Geoethics project gets British Academy Knowledge Frontiers grant

Researchers from the Centre for Human and Physical Geography, have been awarded a prestigious Knowledge Frontiers grant by the British Academy.

Dr AC Davidson, Dr Beth Fox and Dr Ruth Massey will work alongside collaborators from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and New Zealand’s Otago University.

The project – Mining for Meaning: the Geoethics of Extractive Industries – is an interdisciplinary collaboration between scholars in the geohumanities and geology and communities impacted by mining, to develop understandings of the ethics of extracting resources from the Earth.

Extraction of metals and minerals remains essential to most technologies aiming to sustainably meet the global demand for energy and resources, yet there are ongoing social, political, and environmental ethical implications.

This project brings together emergent discussion of ‘geoethics’ within the geosciences with recent feminist, indigenous and decolonial approaches within geohumanities, to develop an interdisciplinary and grassroots understanding of the ethics of mining.   

The project will involve fieldwork at three mine sites in North Yorkshire, the South Island of New Zealand, and the Bushveld region of South Africa. The differing perspectives of local and national stakeholders at each of these sites will inform a more detailed and multifaceted understanding of the ethical implications of mineral extraction and, indirectly, of many sustainable technologies.

A drill rig at night with a person standing in front of it, with rain visible in the flood lights and a fossilised leaf in a rock sampleA drill rig at night, and a fossilised leaf in a rock sample

Dr Davidson says, “Urgent action is needed on the climate crisis, biodiversity loss and on wider sustainability, but so many of the technologies often touted as ‘solutions’, such as electric vehicles, or green hydrogen, rely on extraction of metals and minerals.

“Extracting these materials has a cascading set of impacts on people and environments both locally and globally and brings up big ethical questions around rights and access to land, exploitation of people and resources, and the distribution of benefits.”

Dr Fox adds that, “The British Academy funding is an exciting opportunity to create fresh perspectives on the issue by fostering an international conversation between geoscience and geohumanities and between different communities and stakeholders.”

Findings will be used to inform policy recommendations and to create an educational resource, provisionally entitled ‘Geoethical Stories of the Earth’.

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