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Brondizio earns Volvo Environment Prize for research on linking rural, urban sustainability in Amazon

For Immediate Release Feb 9, 2024

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story from October 2023 has been updated since the award was given.

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Eduardo Brondizio was awarded the 2023 Volvo Environment Prize for his research examining human-environment interactions and how they’ve transformed the Amazon. Brondizio, Indiana University Distinguished Professor of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences, is the first Volvo Environment Prize laureate from IU.

Eduardo Brondizio poses in front of a tree Eduardo Brondizio, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington. Photo courtesy of Volvo Environment Prize

The annual award recognizes those who have made outstanding scientific discoveries around sustainability. Three laureates have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

“As one of the world’s leading experts on the environmental landscape of the Amazon, Eduardo’s research has a truly global impact that is shaping our understanding of how to pursue a more sustainable future,” IU President Pamela Whitten said. “His scholarship and research demonstrate how leading faculty at IU are at the forefront of solving some of society’s most pressing challenges, while providing the type of immersive student experiences and rich faculty collaborations that are at the heart of IU’s mission as a public research university.”

For nearly 35 years, Brondizio’s research has documented and analyzed the development and environmental challenges of the Amazon. He’s examined issues of land use, deforestation, climate change and food production, and their impact on different populations.

“Sustainability issues are about people, and the social sciences are essential to the conversation,” he said. “If we don’t really understand the motivations, the history, the factors that affect people’s interactions with the environment and how we work as a society, we won’t be able to develop solutions to the problems we face today.”

Brondizio seeks to understand how development policies, commodity markets and climate change impact the decisions of farmers, indigenous groups and urban residents in the Amazon. He works closely with communities and organizations there to form action-informed policies that will help them solve problems locally and make a difference in people’s lives.

Part of his current research focuses on understanding what conditions can help producers and community organizations promote sustainable agroforestry, fisheries and forest management in the region — or hinder them from doing so. His research also focuses on improving the economic benefits for those who produce, manage and protect the region’s biodiversity.

Brondizio also continues long-term research on rural-urban mobility and the challenges posed by a fast-urbanizing Amazonia. His work shows that one cannot deal with sustainability in Amazonia without confronting the rural and urban realities in the region.

“Eduardo Brondizio is a world leader in complex systems thinking, which is embedded in an ethnographic approach,” the Volvo Prize jury said of his research. “He has made extensive contributions to policy development through the engagement with the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).”

Central to all of Brondizio’s work is collaboration with interdisciplinary groups of colleagues, students and organizations in the Amazon and internationally. He’s helped create a vibrant exchange program between researchers and students at IU and particularly from Brazil, allowing them to develop and work together on projects.

“We’re supporting a new generation of students to continue pursuing this work,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to combine my disciplinary expertise in environmental anthropology with collaborations across the College and across IU. That’s really special because all of the problems that we are examining are problems that transcend disciplines and demand that we work together.”

Brondizio was honored with the Volvo Environment Prize during a ceremony in Gothenburg, Sweden, and an academic event in Stockholm in November.

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