Governing Nitrogen Species: Global Biogeochemical Cycles, Inequalities, and the Rise of Earth-System Governance

Lunchtime Lectures
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
1:00 p.m.–1:45 p.m. EDT (UTC -4)

The global nitrogen cycle is one of the critical biogeochemical processes on Earth for which scientists have recently defined a series of “planetary boundaries.” If these tipping points are crossed, the likelihood of irreversible global environmental risks increases significantly. The intensification of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer use through the process known as the “green revolution” has been critical in increasing food production. However, it has also triggered a cascade of adverse effects on humans and ecosystems across time and space in ways that scientists have yet to fully understand.

In this talk, Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s William San Martín examined how the challenges to governing the knowledge, use, and impacts of nitrogen raise several questions about power disparities and injustices in global environmental governance.

About the Speaker


William San Martin headshot

Courtesy of William San Martín

William San Martín is an assistant teaching professor in the humanities and arts department at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He is a former Fulbright scholar; a Carson fellow at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München; and a visiting scholar and a postdoctoral associate jointly affiliated with the program of science, technology, and society and the history section at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His work sits at the intersections of history, science and technology studies, international development and relations, and environmental governance studies. San Martín is currently working on a book manuscript examining the rise of global nitrogen science and governance, with special attention to issues of socio-environmental injustice and sustainable development in the Global South.

About the Series

Now combined with our Saturday Speaker Series, Lunchtime Lectures take a rigorous and entertaining approach to exploring topics for scholars and anyone interested in stories about the history of science. The talks help expand perceptions of the nature of science and how it’s done. This season, we’re showcasing historians and scientists whose work analyzes the past, present, and future of environmental science.