, as research indicates that lands collectively managed by their inhabitants are less vulnerable to degradation than privately owned lands or even, in some cases, public conservation lands.

In a new white paper, “Advancing the Land Rights of Afro-Colombian Communities: A Qualitative Evaluation of Efforts to Implement Colombia’s Law 70 of 1993,” ESI examines the objectives, achievements, and challenges of Law 70, and offers recommendations for the future.

The white paper was written by a team of ESI and affiliated researchers including lead author Caroline White-Nockleby, a PhD student in the MIT History, Anthropology, Science, Technology and Society Program. It was developed under the ESI Natural Climate Solutions Program, with support from MIT’s Martin Luther King Visiting Professors and Scholars Program, which sponsored the appointment of Luis Gilberto Murillo-Urrutia, an author of the paper and former Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development of Colombia, as an MLK Fellow.

Law 70 and its challenges

When it was passed nearly 20 years ago, Colombia’s Law 70 broke new ground by offering an innovative way to advance four key goals: racial justice, economic autonomy, biodiversity conservation, and climate change mitigation. Yet due to a number of challenges, the Law still has not been fully implemented.

ESI’s new white paper presents the results of interviews with individuals engaged in Law 70’s formulation, operationalization, or implementation, including members of Afro-Colombian communities and employees in the nonprofit, academic, private, and government sectors. These interviews seek to illuminate what Law 70 has achieved so far, how it has been put into operation, the reasons for delay in its full implementation, and what processes and resources would be most useful to advance the law’s objectives and operationalization in the future.

Analysis of the interviews indicates that Law 70 has generated some significant achievements in granting both land rights and greater visibility to Afro-Colombian communities—but also that the collective titles granted by the law are widely perceived as deficient and unstable. While challenges remain to realizing the vision of Law 70, the law still has enormous potential to advance its crucial goals, including conserving the biodiversity of Colombia and better managing its lands to mitigate climate challenge.

ESI is committed to community-based conservation, with a particular interest, through the Natural Climate Solutions Program, in Afro-descendant and Indigenous collectively owned lands. Much of the natural wealth in the Americas is located in the territories of Afro-descendants and Indigenous communities, where vital environmental services, including biodiversity conservation and carbon capture and sequestration take place. By publishing this analysis of Law 70, ESI aims not only to provide key insights for stakeholders and decision-makers in regard to Law 70’s future, but also to spur further research into community-based conservation in Latin America and beyond.

Read the full white paper.

ESI Perspectives on the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

August 12, 2021

from ESI Director John Fernández:

Earlier this week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the first portion of its Sixth Assessment Report. AR6 Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis provides the latest understanding of the climate system and climate change. This extraordinary report continues the remarkable effort of regularly assembling the most comprehensive compilation of scientific findings to clearly document the urgency of the climate crisis. We can expect that the sixth cycle, beginning with this first report, will reinforce our fundamental understanding: that the climate is changing and will continue to change due to human activities; that climate change is now leading directly to serious consequences; and that, though we do still have a chance of averting the very worst, the window has become very small.

As the other portions of AR6 are released in the coming months, we should remember that two other reports of late have brought critical understanding of the various crises facing the planet.

First, in October 2018, the IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5° C described in detail the serious consequences of that level of warming and the significant additional severity of consequences past 1.5° C. It also outlined a pathway toward staying within 1.5° C that would entail “…far-reaching transitions in energy, land, urban and infrastructure (including transport and buildings), and industrial systems (high confidence). These systems transitions are unprecedented in terms of scale, but not necessarily in terms of speed…”

The message was very clear. In light of the dire climate situation outlined in the report, the final analysis offered an opportunity and line of sight—fragile and vanishing—to avert the worst.

Second and more recently, a workshop co-sponsored by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the IPCC on Biodiversity and Climate Change released a report of findings linking climate change and biodiversity. Released in June of this year, the IPBES-IPCC report received some well-deserved publicity, especially for its call that international efforts be inclusive of both challenges. The linkages between the accelerating consequences of climate change and the severity of biodiversity loss are extensive and intimate. Many of the most important solutions for one also serve the other. It is time for climate action. It is also time for the international community, non-governmental organizations, major companies and entire industries, and society as a whole to act on the tragedy of the decimation of the natural world.

We encourage you to download and read the AR6 Summary for Policymakers (41 pages), if not the entire report (3,948 pages). Through the efforts of Working Group I, we know better than ever what is needed, including the critical elements that are well within the capacity and expertise of the MIT community. Through the MIT Climate Grand Challenges, the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium, and the recently released plan, Fast Forward: MIT’s Climate Action Plan for the Decade, an array of opportunities to contribute to solutions is now open—and the sooner the better, because 2030 is the new 2050. What we do as a society, as an institution and as individuals between now and 2030 will substantially determine our collective trajectory to the latter half of this century.


from ESI Cities & Climate Research Affiliate Harvey Michaels:

The Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC is a remarkable product by more than 200 leading climate researchers worldwide, who have been working for more than 30 years to fully understand the dynamics of climate and how to address the problem. The report just released (on August 9) brings forward by far the clearest understanding of where we are, and what we must do. It comes out just as many of us are preparing for the new academic year—a time to reflect on our choices ahead for classes, interests, and possibly career paths. And as we choose paths for ourselves, we may consider how our choices also impact our communities and the world in years to come.

In the MIT tradition, we’ve seen that informed by science, good choices come to light. With our learning and efforts, at times we find what others haven’t yet seen, and are able to contribute towards making our world a better place. Today, addressing climate, this report makes clear that sustaining the Earth requires us to transition from fossil fuel use quickly, and also that we help those most impacted by the fires, sea level rise, and extreme weather made worse by our past choices to burn fossil fuels.

However, this assessment, while deeply troubling, also clarifies that it is possible to stop climate change in time to prevent the worst effects. We need to continue to innovate, and find ways to advance everything—from our energy systems, to our home heat, travel, food systems, and waste streams, to mention a few. There is opportunity to build on the science with new and improved technology, analytics, architecture, engineering, economic, and business solutions that will get the job done, often making our lives better in the process.

As Al Gore put forward in 2017: “The true question about climate hope is not can we, but will we?” As on the first Earth Day, when a remarkable cross-section of people came together and quickly put us on a path to removing poisons from our air and water, we can again come together—we all want a good future for our Earth. But as Greta Thunberg said in 2019: “climate education is necessary to unite behind the science.”  When millions joined her Friday strikes, world leaders listened to them, and many young people have been inspired to keep doing, keep learning, and keep discovering what’s necessary to solve this solvable problem.

The 2021 Sixth Assessment Report of the IPCC is the clearest analysis yet that our challenge to address climate change with action is urgent, lest our favorite places might be lost in years to come—just as many today are already being driven from their homes and favorite places. But the report also invites and beckons us to be part of the solution: to apply our talents and choose to learn, act, and help others. As the report clarifies, choosing to stop the worst effects of climate change is a choice we have.



What will happen to sediment plumes associated with deep-sea mining?

Prof. Tom Peacock, who received an ESI seed grant to model the effects of deep-sea mining on ocean ecosystems, has now assembled an international team for the first real-world experiment. Read the full article on MIT News.

Three questions on sustainability education with Liz Potter-Nelson

ESI has a brand-new hire this week: Liz Potter-Nelson, our postdoctoral associate in environment and sustainability education. Liz has long roots in education, having worked as a high school physics and chemistry teacher, a science department chair, and in multiple advisory positions for teachers and administrators. She also holds a doctorate in Educational Sustainability from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where her dissertation examined key sustainability competencies in undergraduate education courses. At ESI, Liz will focus on bringing new climate, environment and sustainability teaching tools to teachers in secondary and higher education across the U.S. You can read more about her background here.

To introduce Liz, we asked her three questions about bringing sustainability concepts into classrooms.

How did you become interested in sustainability education?

I became interested in sustainability education as I started to step outside of my classroom and interact with the complex nature of educating students. Initially this was through an equity lens, working to remove barriers for secondary students and early-career teachers, but has grown to encompass a more holistic understanding of the interconnectedness of the decisions that impact the education system.

What would help teachers do an outstanding job teaching sustainability concepts?

It is important for teachers to see that sustainability isn’t an add-on to what they are currently teaching. At the heart of it, sustainability education is interdisciplinary and embraces many of what are considered to be best practices in education. Providing teachers with the training and support to make small adjustments to existing lessons or enhance their current practices can go a long way in supporting sustainability in the classroom at any level.

What makes you hopeful about the future of sustainability education?

Ultimately, I think that the overwhelming majority of people who engage in the education system are hopeful people. They are change agents, who see the good in their students and are willing to help these individuals grow. And the knowledge that many of them are eager to continue growing their practices to embrace sustainability, so that they and their students can tackle wicked problems, gives me hope.