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"The Unsustainable Impacts of your ‘Sustainable’ Cars": GRRIPP STEM Challenge - The winners' story


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Miriam shares details of her winning project, tackling the gendered issues caused by lithium mining in Chile, as well as her experience of participating in the first GRRIPP STEM Summer Workshop for students interested in gender equality and equity in climate change.


In this blog, I would like to talk about my experience in the GRRIPP STEM challenge (June 2023).

In the week starting Monday, the 19th of June, I took part in this Challenge. I had the chance to learn from very skilled and knowledgeable women, who are leaders in their field. I also got to experience what working in the policymaking and development industry looks like. It allowed me to use the skills and knowledge from my degree and put them into practice.

During the week, I worked with a fellow UCL student, Ella, and together we came up with a project that would help to tackle some of the gendered issues caused by lithium mining in Chile. In our project, we look at an innovative and relatively simple way to try and solve this issue.

The Project:

The project focuses on raising awareness in the UK (Global North) through education and providing the local people in Chile with tools to adapt to the negative impacts of lithium mining. The main goal is to increase awareness on the unsuitable practices leading to a slower rate of development. We want to draw attention to the gendered impacts: men, women and gender minorities are all affected negatively, but special considerations need to be made for improved capacity building in these communities.

Lithium mining in Chile was the main case study when designing our project. Lithium is a vital component of EV batteries used in electric cars, which are deemed sustainable, and is a celebrated and well-researched area in science. The global boom in electric vehicle production has sky-rocketed the demand for lithium-ion batteries. This has turned Chile's vast, lithium-containing salt flats into a vital national resource.

Aerial view of lithium fields. Rectangles of rectangular, tessellated lithium fields stretch out far into the distance toward mountains. Each field is a different colour, showing different stages in the processing of Lithium. The front fields are bright yellow, fading into a milky yellow-green, then pale and turquoise blue. Around the brightly coloured fields is grey-brown barren mud, marked with tyre tracks.
'Lithium Fields' in the Salar de Atacama salt flats in northern Chile. Credit: Tom Hegen

The effect of brine mining on ecosystems and water supply is a constant concern. This is because of the high environmental degradation and the worsening water scarcity already in the area.

Our project's aim is to help minimise the gendered impacts of the environmental degradation and water scarcity caused by this process. The target groups for the intervention are 1) Chile's population affected by the impacts of mining and 2) University students in high-income countries, which have the highest demand to construct lithium-based batteries.


The intervention we planned is designed to help the progress toward achieving Sustainable Development Goals 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12 and 17. We have also examined the literature on this topic and explored alternative solutions.

A pictographic representation of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development.  Multi-coloured squares from left to right by line read: 1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 3. Good heath and well-being, 4. Quality education, 5. Gender equality, 6. Clean water and sanitation, 7. Affordable and clean enerfy, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 9. Industry innovation and infrastructure, 10. Reduced inequalities, 11. Sustainable cities and communities, 12. Responsible consumption and production, 13. Climate action, 14. Life below water, 15. Life on land, 16. Peace and justice strong institutions, 17. Partnerships for the goals. Squares repeat. Each is accompanied by a simple symbol to represent the goal.
The Sustainable Development Goals. Credit: UN, 2015

This was a fantastic experience where I learnt a lot about unfamiliar topics, I had the opportunity to meet and work with others—incredible, talented and knowledgeable people. I could utilise the skills and knowledge from my degree and put them into practice in a real-life scenario. My team (Ella and I) won the challenge and are invited to attend COP 23 in Dubai.

The next step towards the implementation of the project is to talk to lecturers and departments at UCL to discuss adding modules to the curriculum.


 

A picture of Miriam holding up her GRRIPP STEM Challenge certificate in front of a projector screen. She is smiling, wears a pink top and jeans, with a pair of sunglasses perched on her head..

Author bio: Miriam has just finished her first year studying Global Humanitarian Studies and has lived in several countries growing up. She has witnessed inequality between the different countries and always wanted to play an active part in closing the gap and aspires to change the world through ensuring equal opportunities to everyone.




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