Sara Nelson is Simons Postdoctoral Fellow in the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and a Fellow with the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Her research examines the social history and political economy of environmental management and energy transitions, with an emphasis on the politics of environmental valuation and environmental justice. She has a PhD in Geography from the University of Minnesota and a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Tufts University.
Sara’s current research is focused on two areas: the first follows the development of new financial mechanisms for investing in ‘natural infrastructure’ for climate mitigation and adaptation, focusing on forest restoration and fire risk reduction on public lands in California. This research is part of a 5-year (2018-2023) collaborative study of international conservation finance funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) (PI Jessica Dempsey, UBC Geography).
A second research area centres the political economy of justice in socio-technical transitions. This research focuses on how diverse approaches to funding and financing transitions trajectories have disparate implications for how the benefits and costs of transitions are distributed, who is empowered in decision-making, and what kinds of visions of the future gain purchase. In collaboration with Professor M. V. Ramana, Sara is examining the role of extant industries in shaping discourse and policy around energy transitions, in particular regarding nuclear and biomass energy, and developing a case-study of a negotiated transition away from nuclear energy in San Luis Obispo, California. Other collaborative work looks to affirmative examples of ‘reparative finance’ for furthering environmental justice and climate reparations.
Outside of her academic work, Sara enjoys sewing, dyeing, and other textile arts. Originally from California, she is enthusiastically acquainting herself with the plant communities on the Pacific Northwest coast and can often be found foraging for wild food, medicinals, and dye plants.