Three questions on mining and the environment with Scott Odell

This spring, ESI welcomed a new member of our team: Scott Odell, a post-doctoral associate who is building out our Metals, Minerals & the Environment Program. Scott is a researcher who studies the converging environmental and social impacts of climate change and mining on vulnerable communities. He received his PhD from the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University, where his dissertation examined the impacts of new community relations strategies and desalination operations on conflict over water between mining companies and communities in Chile, within the context of an unprecedented mega-drought. You can read more about Scott’s background here.

To introduce Scott, we asked him three questions about his work on sustainability and mining and his plans with ESI.

What is the role of mining in advancing sustainability?

Current efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change depend on investment in innovations like electric vehicles, solar panels, and expanded public transportation, which require natural resources like copper and lithium. However, the extraction of these materials causes its own environmental and social harms, particularly in communities that host mines. Thus, both the opportunities and risks of mining must be taken into account when considering solutions to sustainability concerns.

What led you to this area of research?

At the broadest scale, I study issues related to development in Latin America. Early in my graduate studies, this led me to conduct fieldwork in agricultural communities of the Peruvian highlands. The farmers with whom I spoke expressed concern over the intersecting impacts on their livelihoods of climate change and the arrival of a new copper mine to the area. As a geographer, I am trained to study interactions between society and the environment, so these linked concerns over climate change and mining captured my attention. I came to learn that the issue was not unique to that specific field site, but is of concern in mining communities across the Andes and beyond. So it was clear that there was an urgent need for research on the topic, and I was prepared to be able to contribute.

What are your plans for the Metals, Minerals & the Environment Program?

Currently, the program is focused on supporting MINE 2.0, a professional development program sponsored by the mining company Vale that trains participants in Brazil to improve the sustainability of the mining industry. We hope this program can expand to other regions as well. In the longer term, I am eager to help ESI’s mining program become a leading center for research on social and environmental concerns related to mining, convening academics, policymakers, the mining industry, and communities to consider ways to prevent socioenvironmental harms of resource extraction while pursuing innovative solutions to sustainability concerns like climate change.