Improving the socio-ecological cost of gold production from extraction to refining

Raised of $4,618 Goal
Ended on 7/05/24
Campaign Ended
  • $165
  • 4%
  • Finished
    on 7/05/24

About This Project

This study explores gold production governance and its impact in the Global South and North. Unlike studies focusing solely on extraction, it follows the production process from the Peruvian Amazon (extraction) to Switzerland (refining). It delves into gold's sustainability, human rights, and certification challenges. In Peru, it combines technology with Indigenous knowledge to produce spatiotemporal maps that can be used to protect land from illegal mining.

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What is the context of this research?

The Amazon rainforest is a critical ecosystem under threat of collapse due to human activity such as gold mining. Madre de Dios, Peru is one of the most biodiverse places in the world and home to the majority of Peru's illegal gold mining. This mining causes deforestation and releases toxic mercury into the ecosystem. As the price of gold has risen, this damage has drastically expanded. Many indigenous communities are living in the region, including some living in voluntary isolation from the outside world, and require a healthy ecosystem to survive. Additional research is needed to understand this rapidly-changing socioeconomic and environmental situation and protect these areas.

While my full research project focuses on Peru, Switzerland, and the gold supply chain, here I focus on Peru.

What is the significance of this project?

This research sheds light on the socioenvironmental dynamics of gold production, contributing valuable insights to geographical knowledge through its focus on the seemingly disparate locations of Peru and Switzerland. With an emphasis on both the social and physical aspects of gold production, it puts forth an interdisciplinary lens weaving together elements of human and environmental geography. It will address literature gaps by examining socioenvironmental and economic gold production contexts in both the Global North and South, furthering Global Production Network theory, political ecology, and economic geography through its advancement of a Multi-Node Global Gold Production System framework.

What are the goals of the project?

This project aims to analyze the governance structures surrounding gold production in Peru and Switzerland, examining their impact on local livelihoods, social justice, and environmental sustainability. It seeks to understand how formal and informal governance regimes shape labor dynamics, community agency, and socio-environmental outcomes. Additionally, it aims to use spatiotemporal data collected via drones to map mining impacts and evaluate the efficacy of gold certification programs in addressing challenges within the industry and explore the power dynamics at play. Ultimately, the project aims to provide insights into potential avenues for improving governance practices and fostering more equitable and sustainable gold production processes.


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This budget supports the fieldwork component that will take place in the Peruvian Amazon rainforest (as opposed to research in both Peru and Switzerland). It covers the bare essentials for this fieldwork and research completion: plane ticket from London to Peru, in-country plane travel, car and river travel to indigenous communities and research stations, lodging, and supplies/medical equipment.

My stretch goal is an additional $1,000 to support an additional 2 weeks of fieldwork.

Endorsed by

This is an important project that builds on Lena's past three years of research in the Amazon rainforest. The issues of mercury pollution and deforestation from gold mining is growing despite efforts to mitigate them, and more research is needed. This project will provide a unique bottom-up perspective that will aid in identifying scalable solutions.

Project Timeline

I will travel to Peru in July 2024 to conduct research during the dry season, when land and river travel is easiest. I will collect data in two indigenous communities, at one biological research station, and will interview gold miners in Puerto Maldonado, including those working towards formalization and mercury-free mining.

Jun 05, 2024

Project Launched

Jul 19, 2024

Travel to Puerto Maldonado, data collection with miners

Aug 01, 2024

Data collection in Indigenous communities

Aug 10, 2024

Data collection at Los Amigos Biological Research station

Aug 20, 2024

Return to Puerto Maldonado and leave Peru

Meet the Team

Lena Easton-Calabria
Lena Easton-Calabria
Doctoral Researcher


University of Oxford
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Lena Easton-Calabria

Lena Easton-Calabria is a geographer and Doctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute. Easton-Calabria previously spent over three years studying ethnobotany and the impacts of climate change on indigenous communities of the Amazon rainforest in Peru and Bolivia, part of the time as a National Geographic Young Explorer. After seeing the human and environmental devastation of gold extraction up close, she became passionate about understanding the roots of this issue and is taking a unique approach to this topic in her doctoral research.

Easton-Calabria has also conducted research across the United States on topics such as climate adaptation, extreme heat, and stormwater pollution in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Baltimore. Her work (some of it collaborative) has been published by The Messenger, the RAND Corporation, and various journals including Disaster Prevention and Management. Easton-Calabria has also presented at the American Meteorological Society's annual conference, the American Geophysical Union/American Meteorological Society Climate and Health Showcase, and the Society of Ethnobiology's annual conference, among others.

With a BA in Medical Anthropology and Global Health from the University of Washington and a Master of Science in Environmental Change and Management from the University of Oxford, where she graduated with Distinction, Easton-Calabria has an extensive academic and research background at the intersection of sustainability, climate change, and health. She will graduate with her PhD in Geography and the Environment from the University of Oxford in 2026.

Lab Notes

Nothing posted yet.

Additional Information

As a researcher who has conducted biological and anthropological research throughout the Peruvian and Bolivian Amazon, I can say without a doubt that this region of Peru holds the most biologically diverse and stunning primary forest that I have ever seen (see this project's banner photo!). Although mining has expanded rapidly since my previous research in the region from 2013-2016, the ecosystem has not yet collapsed and mining has not yet reached many remote areas. It is vital to collect data on the ground in Peru to investigate mining's cause and impact in areas that are infrequently monitored.

I take a broad lens in my research to understand gold mining as one part of an international supply chain that must be more comprehensively studied in order to truly address the current social and environmental impacts on the ground in the Amazon rainforest. However, to keep costs lower on this platform, I am only seeking support for and discussing the goals of the Peruvian portion of fieldwork. After fieldwork in Peru, I will be conducting research in Switzerland and conducting interviews remotely from Oxford on the full gold supply chain from Peru to Switzerland (Switzerland is the primary importer of Peruvian gold).

Project Backers

  • 5Backers
  • 4%Funded
  • $165Total Donations
  • $33.00Average Donation
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