Member Spotlight: Dr. Elizabeth Marino

  Dr. Elizabeth Marino, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Sustainability at Oregon State University – Cascades, is interested in the relationships among climate change, vulnerability, slow and rapid onset disasters, human migration, and sense of place. Her research focuses on how historically and socially constructed vulnerabilities interact with climate change and disasters – including disaster policy, biophysical outcomes of disasters and climate change, and disaster discourses. In her work, Dr. Marino demonstrates how disasters and climate change are not just natural events, but interact with social inequalities and relationships that can leave some groups more vulnerable to impacts than others.

Her book, Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground: an Ethnography of Climate Change, overviews her work with communities on the west coast of Alaska and how they are being disproportionately impacted by climate change. More recently her research has focused on communities on the Oregon coast in collaboration with fisheries, marine reserves, ocean chemists, and marine biologists. In this work Dr. Marino asks about how climate change and policy changes are understood and examined within a social context – one that includes different attitudes towards gentrification, second home ownership, conservation strategies, and experiences and definitions of the ocean. One critical finding from these projects has been the importance of being able to talk about these issues in a way that is accessible to all, as well as developing language that cuts across political and cultural divisions. These projects have also reaffirmed the fact that environmental and social sustainability cannot be considered in isolation, and that climate change is not an equal opportunity phenomenon.

Dr. Marino learned of INSS through her connection with Dr. Nicole Peterson, a fellow Anthropology professor and INSS co-Principal Investigator. The two realized their common interests when sharing about their work at a conference. At the same time as Dr. Peterson was helping lead the development of INSS, Dr. Marino was part of a task force at OSU Cascades focused on integrating sustainability into the campus mission. At the forefront of Dr. Marino’s engagement in the effort was to devise a strategy that folded in social aspects of sustainability, in addition to environmental and economic considerations.

Since joining INSS, Dr. Marino presented at the 2014 INSS annual conference, “Oregon State University – Cascade: How to Build a (Socially) Sustainable Campus”, and organized sites at OSU Cascades for the INSS annual conferences in 2015 & 2016. She also contributed an article, “Systems of access: a multidisciplinary strategy for assessing the social dimensions of sustainability”, to the INSS special issue of Sustainability: Science, Practice and Policy, and has greatly appreciated being able to plug into the network for ideas and inspiration, including seeing the value of cross-disciplinary collaborations play out among INSS scholars and practitioners.

In Dr. Marino’s opinion, the biggest challenge to addressing social aspects of sustainability is understanding the complexity inherent in some of the worlds greatest challenges: climate change, disaster risk reduction, and the over-exploitation of resources.  These are truly wicked problems with disagreement over definitions and best solutions, and socio-political struggles over authority in decision-making and decision-making processes. All three dimensions of sustainability – social, environmental, economic – are complex, but social is the most subtle and often neglected. While the possibilities for improving social justice are numerous, they require controversial and complex structural change. The automatic assumption that sustainability is rooted in environmentalism also makes it difficult to normalize inclusion of social issues under the rubric of sustainability.

Yet another challenge to addressing social aspects is the difficulty of measuring social sustainability and translating research into policy. Dr. Marino believes that addressing this challenge requires developing clear protocols to assess progress. This includes setting achievable goals and identifying actionable steps.

To make social sustainability more visible, Dr. Marino encourages those pushing to expand the popular definition of sustainability to show up wherever sustainability is discussed. She recognizes that, for many academics, the world of policymaking can be uncomfortable terrain, but it’s critical they still try. She recommends setting aside time to network with policymakers, attend policy-related events, and work on understanding the discourse in those arenas. Dr. Marino is wading (uncomfortably, she admits) into these areas.  She is an author of the National Climate Assessment, has worked with the Humboldt Forum in Berlin on representations of climate change and disasters, and has worked with the Emmet Environmental Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law on issues of environmental refugees and displaced peoples.

Recently she and other anthropology colleagues received an NSF grant, and an invitation to present at the UN Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction in Cancun, Mexico in May. A common thread throughout all of this work is her persistent emphasis on the unevenly distributed impacts of climate change and disasters, and the need to keep social choices, social patterns, and social distribution of risk, harm, and benefits in the forefront of sustainability planning.