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Stephen Lezak

Stephen Lezak

PhD Candidate, Gates Cambridge Scholar

Stephen studies the politics of climate change adaptation in the context of rural communities and landscapes in Alaska. His research focuses on postcolonial governance, and how narratives of Arctic environmental change—specifically around apocalypse, disasters, and frontiers—structure climate governance in the United States.



  • 2019–Present: PhD Candidate, Scott Polar Research Institute
  • 2019–Present: Fellow, Rocky Mountain Institute
  • 2018–Present: Researcher and Lecturer, Oxford School of Geography & the Environment
  • 2020: Expert Reviewer, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group II, Sixth Assessment Report
  • 2017–2018: Geography Teacher, Notting Hill & Ealing High School, London
  • 2014–2015: Research Assistant, Oberlin College Department of Psychology


  • 2019–2024 (expected): PhD Polar Studies, University of Cambridge
  • 2016–2017: MSc Environmental Change & Management, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford (Distinction)
  • 2011–2015: BA Politics, Oberlin College (Honors)

Awards and scholarships

  • 2019: Gates Cambridge Scholar
  • 2019: Cambridge International Scholarship (declined)
  • 2016: Joan Doll Award, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford
  • 2015: Phi Beta Kappa, Oberlin College
  • 2015: Starr Award, Oberlin College Politics Department


Stephen's research focuses on the interplay of society, environmental change, and narrative. He is especially interested in how ideas about frontiers and apocalypse shape discourse and decision-making in the Post-Holocene Arctic. His doctoral research examines the political function of these margins and boundaries (e.g. Indigenous and European, Holocene and Anthropocene, present and future, survival and extinction, rural and urban), and how they inform practices and politics of environmental governance in the 21st Century.

Before arriving at SPRI, Stephen's research addressed issues of environmental justice and climate psychology. His work at Oberlin College from 2014–2016 assessed the role of systems thinking as a psychological antecedent to climate change belief and risk perception. Beginning in 2017, Stephen began researching Mongolia's illegal, artisanal gold miners, and his primary research interest shifted to the interplay of culture, discourse, and governance in socioecological systems.

He publishes across academic and popular outlets, and is a frequent speaker on topics of climate politics and environmental justice. More information about his work is available at

Research grants

  • Beatrice Shaw Fund Award, University of Cambridge (2020)
  • John Fell Fund Award, University of Oxford (2018)
  • ECM Dissertation Publication Prize, University of Oxford (2017)
  • CCFF Grant, Green Templeton College, University of Oxford (2017)
  • Environmental Change Institute Small Research Grant, University of Oxford (2017)
  • Jere Bruner Research Grant, Oberlin College (2015)
  • Jerome Davis Research Award, Oberlin College (2015)

Academic Publications

For a list of non-academic publications, visit

  • Lezak S., and Munkherderne, G. (2021) "The Social Lives of Abandoned Mines." In Mining Lifecycles in Central Asia and Mongolia, ed. Sternberg, T. London: Routledge.
  • Lezak, S. (2020) Book Review: Transnational Law and State Transformation: The Case of Extractive Development in Mongolia. Journal of Nomadic Peoples 24(1), 171-174.
  • Lezak, S., Cannon, C., & Koch Blank, T. (2019). Low-Carbon Metals for a Low-Carbon World: A New Energy Paradigm for Mines. Rocky Mountain Institute.
  • Lezak, S. (2019). Re-Placing the Desert in the Conservation Landscape: Charisma and Absence in the Gobi Desert, in Arid Land Systems: Sciences and Societies, eds. Troy Sternberg and Ariell Ahearn. Basel: MDPI, 53–64. Reprinted from LAND 8(1).
  • Lezak, S., Ahearn, A., McConnell, F., & Sternberg, T. (2019) "Frameworks for conflict mediation in international infrastructure development: A comparative overview and critical appraisal." Journal of Cleaner Production 239.
  • Lezak, S. (2019) Book Review: Mongolia Remade. Journal of Nomadic Peoples 23(1), 149-154.
  • Lezak, S. (2018) "Re-Placing the Desert in the Conservation Landscape: Charisma and Absence in the Gobi Desert." LAND 8(1), 3.
  • Ahearn, A., and Lezak, S. (2018) "The Mongolian Ger." In House Tour: Views of the Unfurnished Interior. Ed. Adam Jasper. Zurich: Park Books.
  • Lezak, S. (2017, December 19). How the Tax Bill Will Affect Homeownership (Letter to the editor). The New York Times, A26.
  • Lezak, S. & Thibodeau, P. H. (2016). Systems thinking and environmental concern. Journal of Environmental Psychology 46,143-153. (written up in The Washington Post)
  • Lezak, S. (2015, December 2). The courage of Paris (Letter to the editor). The International New York Times.


  • Co-convenor, MSc/MPhil Module: Critical Ecologies: Alternative Visions of Environmental Community (University of Oxford)
  • Supervisor, BA course, "Living with Global Change" (University of Cambridge)

External activities

  • Reviewer, IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, Working Group II, Second Order Draft
  • Collaborator, Gobi Framework Research Team, University of Oxford
  • Collaborator, Oxford Programme on the Sustainable Future of Commodities and Infrastructure