Bindu Panikkar, our new Health Arts and Sciences faculty in the MA program, holds a Postdoctoral Research Associate position in Environmental Health and Research Ethics at the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at the Northeastern University and is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Science Technology and Society Program at Brown University. She has a PhD in Environmental Health and MA/MS in Environmental Policy and Planning/Environmental Health from Tufts University.
On Teaching at Goddard: I was not sure what to expect before going to Goddard. I was not sure how to prepare for Goddard as well. It felt like I was asked to come as I am with all of my lived and learned experiences. It has been one of the most inspiring work experiences in my life so far. It has so far offered me everything that I would have wanted – a truly supportive community, meaningful work, inspiring workmates (both faculty and students), nature, good food, and a non-judgmental space that has invited me to think and express myself without inhibitions. It was an emotionally enriching experience to be treated completely as a person–mind, body, and soul. It challenged me to be creative, experimental, and spontaneous. And soon I realized this is what teaching and learning is all about, exercising these creative faculties. I am truly grateful to have had this realization and this wonderful experience. This has deeply influenced my attitude on teaching. Now I allow teaching to come not just from a place of knowledge but also from the surrounding unknowns where curiosities, imaginations, and creativity can take shape more easily. Having left the Goddard campus, I do not feel differently. Life has intervened in between, other work obligations fills my time but I hold a special place in my heart for Goddard and my colleagues there.
On Receiving a National Science Foundation Grant To Study the Permit Process for a Natural Resource Extraction Project in Alaska: As an environmentalist, Alaska is an interesting place to be. I am quite interested in its environment, culture and politics there, an interest that I developed as a result of a job I got there as the Environmental Health Specialist for the State of Alaska. I gave up the job due to reasons that I cannot fully go into; instead I applied for an NSF grant to pursue my own research as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Northeastern University. And it is a blessing to have this grant come through.
This grant will be to conduct a two-year project to examine the permitting process of the proposed Pebble Mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. The permitting process will start the end of the year and it will quite likely take two years if everything goes smooth for the Pebble Partnership to start the mine. Bristol Bay is over a million acres of vital fish and wildlife habitat that is mostly undeveloped, road-less, wild tundra crisscrossed with streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. This resource-rich habitat hosts the largest salmon fishery in the world but also holds the largest accessible aggregation anywhere in the world of valuable minerals such as copper, gold, and molybdenum that is being sought for mining. This has become a highly contentious issue, one that is very scientific, economic, political, legal and social. Even before the permitting process has begun, it has resulted in endless disputes and debates on legal authority, rights of nature, risks and benefits, preservation of local economies, sustainable development, and environmental justice.
I will evaluate, how are policy decisions made with regards to permitting? How do resource-rich states such as Alaska steer the governance of its resources and technology? How do they negotiate risks versus benefits? How do they address its rights of nature, rights of conservation for subsistence, and other environmental justice issues relative to development? What are the predominant legal disputes that have resulted from the permitting process of Pebble in Alaska? And how does democratic processes – social, ethical and political commitments, influence science, policymaking, and technology? This will be an ethnographic and interview-based project informed by the community groups, native residents, state officials, scientists and federal environmental agencies.
On Other Teaching and Activism Work: Throughout my career, I have mixed research and community work. I’m doing some community based research with the Pilgrim Coalition looking into the social, political, legal and ethical concerns with the relicensing of Pilgrim Nuclear Power Reactor in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I am also on the board of Pilgrim Coalition and attend most of their events and activities. I also started and chaired the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment in RI, a coalition of different hospitals and environmental groups that address environmental sustainability issues within the hospitals in RI. This fall, I’m teaching a course at Brown University on Gender, Science and Society within the Science, Technology and Society program. In my free time I love going for hikes and being attuned to nature and I am trying to get back on my “daily” practice of yoga and meditation.