Dr. Julie Klinger is featured on Sinica podcast about rare earths

This week on Sinica, Kaiser chatted with Dr. Julie Klinger.

Have a listen as Dr. Klinger talks about “rare earths — a family of 17 elements that are essential to the function of modern industry and are indispensable in everyday technology. Julie debunks many of the myths surrounding China and rare earths, and lays out her ideas about why, despite the relative ubiquity of mineable rare earth deposits, China has dominated production of these vitally important minerals for decades. ”

Link to podcast here.

Natural landscapes, memorialization, and land acknowledgement by Kopo Veronicah Oromeng

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the stories landscapes tell about who has been there, how the land has changed, who or what drove those changes. As a geoscientist, I am inclined to lean on maps and satellite imagery to capture landscape evolution. Studies of place and people (uhm, geography?) have explored the different ways that landscapes have shaped our experiences, we develop emotional ties with some spaces more than others- a theory called place-attachment. However, there is little work that explores how places might remember us. If places had the same intricate emotional capacity as us and bear witness to our lived experiences and those of our predecessors, how would they remember us?

A black and white photo of scattered fabrics and clothes next to rubbles of rocks and within the backdrop of trees and shrubs from Juan deGado's Altered Landscapes 2016 exhibition.
A black and white photo of scattered fabrics and clothes next to rubbles of rocks and within the backdrop of trees and shrubs from Juan deGado’s Altered Landscapes 2016 exhibition.

Interdisciplinary artists (Juan deGado- Altered Landscapes (2016) ) explore these questions beautifully- capturing altered landscapes in photographs and mixed media, building fragmented installations to explore displacement, dislocation, and trauma. Photography allows for a static archive of a place and captures the state of the place in-situ. Photos can trigger memories of familiar places as well as emotions of unfamiliar but stirring landscapes. Ruins, memorial sites, and monuments serve as memory aids much like photos do- places haunted by past catastrophic events continue to actively affect emotional responses from patrons and visitors despite the absence of personal memories to those locations.

A statue of Caesar Rodney of Wilmington, Delaware (one of the founding fathers) has been temporarily taken down (2020) amidst national protests and unrest.
A statue of Caesar Rodney of Wilmington, Delaware (one of the founding fathers) has been temporarily taken down (2020) amidst national protests and unrest.

Places carry biographies, stitched across generations that even in the absence of human occupation can be emotionally perceived. We build monuments and memorials to focus, archive and prolong social memory of historical events to sites. A bench, name plaque, or a white man on a horse serve to materialize memory and reinfuse meaning and history into designed spaces and objects. We build monuments to remember, to preserve, maybe more so to empower artifacts that can allow us to continue to retrieve specific social memories. Memorialization expedites the visceral response one might have to an unbuilt but charged landscape through tactile and visual stimuli. Monuments concentrate place-based meaning and memories; they serve as gateways to the past. But looking is not seeing. Visual triggers might even diminish, simplify, and homogenize the complex stories contained in landscapes. Spectatorship can also diminish historical complexity and reinforce passivity.

The built environment especially monuments and memorials evoke memories and histories of conquers, joys and traumas. It’s challenging to think of ways of tapping into social and ecological memories without the aids of statues, monuments and memorials despite the obvious limitations-memorialization and remembering through material culture often centers a single story and it takes power from the land and infuses it into a structure (the Washington monument becomes both the piece of land the monument lies on and the monument itself). Memorialization’s are modern-day shrines.

The Washington monument was constructed in 1884 to honor George Washington- the first president of the United States. Stones used to build the monument were sourced from three different quarries in Baltimore, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. There is no clear evidence of slave labour but it is likely.
The Washington monument was constructed in 1884 to honor George Washington- the first president of the United States. Stones used to build the monument were sourced from three different quarries in Baltimore, Tennessee, and Massachusetts. There is no clear evidence of slave labour but it is likely.

Today historical monuments are becoming the focus of controversy (critic). In landscapes that belong to all of us, whose histories are centered and whose remain in the shadows or become wholly erased? Who gets to be remembered? Should we remove, add to or recontextualize these artifacts? There is a lack of dialogue around the significance of place and land in collective historical memory. How can memorials be better designed to engage us with the land and all the characters in the story-the conqueror, the native populations, and the ecosystems and natural resources usurped, traded, and pillaged? How do we especially account for the active participation of unbuilt landscapes in social interactions and their archives of past events? Land and territory acknowledgement (which has been a part of many indigenous cultures for years) is a good example of how engaging the unbuilt environment might look like. Acknowledging the histories and past occupants of the land we stand on reduces the erasure of the stories that do not make it to plaques and monuments and shifts our focus to the unbuilt environment.

Now, Older Adults face the Eviction from Their Home!

Especially at the later life stage, the home is a symbol of ownership, a symbol of self-sufficiency, and pride. As a financial product, Reverse Mortgage threatens the stability and dignity of the people and their families. Because of misunderstanding about how this product works and low accessibility to the prime lending market, African-Americans and other minority groups are the most vulnerable groups.

Disruptions, mental health, and graduate student experiences during the Pandemic by Nathan Eli Thayer

It is certainly easy – and honestly exhausting – to talk about disruptions and encounters with grief today. The disruptions imposed by the continued growth of a largely unchecked and mismanaged pandemic in the United States allows for anxiety, grief, depression, and uncertainty to creep into our everyday lives. The impacts of life with covid-19 on mental health are acutely felt across the general population. Here, I want to briefly speak to graduate student experiences brought forth by the pandemic. Within academia travel restrictions, campus shutdowns, and budgetary shortfalls are fueling rising rates of poor mental health among graduate students (a population which already experiences higher rates of mental health difficulties when compared to the average U.S. citizen).

Speaking to my own experience, I have deeply felt the disruptions of the pandemic in my own body, layering onto already existing mental health struggles. I felt the growing anxious energy fueled by the daily uncertainty of “what comes next?” I grieved the complete dissolution of my planned dissertation research – truly grieved – feeling the fatigue and emptiness as a pit and a weight tying me down. As I sat in uncertainty, grasping for new ideas for my research, the usual whispers of imposter syndrome (a familiar experience to many graduate students) grew into a loud chorus that filled my head.

These are not my experiences alone. They are felt and experienced (albeit, differently) by a great number of graduate students. Maybe your field season had to either be cut short or skipped altogether. Maybe the isolation of the lockdown has left you distracted, unmotivated, and distressed. Possibly, you are able to enter (or, are told you have to enter) your lab but feel growing anxiety over your own safety. Or, as I have experienced, you have had to jettison or drastically reduce your thesis or dissertation project. The effects of covid-19 on the research activities of graduate students has sown wholesale uncertainty. Additionally, according at a recent study the number of graduate students experiencing prolonged major depressive periods is twice as high in 2020 as it was in 2019, with 1.5 times higher reporting of generalized anxiety over the same time period. All of these possibilities (and many more) are stacked on top of fears of losing a loved one, financial instability, the loneliness of isolation, and the dread of a collapsing job market, compounding the pandemic induced anxiety and depression felt by graduate students (as well as faculty, staff, and undergraduates).

I am excited to see that there are some efforts, led by institutions and/or graduate students themselves, towards tackling the rise of mental distress among graduate populations but acknowledge (given the data on rising mental distress) that we have not yet done enough. We need academic administrators to center mental health as part of their recovery plans. When this isn’t done, faculty, students, and staff need to continue to pressure their institutions to become more caring spaces and create networks of support for all members of the academic community.

Here I can offer no advice on how to navigate the seemingly continuous assaults on mental health during this pandemic. I hope, as well, that this does not come across as an anguished scream into the void. In my experience I have had to learn how to give myself what I need. To allow myself to grieve and accept the change in my research; to be better about reaching out and accepting help; and to simply be kind to myself (a struggle, to be sure). Uncertainty and generalized anxiety still creep into the four walls I am isolating in, there is no quick and easy solution to dealing with poor mental health. I just wanted to say to take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, know that you alone aren’t struggling.

The promise and perils of connectivity during the Pandemic by Dr. Julie Klinger

Space-based and Internet technologies have been central to the radical social and institutional reconfigurations precipitated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. But the extent to which they can help or harm depends entirely on the manner in which they are used, by whom, and toward what ends. To these critical questions we must also add: where and how are the raw materials essential for the production of these technologies are sourced?

This issue is explored in the short film Material Zoom, recently published by the UN Environment Programme. Produced by UD Professor and International Resource Panel Member Dr. Saleem Ali, directed by filmmaker Alex Tyson, and researched by Ingrid Burrington and others, the film provides a snapshot of the resource requirements for the digitally connected world. It highlights the profound disparities among people who use these technologies and the people who take on a whole complex of risks in order to supply global demand.

As governments and other organizations scrambled to transform a small part of the massive state and corporate surveillance apparatuses into tools that could be used to protect people and fight the Pandemic, digital rights advocates seized the opportunity to talk about data confidentiality and privacy. The moment has brought an important long-standing question to the fore: if global connectivity is the goal, who controls the infrastructure that sustains it and the information that flows through it? In other words, is the ongoing surrender to perpetual harvesting of our identifiable personal information by countless and largely unknown third-parties the price we have to pay for the promised benefits of connectivity? It is, as many have pointed out, a spurious proposition.

A timely publication by scholars at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development and other collaborators dares to reimagine the internet as a place that fosters truth, transparency, and autonomy.  Of course this is not the first such re-imagining. In this area as well as many others, feminist scholarship was about 25 years ahead of the mainstream. Creating transparent and truthful spaces online is essential to if increased connectivity can be credibly promoted as a desirable goal. This behavioral sciences approach could work by addressing the very algorithms that drive ‘clickbait’ and have made the internet into a cesspool of shock, lies, and horror. But implementing this requires more than taking on a few outsized corporations whose business models are built on ever more intimate forms of surveillance and algorithms designed to appall—although that is urgently important. The research of feminist media scholar Dr. Adrienne Shaw shows that the virulence of Internet spaces is not some accidental effect of technology or algorithms, but inseparable from the larger cultures in which these technologies are used—cultures where misogyny, racism, and hate are salient features of everyday life.

On the materials front, strategies abound for how to sustainably source technology metals needed not only to close the digital divide but also to support the IPCC-recommended renewable energy transition. But implementation requires taking on a global mineral market where competition is still won by sourcing the cheapest possible commodity, regardless of human and environmental cost.  Largely unchallenged, this paradigm continues to drive extraction into vulnerable communities and ecosystems. Left unchanged, this paradigm means that the benefits of digital connectivity will continue to accrue for some people at the expense of others.

Space-based technologies are crucial to digital and physical connectivity. They are indispensable to global navigation, disaster forecasting, tracking, and management, and to combatting the multiple unfolding public health, environmental, and economic crises of the moment. But their successful deployment and operation depends on a free and peaceful outer space environment.  As I have written elsewhere, a free and peaceful cosmos has been essential to globalization as we know it—for better and for worse—because this has made it possible for the exceedingly delicate satellite technologies on which so much of the operations of everyday life depend to be placed in Earth’s orbits.  But this very regime is also under threat from the latest US government moves to permit the privatization and militarization of outer space.

So the radical social and institutional reconfigurations of the COVID-19 era highlights what has been true all along:  that efforts to close the digital divide can widen other sorts of divides that many have mobilized for years to address. Although these divides manifest in different forms—the risks assumed by mining communities, the uncalculated personal and societal tolls of Internet harassment, misinformation, and hate-mongering, the gaps in accessibility to basic services during a global health and economic crisis, the struggle to keep outer space free and peaceful—they are all connected. The task at hand is to make sense of these connections. If we can analytically link the seemingly disparate histories of these issues with our present predicaments, then we can envision and build a future that differs—dramatically, beautifully, and positively—from the present.