Research

Countries around the world are looking to expand clean-energy technology to mitigate climate change. Yet while decisive action is needed to prevent the worst impacts of global warming, the production of solar panels, wind turbines, and electric vehicles will require a major increase in the mining of resources like copper, lithium, and cobalt, which has its own social and environmental impacts. This is particularly concerning in communities of the Global South that are near mineral deposits, but may also be vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Through research, publications, teaching, and public lectures, Scott works with students, communities, NGOs, companies, and government officials to understand and propose solutions to these intersecting concerns.

His most recent research project examined how cooperation and investments in desalination have affected community relations over water near three large-scale mining operations in Chile. The study included interviews and focus groups with representatives of government, mining companies, and communities, as well as GIS analysis of intersections between climate change and mining. Results indicate that existing efforts to address conflict over water often fail to resolve the fundamental sources of the problem, instead shifting negative mining impacts to other, often more vulnerable settings through a process of "hydrosocial displacements."

The research contributes new insight to the field of Political Ecology by revealing the broad footprint of extractive operations under conditions of climate change and explaining sources of unequal socioenvironmental harms between neighboring communities. This evidence underscores the need for improved communication and impact assessments across the diverse communities affected by a mining operation. Fieldwork for the project was funded by a Grassroots Development Fellowship from the Inter-American Foundation. You can read the full results of this research in the "Publications" tab, and view a summary in the video below, which received the runner-up award in the post-doc category of MIT's 2022 Research Slam.

In a new phase of his research funded by grants from the MIT Sloan Latin America Office (MSLAO) and the MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water and Food Systems Lab (J-WAFS), Scott is expanding his research on desalination to understand how and why some mining operations in Chile are replacing the use of continental water supplies with desalinated seawater and with what effect on water management and community relations. In addition, the project will engage new questions on how the converging impacts of climate change and mining on glaciers affect local agricultural communities.