In this episode, host Daniel Raimi talks with Danielle Wood, assistant professor and director of the Space Enabled research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Wood describes her work, which ranges from advising national governments on space policy to developing future space technologies that are affordable and accessible around the world. Elaborating on her desire to partner with local leaders on space ventures, Wood describes a project with RFF and NASA’s VALUABLES Consortium that is assessing how satellite data can protect the health of Brazil’s fragile mangrove forests and inform conservation policy.
Listen to the Podcast
- Designing space technology to address injustice: “I’m working with a great team of students and researchers, and we’re trying to do three things at once: One is to design today’s space technology to make it easier for people from different backgrounds to address sustainable development right now. Number two, we are trying to invent some aspects of future space technology, but it should be very sustainable and accessible … Number three, we also learn a lot from social scientists, who write about some of the challenges our society needs to improve on, especially related to issues of injustice and inequity. We try to incorporate that social science back into our engineering.” (7:30)
- The importance of partnering with local stakeholders: “My key approach is to find out who are the inspiring leaders—which might be government bureaucrats or entrepreneurs or researchers in universities. What are the important problems they’ve identified? … I often see how we can draw from space technology transfer or human spaceflight technologies and methodologies, and even from fundamental research in space science and astronomy. If any of these are relevant, I’m happy to share them with my colleagues who invite me to join their work. I think that showing respect to these leaders is one way to make progress together.” (21:04)
- Space technology can complement global efforts toward sustainability and equity: “I love the [United Nations’] Sustainable Development Goals, but I’m actually sad that we need them. Why do we have to have a goal to eliminate extreme poverty and a goal to ensure everyone has access to clean water? Why don’t we already have those things met? We clearly have enough technology and enough insight into how to solve those challenges … We still have some work to do, because those who have experienced historical patterns of exploitation—meaning those who have less opportunity for good jobs and for safe places to work—are still the ones who are not benefiting enough from space technology.” (27:30)
Top of the Stack
- VALUABLES Consortium
- "Combining Social, Environmental and Design Models to Support the Sustainable Development Goals" by Jack Reid, Cynthia Zeng, and Danielle Wood
- "Interactive Model for Assessing Mangrove Health, Ecosystem Services, Policy Consequences, and Satellite Design Using Earth Observation Data" by Jack Reid and Danielle Wood
- "Decision Support Model and Visualization for Assessing Environmental Phenomena, Ecosystem Services, Policy Consequences, and Satellite Design" by Jack Reid and Danielle Wood
- Zora Neale Hurston’s books;
- Barracoon: The Story of the Last 'Black Cargo by Zora Neale Hurston;
- Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi;
- In & Of Itself movie
The Full Transcript
Daniel Raimi: Hello, and welcome to Resources Radio, a weekly podcast from Resources for the Future. I'm your host, Daniel Raimi. Today, we talked with Dr. Danielle Wood, director of the Space Enabled research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Professor Wood's work is fascinating and multifaceted. She uses her expertise in aerospace engineering, aeronautics and astronautics, and technology policy to enhance societal development, bringing together tools—not just from space and engineering, but also from economics and other social sciences. In today's episode, she'll help us understand this work with an example from Brazil. We'll talk about her collaborations with policymakers from around the world using space-based technologies to improve life here on Earth. Stay with us.
Okay. Danielle Wood from the MIT Media Lab, thank you so much for joining us today on Resources Radio. It's really great to have you with us.
Danielle Wood: Thank you. I'm really happy to be here.
Daniel Raimi: Danielle, we're going to talk about your work today, which I personally find hard to describe, so I'm going to ask you to describe it in a couple of minutes. Before we do that, can you just give us a quick sense of how you got interested in working on issues related to space, and in particular, how you ended up working on space issues from multiple disciplinary lenses?
Danielle Wood: I love sharing the stories of how I came into the space field. In particular, I use a background now that we're in virtual meetings a lot, and it's a picture from space of a region in East Africa showing Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the tallest mountain in Africa. The reason I choose that Zoom background is because it relates to the story of how I became involved with space. When I was entering my first years as an undergraduate student at MIT, I had been very inspired by NASA. As a high school student, I was very fortunate to work as an intern at NASA, and I was really overwhelmed by the beauty and the awe of the big jobs that teams at NASA did together. Especially, I got to see the launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and I was trying to understand how this amazing observatory could understand what was happening in very distant locations in the universe.
But I also saw the International Space Station (ISS) in its early years of assembly. I was able to see the United States Laboratory, what we now call the ISS National Lab component, the Columbus module when it was being prepared for launch. I got to actually walk around and look at it. That kind of experience really gave me a deep connection to the space program. But I also had a strong interest in understanding what was happening in the broader world. I knew that people from different backgrounds, especially black women like me, didn't all have such amazing opportunities that I had. Here I was as an 18-year-old entering college at MIT, one of the most prestigious universities around the world, especially for engineering, and I knew that many people had sacrificed to give me this opportunity. I knew people with my background and my skin color and my gender didn't all have the chance to aspire to easily move into opportunities for education or for career development that I had.
I wanted to work in space, but I also wanted to find a path to pursue work that made a difference in this broader community. How could more women, people of different backgrounds, and people from African and African diaspora backgrounds, how could we all continue to build our communities and use technology in a way that serves our society? But I didn't quite know how to do that, I just had it as a vague idea. As an undergrad, I would travel to Kenya, especially, in the breaks, maybe summer or winter breaks; I'd work at a small school, just to spend time with girls and be around people that were inspiring and trying to serve people who were needing support and needing opportunities for education.
I would spend time tutoring and giving lectures in English or science, and it was really fun, but I also felt like here I was studying aerospace engineering at MIT and then spending my break time hanging out with awesome girls in Kenya. I thought these seem like very different activities, but they shouldn't be. There should be some connection between the two. I was fortunate to eventually learn a lot from a wonderful NASA civil servant named Daniel Irwin. Hopefully, some of the listeners may be familiar with Daniel Irwin's work. Dan has since started the SERVIR program, which is now a global network collaboration between NASA and USAID, the US Agency for International Development. USAID and SERVIR and NASA come together with many collaborators around the world, and they make it possible to improve the ease of access for NASA satellite data and the design of decision support systems to help apply this data directly in response to local needs.
It was really inspiring for me to learn about this project in its early years from Dan, and learn about other examples of how countries around the world were already using satellite data as a method to focus on national development goals. When I saw the connection, I realized that Kenya is a country that actually already has a lot of experience using satellite technology for mapping and for resource management, and it's a country that is on the equator and has experience and history with the experimentation in launching. So, this is something that isn't totally separate. I can think about my volunteer work and my interest in Kenya alongside my interest in space, and that was the beginning of a longer journey where I pursued graduate studies, focusing on the applications of space technology for countries in Africa. I also started to study the policies and programs for countries—both in Africa, but also in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Latin America—to see how countries were starting new satellite programs based on the emerging small satellite revolution that was happening in the late 1990s, early 2000s, and 2010s.
I became somebody who mixed my training both in system engineering and also technology policy, seeking to understand what are the best ways to apply space technology to support improvement of life on earth for people from lots of different backgrounds. This has been a path for me. I then continued to look for ways to basically get paid to keep working on this, and that's some of the challenge. Right? It was wonderful to study this in grad school. I continued and worked in the Washington, DC area for several years after that, getting great experience at NASA and several NASA partners and affiliates. I was able to eventually get lots of good experience doing management and engineering and technology policy professionally.
But I still wanted to find a way to apply my interest and my skills directly to ask how we apply space technology for sustainable development. I'm so thankful to now have an academic position where I get to apply this using multiple types of tools coming from earth science, coming from satellite engineering and system engineering and also drawing from social science. So, it's great to be able to apply earth science, social science, and engineering all at once in my job right now.
Daniel Raimi: That's so cool. It's such a fascinating story and we're going to touch on at least a couple of the elements that you brought up in that description of your path. I really appreciate that introduction. Another question that I wanted to ask you at the outset is: listeners might have gotten a sense from what you just said that your work brings together lots of different strains to try to understand complex phenomena to inform decisionmaking. If you're at a dinner party or a cocktail party—and obviously, none of us have really been to many of those lately—but in the future when you do go to a dinner party or a cocktail party, and someone just asks you what you do for your job, what do you tell them?
Danielle Wood: It's really fun to describe what I do to people from different backgrounds. At a high level, I say that I'm working with a great team of students and researchers, and we're trying to do three things at once. One is to design today's space technology to make it easier for people from different backgrounds to use it to address sustainable development right now.
Number two, we try to invent some aspects of future space technology, but it should be very sustainable—meaning good for the environment—and accessible—meaning affordable for people from different parts of the world.
Number three, we also learn a lot from social scientists, especially from historians, economists, and political scientists, who write about some of the challenges our society needs to improve on, especially related to issues of injustice and inequity, and we try to incorporate that social science back into our engineering. So, sometimes we wrote papers that basically looked like studies and reports, but they are influencing our methodologies and how we as engineers and also computer scientists and other people who make things, we want to do things in a way that's really informed by social science. So, we're definitely doing the best we can, both for the engineering but also for society.
Daniel Raimi: That's great. One of the projects that I know you're involved with that does bring together those disciplines in the ways that you're describing is the VALUABLES Consortium, which is a collaboration between RFF, NASA, and other organizations. I know that you're working on this project related to conserving mangrove forests in and around Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Can you give us a little bit of background on that project and then help us understand how satellite data and socioeconomic modeling tools are being used in that project to actually inform policy decisions on the ground?
Danielle Wood: I'm very happy to talk about my interactions with the VALUABLES Consortium, and I'm so pleased to serve on the scientific advisory committee as well. It's been wonderful to learn from the other members of the community with VALUABLES. What a great idea to focus on bringing together those working in earth science, as well as those working in social science, so we can better describe and also measure some of the benefits of having satellite earth observation data directly used, either to make policy or to inform decisions to manage the environment. I am greatly thankful that my team at Space Enabled at MIT has had the chance to collaborate with several teams in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil over the last few years. In particular, I can thank NASA for creating opportunities to meet leaders who are working in their own local environments.
In fact, I met this colleague who is a leader from Rio de Janeiro who works in the city government named Felipe Mandarino. I first met him in Washington, DC, at the Group on Earth Observations, the international meeting that brings together people from around the world interested in applying earth observation data for sustainable development, and that started a long dialogue that's continued now. The opportunity is that we are able to ask questions around how the government of Rio de Janeiro helps support the protection and management of a really important set of trees known as the mangrove forest. For those who aren't familiar, mangroves are a wonderful family of different kinds of trees that grow in coastal areas, especially near the equator. Mangroves play an integral role in many ecosystems. They often grow in what might be maybe called either wetlands or areas on the interface between saltwater and freshwater.
They play a key role in carbon sequestration, but they also help in their local environments. They help to be a nursery for baby animals, whether it's fish or shrimp or other animals that depend on their very nice roots that create this special environment that's not too dangerous for baby animals to grow. So, many fishes depend heavily on having healthy mangroves, and this is true also in Rio de Janeiro. Now, urbanization has been a key concern for mangroves around the world, and many of the important cities that are ports and provide key economic growth should have mangroves, but they're often pushed out by development, by construction, or by sea level rise and erosion. All of these can be a harm to mangroves. So, many governments need to put in place positive policies to make sure that they're actually protecting the mangroves and perhaps having areas of conservation.
This is true in Rio where there's a protected forest area that's one of the last healthy mangrove forest regions, and it's on land that's managed by different policies at the local and regional level. So, we could ask the question: Are the policies working in a way that helps to improve the long-term health of the mangroves? This has a direct impact on the economic and social well-being of people with different incomes, especially low incomes, who depend on the health of the mangroves for fishing. It's great that in this case, the city of Rio de Janeiro has a good practice where they have professional geospatial analysts embedded in the city government who can serve as advisors to policymakers about how to use satellite data and other forms of mapping data in their policies.
It's a great project where part of the role of VALUABLES is to ask, Who has been trying to use satellite data? And can we try to measure using economics some of the financial and other benefits of using that data? Rio's a great candidate, so they do have a long-term commitment to applying mapping to their policies. They also have a good record of how they've used mapping to measure the health of the mangroves over the last few decades. Plus, we have the great benefit that NASA and the US Geological Survey provide the Landsat data set for such a long period so we can make long-term summaries of the health of mangroves. I want to give appreciation because we're drawing from some techniques for mangrove mapping from space developed by Dr. Lola Fatoyinbo and also Professor David Lagomasino. They're at Goddard and East Carolina University effectively, and they've also really influenced the methods we're using.
The question is: What kind of measurements were the teams in Rio using over the last 20 and 30 years to monitor the mangroves? What has happened to the mangroves themselves? Are they actually surviving and growing? What policies were in place in a certain year to both take measurements, but also to conserve and protect the mangroves? We can make a great story that actually summarizes how the observations, the policies, and the health of mangroves all relate. Ideally, you want to see good policies protecting the mangroves that are actually enforced. You want to see healthy trees, and you want to see consistent observations. When you see all those together, you really have a strong story. When you see some of them slipping, you can ask the question: What happened? Can you improve it?
Daniel Raimi: That's so interesting. I know one of the tools that you're using to try to get at that question involves a modeling framework that you and colleagues have developed—and maybe are still developing—that seeks to bring in different types of modeling tools to address these complex systems that have sociological components, and geographic components, and earth system components. Can you talk a little bit about the complexities or the things that are interesting about bringing in earth system models and human system models into a single umbrella? If it's possible to use the example of the Rio project as a framework, that would be really useful too.
Danielle Wood: The work in Rio is actually a wonderful example of a broader framework that we're creating at Space Enabled, along with a number of collaborators. The framework is called EVDT, which stands for “Environment-Vulnerability-Decision-Technology.” It's long, so we'll go with EVDT for now. And I want to give appreciation officially to a doctoral student, Jack Reid, who is a leader within our team on this topic. We also have another colleague named Seamus Lombardo. Both of them are using their doctoral research to advance the EVDT modeling framework. We're applying it both to the case study, as you heard, of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. We're also now developing new case studies looking at coastal management in Indonesia, as well as questions of responding to COVID in multiple countries and to forest management in northern California with a native tribal community called the Yurok tribe.
We're so thankful to have these different examples. Together, all these examples help us mature the EVDT approach. We hope to be creative with the EVDT method. In order to address these important goals as described by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, you're always looking at a complex systems problem, meaning you're looking at a problem where the environment, social changes, economic changes, and policy need to be aligned closely, and we can't have just one kind of expertise. We need people from lots of different roles to be a part of the process of developing long-term management plans for these important issues. For example, I'm working on Sustainable Development Goal Number 15, which highlights the benefit of increasing biodiversity and keeping healthy ecosystems on land. Take the Rio example, one of the Sustainable Development Goals is to have healthy forests, including mangrove forests.
You can talk about the need to understand what's happening in the state of the environment, so that's the “E.” You can ask how humans either benefit or lose when the environment changes. That's the “V.” You could ask what policies are in place, either by individual humans—for example, cutting down one mangrove tree—or policies at the level of a city government or a national government who are conserving or enforcing conservation. That's the “D.” The “T” part of the framework is important too because it's often separate from these models that may integrate social and economic data. The “T” part asks what technology is available to decisionmakers right now and is it adequate? Do they have enough information about the environment? If we have sensors from space, for example, should they be also augmented with sensors from the ground or from the air?
The “T” is really a system engineering analysis to ask what are the requirements for monitoring the environment for decisionmakers and do they need more technology? If so, can we analyze the cost and the capabilities of new technology to try to propose a better technology option? When we put them together, we're using earth science and data analysis to describe the environment we're working with, collaborators who are economists to describe economic changes and social changes. We're checking with policymakers to find out how they're thinking about their policy options. Then we're adding the “T” to make it a system engineering analysis, and as we get more and more mature with this method, we'll be able to combine these all into integrated analysis.
Daniel Raimi: Wow, that sounds so cool and so interesting. I would love to be a fly on the wall at some of your meetings someday. Hopefully, when things return back to normal, you'll let me tag along into some of those meetings since I imagine you have a lot of really fascinating discussions in those conversations. We've been talking in some detail about the Rio project and some of the specific modeling tools, but it'd be great to zoom out for a minute and just ask a couple of broader questions. You mentioned in your introduction that you've traveled extensively from the world and that you've interacted with decisionmakers who are using different types of satellite data to inform their decisions. When you think about the big picture from a public policy perspective, what are some of the biggest lessons that you've learned from those different experiences with different policymakers?
Danielle Wood: I definitely want to talk about my experiences learning from policymakers, especially because sometimes people say that in my work, I bring space technology to other countries. I definitely want to strongly say that that's not how I see myself, especially because so much of my work has really involved listening to leaders. For example, in my doctoral work, I had the chance to interview a number of leaders who were the first or the second in their country to start a national space program in countries like Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, later in Mexico, and Chile, and I'm not going to forget folks in Brazil. I've had a chance to hear from leaders who were really courageous because they looked around at their country and they said, "Our country needs to have space technology as part of our national development process. I see a way to both train people and get engaged with international partnerships and to start some of the early projects."
These leaders deserve so much credit. I came along as an eager listener and somebody who had a lot of interest. Now that I've listened to so many of them, I can bring together the lessons from the various examples and can say, "Hey, I've heard from 10 different countries. Let me please pass it on to you." So, I'm honored for now to be a formal space policy advisor for the government of Bermuda, for example. They have a space policy advisory council for the government. It's so great that I can draw from these years of lessons I've been learning from and pass it on to Bermuda. I chat with other leaders around the world as well. I want to highlight that, to show that there's been a lot of learning through the community of people that have shared these experiences across different continents.
The second idea is that, as a university professor at MIT, I'm so thankful that people are so hospitable, and many people welcomed me and my team to collaborate with them. We try to work in places where we're invited, rather than creating our own ideas of projects from scratch. Instead, we basically look for those who already have really innovative activities happening in all these regions, especially regions near the equator that are experiencing a lot of impact from climate change now. There's a lot of local and then national and regional leaders who are doing their best to combine their local resources and international collaboration to work on really important challenges. Many of them can be well aligned with the sustainable development goals.
Take the example of Ghana. It's a great case where, as you look at the bureaucrats working across the government—I use bureaucrats in the fondest of ways here—there's people who are going to work every day and doing hard work. For example, we've been hosted by the Ghana Statistical Service and the Ghana Space and Technology Institute, and a project funded by NASA to look at issues of deforestation due to mining. I very much admire the wonderful bureaucrats who had the job of thinking about how to both improve data analysis and improve policies and enforcement of policies, and I find it so wonderful that they're spending some of their time with me because we're looking at particular methods to improve the use of satellite data for these goals they already have. My key approach is to find out who are the inspiring leaders, which might be government bureaucrats or entrepreneurs or researchers in universities. What are the important problems they’ve identified, which often can be found on the list of Sustainable Development Goals? And how do we agree on this is your definition of how you're addressing this locally?
If I can do something that's relevant or useful with my various tools from space technology, I'm happy to try. So, I often look at the list of satellite earth observation, satellite positioning in communication, and then also see how we can draw from space technology transfer or human spaceflight technologies and methodologies, and even from fundamental research in space science and astronomy. If any of these are relevant, I'm happy to share them with my colleagues who invite me to join their work. I think that approach, of showing respect to these leaders is one way to make progress together.
Daniel Raimi: That's so well said. Many researchers, myself included, are learning more and more about the importance of working with partners at the beginning of research processes rather than at the end, and instead of seeing them as just passive recipients of research, trying to build research programs around the needs and the requests of the decisionmakers who are ultimately going to be using the research.
Danielle Wood: That's a great observation. I can highlight, especially thinking about the period since COVID started. Previously before COVID, I could go and visit collaborators and countries like Ghana and Benin and Brazil pretty regularly, and that was really fun. Obviously, it also gave me a chance to really build relationships so I felt like we were on a great foundation in terms of having their view of what the project should be. Of course, I've been so frustrated in the last year not being able to travel. But I have to give appreciation because one example is that we responded by creating a project that is based on the EVDT modeling framework, and it's called Vida. Vida is another decision support system framework focusing on adding public health. Now we have five key pieces of our model: public health, environment, socioeconomic factors, policy, and technology.
We asked those who are research colleagues, government leaders, or entrepreneurs around the world who we already knew: What are you doing in your own country to respond to COVID? They've been willing to volunteer time very consistently over the last year. We now have a monthly meeting with people from five different countries, and we're all exchanging methodologies to use data analytics to inform public policy in responding to COVID. It's the same kind of idea. What can we learn from satellite data? What can we learn from local health data? How do we combine them effectively? So, now we have colleagues from Indonesia, and Angola,, the same colleagues from Brazil that I mentioned earlier, also from Chile and Mexico, and we're really learning a lot from each other. And they're just being generous to engage with this network and to pass the information across these continents so we can share.
Daniel Raimi: That's really interesting. Well, I'm sure they're being generous, but also that they’re learning a ton from the work you and your colleagues are doing. I want to ask two more questions before we go to our Top of the Stack segment and they're on somewhat separate topics, but they're both relevant and I'm really eager to hear your responses to them.
The first one is about the Outer Space Treaty, which we talked about a couple of months ago on this show when we had an episode on space mining with Alex Gilbert from Colorado School of Mines. International agreements like the Outer Space Treaty which entered into force in 1967, they articulate a goal that the human use of space should be for the benefit of all mankind. From your perspective, how are we doing on that score? I'm wondering if there's an example that comes to mind of where we are living up to that aspiration, and then places where we still have a lot of work to do.
Danielle Wood: The Outer Space Treaty is one of my favorite examples of areas that inspire me in how I shape my work. I'm really proud of the history of the space community, in a sense that we were able to come together. I say we, meaning the historical people I'm building from. I obviously wasn't there, but I can look back and say I'm so thankful for the leaders that came together in the 1960s and decided it was important to define space, first, as a globally shared resource and a globally shared heritage for all humankind, as well as thinking about it from the point of view of public-oriented service. Topics, such as space exploration and scientific research, are public services that belong to everyone rather than private services that belong to those who can pay. If you think about space, we can also consider other regimes where there's international treaties that guide how we collaborate.
You can compare it to Antarctica, to the oceans, to the atmosphere. Each of those regions has slightly different treaty approaches. If you consider the atmosphere, for example, it's slightly more geared toward a commercial orientation, meaning the coordination we do internationally for air travel is really driven so that people can pay a fee to commercial companies so we could safely fly and have freight. This makes a lot of sense, it is something that works well in a practical sense, but I still think that for space, it's not a commercial first orientation. It's a public service orientation first.
We think about some of the strengths of that. The public services that are really becoming vital to our daily life include satellite-based observation of the earth, satellite positioning, and communication. In all three of those areas, there is both a combination of public and private actors, but part of the vision is that the signals that rain down from the satellites, whether you're thinking about the positioning signals or the ability to measure satellites observation on the world, it's something that is globally done rather than just for one region.
That's a very positive aspect. So, I'm so thankful that whether people know it or not, they're benefiting from satellite positioning all the time. Right? Whether it's directly your own phone to map your path or just using a transaction such as an ATM or a gas station that's been supported in some way by the timing signal or the positioning information from space. I'm so proud that there's many aspects of space technology that do serve the global community equally, but that just means that the service is being given out equally. It doesn't mean that everyone is in a position to use a service in the same way on earth. The reason for that is based on history. I teach a class at MIT for graduate students in the fall, and the title is “Can Space Enabled Designs Advance Justice and Development?”
The reason I teach the class is to especially encourage engineers, designers, architects, and others to read historical documents to understand how we came to a world where we need the Sustainable Development Goals. I love the SDGs, I use them all the time, but I'm actually sad that we need them. Why do we have to have a goal to eliminate extreme poverty and a goal to ensure everyone has access to clean water? Why don't we already have those things met? Because we clearly have enough technology, enough insight into how to solve those challenges. For the reason those needs are there is because of historical patterns, including colonization, slavery, and a globally driven economic system that favors certain countries over others by exploiting those who are at lower incomes in certain regions for the benefit of others and other regions. So, we still have some work to do because those who have experienced traditional and historical patterns of exploitation—meaning those who have less opportunity for good jobs and for safe places to work—are still the ones who are not benefiting enough from space technology.
Going further, we have some important questions to ask as a global community right now because right now, there's a number of technologies that are evolving and maturing such that things that seemed relatively impossible in the past for space communities will be feasible soon, including having robotic missions regularly to the moon, having humans stay on the moon longer, having missions that go to asteroids and consider trying to mine. It's not coming right away, but it's coming in our lifetimes. That means that we should start asking some key questions that build on the Outer Space Treaty and really exercise some of the details to say, "well, if space is really the heritage of all humankind, how do we ensure that for the next generations we're leaving a beautiful heritage of all these celestial locations?" For example, the moon is a relatively small location compared to the earth, has limited physical locations for people to operate, and has limited resources.
I hope that the current generation will not ruin or destroy what's already on the moon, but rather consider it a heritage to pass on to the next generations. I hope that when we have more activity on Mars, for example, we can also ask how to be as sustainable as possible in ways that should also feed back to earth. But we don't want to have societies based on exploitation and waste of either humans or the environment. We need societies that are based on being as careful as possible to do no harm both to humans and the environment, but also to actually design really innovative ways to be creative and use cool technologies like additive manufacturing or other areas to have really the best synergy between humans and the environment.
Daniel Raimi: Yeah, great points, and you've articulated them really nicely and given us really helpful context as well. Last question now before we go to our Top of the Stack segment which is just about your background, and you mentioned it at the outset. Unfortunately, there are relatively few women of color working on many of the issues that we've touched on today. Just wondering, over the course of your career, what advice would you give to young people, particularly those from underserved and underrepresented groups, if they're interested in following a path that is at least in some ways similar to yours?
Danielle Wood: I'd actually love to start by giving advice to people who are not from underserved groups because they have a key role to play on this topic. The first angle is that all of us need to read the history of our own country, our own region. I'll speak to the US audience for now, that there's a lot of important history about the United States that helps explain how we see things today. But we don't all know some of the key facts and events that shaped our society today. If we did, we could have a much more informed and better thought out ways of responding to today's challenges. I want to recommend one book, for example, by Professor Ibram Kendi. It's called Stamped from the Beginning, and the subtitle is “The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America.” I use this book in my teaching.
The reason I mentioned it is it draws from a long history, looking at the entire period of European influence in the United States area. It helps to understand key events that really remind us of today's events, but put them in such great context. The first idea is let's all learn our history because it will help us avoid being surprised by today's events. The second is to say, and to those who may find themselves feeling that they're in a community that's not getting the great benefits of some technology or education opportunities, I want to give a general message of we love you, and we see you, and that you matter, and that you can do challenging things with the support of people around you. I am currently positioned to be, hopefully, the first woman to get tenure in both the Media Lab, which is our Media Arts and Sciences Program, and I'm also affiliated with the Aeronautics and Astronautics department. There has not been previous black women faculty in these departments at MIT, and, of course, I'm inspiring to great things, and I hope it works out.
I'll just note that along the way, as I studied at MIT as a student, I couldn't learn from people who had the same demographic background that I had. But what I'll say is that I gained a lot from learning from those with different demographic backgrounds because they chose to invest in me. All of us can play a role, no matter what we look like, to support those around us, especially those who may experience being in a position that has many disadvantages, right, whether from demographics or from other experience backgrounds. One of the key things people did for me is to tell me they believed that I could become a leader.
Literally, they would say to me, "I believe you can go to grad school. I believe you can become faculty. I believe you are somebody who's preparing to be a leader." I try to pass that same message on to my mentees. I'm thankful to have a number of people on my team, and I try to say directly to them, "I believe in you. I look forward to your future leadership. When you become a leader in the future, I want to collaborate with you. I think you're going to be wonderful." So, I think passing that kind of message on is so important.
Daniel Raimi: That's fantastic. Thank you so much for those thoughts. Wow, I want to dwell on that, but we're at time. So let's go now to our last question which is our Top of the Stack question to ask you to recommend something that you've read or watched, or heard recently that you would recommend to our listeners. I'll briefly start with a film that I watched recently that was not directly related to the environment, but I was thinking of it in the context of this conversation because when I was learning about your work, I kind of had my jaw just kind of open a lot. I was like, "Wow." I just had this sense of wonder and amazement, thinking, not only about space but about the kind of breadth of disciplines that you bring to bear for your work.
It reminded me of this film that I watched which was called In & Of Itself. It's a recording of a one-person show that was put on off-Broadway for a couple of years, and it's all about basically our sense of ourselves and how that sense can change over time. It's about the nature of truth. It's about these kinds of heavy things, but it involves a lot of illusions and sleights of hand by the performer whose name is Derek DelGaudio, and it was just an incredible movie. It made me just kind of change the way I thought about myself in the world for at least a few hours. I'd really recommend it to other folks as well. But how about you, Danielle? What's at the top of your literal or metaphorical reading stack?
Danielle Wood: Thank you. I have lately been appreciating that I have a fun geographic connection to some key leaders that I've just enjoyed learning more about their life. One is Zora Neale Hurston, and I'm so thankful that I grew up right next door to the town that her family helped to found which is called Eatonville, Florida, which is the first black township incorporated in the United States. And they have an annual festival to celebrate Zora Neale Hurston there. Zora Neale Hurston wrote a book that was published after she died in the 1960s called Barracoon in which she interviewed one of the last people who experienced the slave transport moving from Africa to United States, somebody who survived this middle passage and lived into freedom, and lived as a free person after slavery ended after the Civil War. Zora also wrote a number of other amazing books, including novels and books where she captured anthropological data around folklore and stories of the Southern communities.
I'm just celebrating—now that I live in Boston, which is quite far from the hometown where I grew up in Orlando, Florida, I enjoy looking back and learning more about my own hometown by the work of this anthropologist and novelist. So, I want to pass on any book by Zora Neale Hurston as recommendation because part of her vision was to, in a sense, create geographic data by traveling around and listening to people tell stories, creating both novels and, in a sense, scientific summaries of the data she heard, and give us a sense of geography by way of stories and folklore. She's one of my heroes.
Daniel Raimi: Wow, that's great. Fantastic recommendations. And we will make sure to put links to maybe a page that has some collections of her works, or at least a couple of different works that folks can go look up. But I imagine most of us have heard of Zora Neale Hurston and great to re-up her name on this show today. So, once again, Danielle Wood from MIT, thank you so much for joining us today on Resources Radio. Your work is fantastic and really appreciate you sharing it with us.
Danielle Wood: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure talking to you.
Daniel Raimi: You've been listening to Resources Radio. Learn how to support Resources for the Future at rff.org/support. If you have a minute, we'd really appreciate you leaving us a rating or comment on your podcast platform of choice. Also, feel free to send us your suggestions for future episodes. Resources Radio is a podcast from Resources for the Future. RFF is an independent, nonprofit research institution in Washington, DC. Our mission is to improve environmental, energy, and natural resource decisions through impartial economic research and policy engagement.
The views expressed on this podcast are solely those of the podcast guests and may differ from those of RFF experts, its officers, or its directors. RFF does not take positions on specific legislative proposals. Resources Radio is produced by Elizabeth Wason, with music by me, Daniel Raimi. Join us next week for another episode.