CHALLENGE. CHANGE. PODCAST
Extractives. To many people, the word might elicit a wide range of connotations. But in the world of environmental science and international development, extractives — typically referring to the oil, gas, and minerals removed from the earth — signify an industry with significant, often irreversible, impacts across the world.
Depending on your perspective, the extractive industry might provide many opportunities — to produce energy, drive economies, employ people, and enrich communities, according to Anthony Bebbington, international program director for natural resources and climate change at the Ford Foundation, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and Higgins Professor of Environment and Society in Clark’s Graduate School of Geography.
But on the other side, Bebbington explains, you might see negative impacts to the environment, human health, and economies that once benefited from mining and other extractive activities.
“Extractive activity runs the risk of serious forms of pollution. Activists might say [there is a] risk that this extraction of these minerals from this mountaintop is going to permanently deplete and contaminate our water supply. … We do not want that on our back doorstep,” he says. “The company would say, ‘But we can manage that risk. With the benefits that will be generated from this extraction, we can compensate any adverse impacts there might be.’”
Bebbington can point to his hometown of Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England, as an example of a community that has flourished and then slumped, part of the boom-and-bust cycle of coal and ore mining, and steel production. Wedgwood and other iconic potteries — part of an industry historically linked to coal, which fires the kilns — sprang up there in the 18th century.
“For a period of time, mining there really did foster economic development of sorts,” he explains. “But that link between mining and potteries meant there were periods when Stoke had the dirtiest air in the UK. … People tolerated these costs because it also generated lots of jobs.” Yet, “the mines then all closed, and the steel mill closed, and now most of the potteries have gone as well.”
In his earlier research, Bebbington, who holds a Ph.D. from Clark’s Graduate School of Geography, studied rural development and small-scale agriculture in South America’s Andean countries. He credits his life partner, Denise Humphreys Bebbington, research associate professor in International Development, Community, and Environment (IDCE), for introducing him to issues arising from mining and other extractive activities when both were working in Peru in the early 1990s. Since then, the Bebbingtons have explored and published on the topic; they are co-authors — with Abdul-Gafaru Abdulai, Marja Hinfelaar, and Cynthia Sanborn — of the book “Governing Extractive Industries.”
With colleagues in the Graduate School of Geography — Professor John Rogan; Nick Cuba, M.A. GIS ’16, Ph.D. ’11; and Laura Sauls, Ph.D. ’19 — they have collaborated on research through the Center for the Study of Natural Resource Extraction and Society at Clark.
Geography Professor Anthony Bebbington, the Ford Foundation’s international program director for natural resources and climate change, spoke to an undergraduate class on Navigating the Global Climate Crisis on Nov. 29; he was joined by Justin Sylvester, a senior program officer in the Ford Foundation’s Southern Africa Office.
The two provided their insight into the U.N. Climate Change Conferences, known as COPs. At COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union announced the Just Energy Transition Partnership, an agreement to pay $8.5 billion to help with South Africa’s just-energy transition, replacing coal with renewable energy.