Open Access Week 2022 – A Conversation with Jeremy Schmidt: Associate Professor, Department of Geography

A post by Katie Skellett, Open Access Publications Officer

What is Open Access Week? Open Access Week is a global event, aimed at promoting and informing the academic and research community about the benefits of open access. Open Access is the free & immediate online access to the results of scholarly research, and the granting of rights to share, use and re-use those results.

You can see other Open Access Week activity at Durham University by following our blog here

You can also find out more about Open Access at Durham University here.

Remember: any full text research publication you access from Durham Research Online, an author at Durham has made the effort to ensure that research is available for free to anyone, with the assistance of colleagues from Durham University Library and Collections, and departmental administrative staff across the University.

As some readers might already know, the theme of Open Access Week 2022 is ‘Open for Climate Justice’.

Hands up if you’re not sure what climate justice means in real-world terms? Yep, us too! Since we aren’t clued up nearly enough about such an important topic we sought help from an expert – Dr Jeremy Schmidt – Associate Professor (Department of Geography) and prominent researcher of the social and ethical dimensions of land, water and energy. We knew that, as the author of Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity, co-editor of Water Ethics: Foundational Readings for Students and Professionals and invited participant to the UN’s Valuing Water initiative by the Vatican and the Club of Rome, Jeremy’s expertise would see us right. And, boy were we correct! Starting with Jeremy’s most recent open access paper we asked him to break down ‘all things climate justice’ for us (ashamedly non-specific, we know) and explain a little about how publishing open access aligns with his objectives, both as a researcher and as expert on the topic…

Jeremy, in a nutshell, how would you summarise your most recently published research Geography and Ethics I: Placing injustice in the Anthropocene?

Nobody is equipped to see every injustice. It takes work, and it takes care, to understand the many ways that individuals and communities are affected by things like climate change. This article focuses on bringing to the fore ways that Black and Indigenous geographers challenge received ideas about what environmental injustices are. It is an especially important issue for disciplines like geography, which has a long history of assuming it can speak to issues anywhere. By focusing attention on practices and scholarship that are often marginalised, my aim in this article was to direct priority towards different ways communities experience climate injustice, which is often just the latest in longer and on-going histories in which environmental injustices intersect with issues of colonialism, racism, and sexism.

What are the implications of this research and what do these mean for the achievement of climate justice?

One implication is that getting to grips with climate injustice means getting to grips with the ways that changes to planetary conditions are also changes to the conditions of ethics. That can sound abstract, but it is very concrete. Imagine that we’d like to say that it is ethical to leave a good environment for the future. Under conditions of changes to the climate, mass extinctions, and land use changes, it is unclear and uncertain how actions today might relate to the future. For many people the concrete effect of this uncertainty is experienced as a kind of ethical paralysis: how can I act ethically if I don’t know what the effects of my actions will be? By learning from communities who have developed ethical practices under conditions of environmental apocalypse, different ways of relating to others and the Earth also move from the abstract to the concrete.

You often publish openly with a Creative Commons license – what, if any, have you found the benefits or opportunities open access bring to you and your research?

One area of my research that has been especially important for open access are topics relevant to Indigenous peoples. For instance, a recent article of mine in Environment and Planning C uses information I received through access to information requests to examine proposals in Canada to grant Indigenous peoples more land so long as it is both private property and leased exclusively for pipeline development. When I published that article earlier this year (2022), open access meant it reached communities affected by those types of policies. Thankfully for many Indigenous activists and scholars, the proposal has not come to fruition, but through access to that research many communities reached out to me for different kinds of requests, including for the raw data (i.e. government documents) that I used for the research. By sharing the article and data freely, Indigenous communities can make decisions with a greater knowledge of how governments are operating.

How would you like to see the open access landscape change or develop in the future?*

Right now, open access depends largely on the resources that authors have available to them. For instance, agreements that libraries or funding agencies have with academic publishers, or grants that enable authors to pay for open-access costs. I would love to see open-access respect the relationships upon which research is built. For many articles, this would mean giving greater access to libraries themselves. It would be fantastic, for instance, if Durham University gave access to communities that people in my department and across the university work with. Scholars often share their own work with communities, and this is great, but communities need more than what one scholar or discipline can provide, so why not find a way to have agreements with those communities that connect libraries to those most in need of support?

What’s next for your research?

Right now, I’m finishing a new book that examines the politics of water, oil, and land in Alberta, Canada—where the world’s fourth largest deposit of fossil fuels are located. This is a book that I hope to publish open access as it will be directly relevant not only to the communities near industrial sites but also to the many activists and scholars globally who often look at Alberta as a clarion case of climate injustice. There is more, I argue, than meets the eye. And by more I don’t mean there is a silver lining. I mean there are more facets to injustice than are recognised at present, and these are precisely what need to be addressed.

A second area of my research has been focusing on the rights of nature, and especially the ways that the United Nations has been seeking an entirely new governance philosophy known as Earth jurisprudence, which is based on the idea that humans are a part of the Earth community, not a master over it. I published an open access article on the first decade of the UN’s activities in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers in 2022. This is an area that is fast moving and exciting. This past autumn legal experts in the UK argued recognising the rights of nature was critical to sustainability, and other arms of the UN are set to recognise a human right to a healthy environment. What are the stakes of these kinds of rights and what are their limits? These are questions I’m keen to pursue.

Dr Jeremy Schmidt at the “Giants of Mining” museum in Alberta’s oil sands

We hope that reading Jeremy’s responses gave you as much food for thought about climate justice and open access as they did us. For that, his patience, and for sharing his thought-provoking research in such an accessible way, we owe Jeremy a big ‘thank you’ (although perhaps Jeremy might prefer an all-expenses paid holiday minus Wifi so we can no longer reach him, we’re sure! 😊).

If you’re now a fan of Jeremy and his work (as we are!) and you’d like to know more, you can view his Staff Profile or follow him on Twitter  @jeremyj_schmidt.

*Reading Jeremy’s responses also gave us pause to think about our Open Access offering, particularly in response to his ideas on how he’d like to see this landscape develop in future. As a team who feels strongly about the power of Open Access for promoting positive change we very much agree that the more that research outputs are available open access – either at the point of publication from the publisher’s website or via institutional repositories – the more this will open up articles, books and other resources to those within academia and beyond. If you have thoughts on this that you’d like to share too we’d love to hear from you.  Drop us an email via or tag us on Twitter @DROdurham.

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Except where otherwise noted, content is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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