Understanding Sustainability Through Mercury Stories

Noelle Selin
Thursday, October 22, 2020 - 5:30pm to 6:30pm
Virtual via Zoom

Visit this link to register: http://bit.ly/mercury-stories-oct22


DATE: Thursday, October 22, 2020

TIME: 5:30 PM


Virtual ZOOM Event: The link to the meeting will be provided following registration.

Lessons for Decision-Making from a Volatile Element


Mercury is a global-scale environmental pollutant, and the subject of a new global environmental treaty, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, which entered into force in 2017. Mercury travels through the atmosphere regionally and globally to pose risks both nearby and far away from its emission sources, which include coal burning and artisanal and small-scale gold mining. People have interacted with the element mercury for millennia: they have made beneficial use of this volatile element, been harmed by its toxic properties, and tried to protect themselves and the environment from its damaging effects. This presentation draws upon a forthcoming book about human interactions with mercury and their lessons for sustainability (MIT Press, October 2020). I outline a new systems-oriented analytical framework and describe a matrix-based approach for studying sustainability issues with a focus on different aspects of the mercury issue. In doing so, I detail how interactions with mercury over time have involved people, technologies, environments, institutions, and knowledge, and I argue that a systematic investigation of this history can inform societies’ efforts to evaluate and promote sustainability in the present and future. These “mercury stories” thus provide insights for sustainability analysis more broadly, and suggest lessons for researchers, decision-makers, and concerned citizens.


Noelle Eckley Selin is an Associate Professor in the Institute for Data, Systems and Society and the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT. She is also the Director of MIT’s Technology and Policy Program. Her research uses atmospheric chemistry modeling to inform decision-making regarding air pollution, climate change and hazardous substances such as mercury and persistent organic pollutants. Her work also examines the interaction between science and policy in international environment negotiations to address sustainability challenges. She received her PhD from Harvard University in Earth and Planetary Sciences as part of the Atmospheric Chemistry Modeling Group. Her M.A. (Earth and Planetary Sciences) and B.A. (Environmental Science and Public Policy) are also from Harvard University. Before joining the MIT faculty, she was a research scientist with the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change. Her articles were selected as the best environmental policy papers in 2015 and 2016 by the journal Environmental Science & Technology. She is the recipient of a U.S. National Science Foundation CAREER award (2011), a Leopold Leadership fellow (2013-2014), Kavli fellow (2015), a member of the Global Young Academy (2014-2018), an American Association for the Advancement of Science Leshner Leadership Institute Fellow (2016-2017), and a Hans Fischer Senior Fellow at the Technical University of Munich Institute for Advanced Study (2018-2021).

Primary Contact - Paul Meyrial - pmeyrial@gmail.com

Secondary Contact - Juan Rivera - JRRivera904@gmail.com

Visit this link to register: http://bit.ly/mercury-stories-oct22