Bergstrom, Ryan D., & Afton Clarke-Sather (2020, December). Balancing socio-ecological risks, politics, and identity: Sustainability in Minnesota’s copper-nickel-precious metal mining debate. Sustainability, 12(24), art. 10286. 23 pp. (doi: 10.3390/su122410286) (Link: (Open Access:

Abstract: In the northeastern corner of Minnesota, two of the state’s most iconic symbols, mining and pristine wilderness, are on a collision course. The Duluth Complex, considered by many to be the world’s largest undeveloped deposit of copper-nickel and precious metals, is the site of mining proposals for several controversial mines. Proponents suggest that mining can be accomplished in an environmentally benign manner, and in the process create nearly 1000 jobs and $500 million in economic benefits annually. Opponents counter that the tourism and recreation industries already provide nearly 18,000 jobs and bring over $900 million in economic benefits annually, and that mining will permanently impair the region’s environment. Thus, the copper-nickel and precious metal mining debate has become highly polarized, and serves as an ideal example of how people address national and global sustainability issues at local and regional scales. This study examines this polarization through a Q-sort analysis of subjectivities of residents of the state of Minnesota. Results suggest that partisanship is a strong predictor of attitudes towards mining, and that the strongest differences between respondents were not based on perceptions comparing jobs and the environment, the typical partisan divide, but rather on respondents’ perceived identity with relation to the mining industry or water resources.

Ryan D Bergstrom <> and Afton Clarke-Sather <> are in the Department of Geography, University of Minnesota, Duluth, MN, USA.

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