Institute at Brown for Environment and Society

In Memoriam: Elizabeth Lord, Lecturer in Environment and Society

Elizabeth Lord, Lecturer in Environment and Society, passed away on February 8, 2021. She was 38.

Elizabeth LordAt IBES, we remember Elizabeth as an active and beloved instructor, advisor and colleague. Her classes were highly lauded and she developed a growing group of devoted students. She taught a course on political ecology, a methods course on interdisciplinary research, and a course on China’s environment. Elizabeth was active in efforts to address our university’s impact on the climate, participating in the student-faculty-staff network Scholars at Brown for Climate Action.

Elizabeth was a valued and beloved member of the Brown community, having arrived at Brown in 2018 as a postdoctoral associate in IBES with her husband, Brian Lander, Assistant Professor of History and Environment and Society. After serving as an instructor for several courses, Elizabeth was hired as a Lecturer.

Through all her interactions, she was known for her intellectual rigor, her keen mind, and her deeply considerate nature. She will be sorely missed.

We send our deepest condolences to her family and to her husband, Assistant Professor Brian Lander, and we endeavor to keep her legacy alive. 

Elizabeth Lord was born in Montreal, Quebec in 1982 and went on to do her BA in development studies at McGill University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from and the University of Toronto in the Department of Geography and Planning. Before arriving at Brown she was the An Wang Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University’s Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies. She spent three years in China, and became fluent in Mandarin. 

Elizabeth was a human geographer who studied the social effects of China’s ambitious environmental protection initiatives. At Brown, she had a profound, positive impact on the many students whose lives she touched. Here are a few of their thoughts:

“Elizabeth had a refreshing style, always seeking to put a human face on environmental topics. When discussing almost any issue – even philosophical ones like Eco-Marxism, urban-rural inequality, and the environmental impact of the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative – Elizabeth would raise the same question every time: How does this issue affect everyday people in China? Her compassion was clear and contagious.”

“Elizabeth had such a transformative impact on me and my academic/activist interests, and I am so saddened to hear of her passing. “

“She was a wonderful professor and never failed to make people smile.”

“Elizabeth and the lessons she shared are a significant reason I am dedicating my life to solving climate change. I hope to make her proud in my efforts.”

In her work, Elizabeth applied theories of political ecology, environmental justice and environmental knowledge production to study how both environmental ills and environmental policies affect normal people. Her 2018 doctoral dissertation analysis identified two processes transforming rural environments in China: the redirection of polluting industries to poorly regulated rural areas and the mobilization of rural people to maintain ecosystems necessary for economic growth, such as urban water supplies. Her case studies included water redirection projects which required rural areas to forego economic development to protect their water for the benefit of prosperous cities. She also studied the world’s largest “payments for ecological services” program, in which farmers were compensated to stop farming erosion-prone sloping land. She proposed the new concept of “socio-environmental reproduction” to analyze how the labor of marginalized and impoverished people maintains the viability of ecosystems that are essential for economic growth and capitalist accumulation. 

Dr. Lord also analyzed the forces that shaped the production of environmental knowledge, showing that scientific research in China avoids even producing the type of information that would reveal how unequal its environmental protection policies are. She co-authored a widely read article on the sexual politics of fieldwork in China which revealed how women researchers’ bodies “are sexualized and sometimes threatened.” She also studied how environmental issues serve as a platform for Western critics of China to revive orientalist tropes and use them to fuel anti-China sentiment. In all these insights we can perceive the focus on injustice and inequality which were the center of Elizabeth Lord’s intellectual and humane project.