The Complexity of Environmental Problems: Scott Sellwood visits Clark
Updated: Mar 16, 2020
The new Earth conversation at Clark University provides support for professors at Clark to bring visitors to campus who can enrich their courses on themes related to the climate crisis. Through this initiative we were able to welcome to campus Scott Sellwood, a senior program officer on Extractive Industries at Oxfam America.
Scott presented work on projects and mobilizations in Mesoamerica and East Africa in the courses Development and Environment in Latin America and Megadevelopment. He also sat down with graduate and advanced undergraduate students in IDCE House to talk about his career trajectory and answer questions about working at Oxfam. Scott earned a legal degree at Queensland and a master's in Geography from UNC-Chapel Hill, and prior to Oxfam. Prior to Oxfam, Scott advised and supported local groups' claims to land rights and participation in processes of development in Australia and South America.
While Scott feels that his legal background has helped his work at Oxfam, he noted the difficulty inherent to framing scientific and other forms of environmental knowledge as legal standards of evidence. Even in seemingly straightforward cases of identifying sources of environmental damage and harm, the complexity of systems involved and the extent to which components and drivers are not known or fully understood can prevent the elimination of doubt to the degree necessary in court. Such a situation raises the question of whether legal systems can change in light of the rise in imminent and pressing environmental crises, or whether extra-legal processes and movements will be successful means of settling claims of rights, use, and culpability related to environmental disputes.