RGS-IBG 2017 – Just air? Spatial injustices, contestation and politicisation of air pollution (session notes)

These are notes from some of the talks from the two sessions on Just air? during the RGS-IBG conference in 2017. Details of the sessions are available here and here.
Passive, reactive and participatory governance of the air: three approaches under scrutiny
Nicola Da Schio, Bas Van Heur (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)
Looking at infrastructures, knowledge, and contestation as elements of their analysis. Scientific knowledge and experiential knowledge. Part of Smarter Labs project – living lab projects in 4 cities and in “Brussels living Lab” there are doing air pollution through a specific tool (low-cost black carbon monitor). They refer to the literature “government with science” of Whitehead – assumes knowledge production in the context of air pollution – generating knowledge is an essential part of managing it. It allows noticing how to make air visible and invisible, seeing the information about it as air infrastructure and examining the actual space for citizens to understand it. See different ways of participation – citizen receive information, consulted, and citizens are empowered to be governed. Similarly – deficit model, feedback model and collaborative research/citizen science and potential where co-production of knowledge appears.They also consider three roles for citizens: passive, active, co-produce. The situation in Brussels in fragmented institutional context – different bodies don’t talk with other organisations. Air quality is regional competence and understood as an environmental issue (not health – not even seen as such). Vibrant civil society, especially environmental organisations. Air pollution is seen traditionally as technical that should be left with experts. In the passive – government with science is passive, the reactive is in EIA, and the active role is in a project such as expAIR. Looking specifically as Mainstream GWS is being used by a regional governmental agency and interregional bodies. Citizens receive information and there are different policies. there are 13 measuring stations, providing information about the typical situation, and data analysis is done through BelATMO AQ index that is for communication, not for science. The information is communicated on a website with different colouring. Focus on ambient air pollution – just environmental matter. Pollution is only regulated contaminants, and spatial and temporal coverage across the area, and no special attention to specific places or the variability across space. There are contestations both from above (EU) and from below by the NGO Client Earth challenge to the government. They are contesting the policy with the same body of knowledge but also using different data. The expAIR project used 8 wearable devices for black carbon, the leading actors include the government and NGOs – the participants discuss the results. Conclusion – two different forms of knowledge:
the individual exposure that is seen as an environmental problem, while the participants sa group issue. The officials used it in different ways. The monopoly of air knowledge by the government is being challenged, in spite of that, it remains technical matter (analysis of the data), but co-production of knowledge but not being used, there is extensive scepticism towards citizen science. The role of instruments: faith in the tools/device which goes beyond what they can do. Huge faith in the information from the tool. A key moment is awareness of limitation.
On the other hand, there is the issue of who is doing the measurements, and the community has faith in the measurement of the citizens than the authorities. Another aspect is the proliferation of methods and devices around air and its multiple manifestations – so much more is measured and more visible. It can be politicised – the aim is closing the debate down so it is measured to address it. There is contradictory nature – how to open it up the discussion. In Delhi, there is state monitoring infrastructure = contested by civil society who use their own sensors and everyone agree that the state infrastructure is better, and other people don’t have the resources to confront the state produced data – the presence of data and data quality. Also which air to measure – is it about indoor or ambient which bring the gender, class and marginalisation.
There are issues of inclusion and exclusion in the production of knowledge – to minimise exclusion, the Brussels project makes a specific effort to include different groups. A key element of exclusion – only attract those that are already interested, and it can be challenging. In Delhi, there is also the issue of people who can understand English and understand the information and ability to be involved in the articulation of the systems.
How a large-scale citizen science project managed to combine scientific rigour, policy influence and deep citizen engagement by measuring ambient air quality in Antwerp Suzanne Van Brussel (Ghent University, Belgium)
Huib Huyse (KU Leuven, Belgium)
Abstract: Citizen Science projects are increasingly recognised as a stepping stone for triggering behaviour change and building social capital around environmental issues. However, overview studies observe recurrent challenges in many citizen science projects in terms of combining high levels of data quality with deep citizen engagement and policy influence. This paper reports on the findings of the CurieuzeNeuzen project (www.CurieuzeNeuzen.eu), a large scale citizen science project on air quality conducted in Antwerp in 2016, which managed to deliver simultaneously in the three result areas described above. CurieuzeNeuzen was initiated as an academic offspring by the citizen group Ringland, currently the largest citizen initiative in Belgium in the area of mobility, city planning and livability. Through CurieuzeNeuzen, 2000 citizen studied the air quality levels in and around Antwerp and were intensively deliberating on possible causes and solutions. The findings from CurieuzeNeuzen were picked-up academically and contributed actively to policy debates on air quality at the level of both city and region.”
Looking at Antwerp from a planning perspective – a need for sustainable mobility that requires behaviour change – so framing citizen science.  See behaviour change through social capital and citizen science as a catalyst and there need scientific rigour, effective policy uptake, and engaging enough citizens in the project. They are evaluating if the project managed to achieve this. They identify benefits and challenges and internal and external values. The CureuzeNeuzen CS project was designed as a co-created projects – measuring ambient traffic and aimed at behaviour change. The project included monitoring over 2000 locations across Antwerp – focusing on spatial distribution. The project focused on the number of volunteers, the validity of monitoring and the devices, they also used a well-tested method: diffusion tubes – cost effective at this scale and provided guidance on how to install them. The methodology was approved by the Flemish environment agency. They provided high detailed data-set which demonstrated the variability. The traffic intensity and distance from ring-road provided the explanation for variability. They compared results to models which underestimated the level of pollution. The policy uptake – there was involvement of research institutions, city administration who see it financially but since advantage. The local press also noticed it. The participation was driven by interest about air quality (91.8%) and also participation in a scientific project. People had a perception about the levels of air quality and a small group didn’t understand the issue (3%). For 58% the results matched their expectations. Of the 10% that found that the quality is worse than expected, didn’t want to put a poster about the data and its results due to concern about the message about their area. In terms of outreach, the project reached many more people than the direct participants. In terms of the perceptions of behaviour change, they are interested in seeing a change in less use of the car and more use of cycles, also selecting different routes to walk.
The politics of small particles: following PMs and their mobilities
Gordon Walker and Barbara Maher (Lancaster University, UK)
 The paper is following nano particulates – 50 nm and smaller. It’s the evolving science of air quality. Science has an important role in the governance of air – Boudia and Jas (2014) and Whitehead (2009) – its an evolving understanding of what the air is and how science comes to matter and air become part of policy formation. Barbara Maher is now looking at particulate and magnetite in the brain – with Gordon interest close to STS. The very high-resolution images of magnetite nanoparticles in brain samples – it was done with brain samples which are coming from cadavers and noticing nano-particles – 100nm to 10nm. particles that are crystalline or spherical. They have different sources. There are particles that are natural – from biogenic (from nature) but the spherical particles are non-biogenic – they are traces of the Anthropocene in the brain. Magnetite is abundant in urban airborne pollution. It’s a new visibility of small particles and their mobility, as well as new vulnerability – moving beyond the lungs but this is a different route that allows them to move to the brain directly. The early stage science opening up questions about the harm “matter out of place” – and what harm they are doing: potentially in Alzheimer and Dementia. Important “possible hazard” – very early stages.
The implications of rolling out this science – this and other forms of harms. What the geography? We don’t know what is the distribution of non-particles. No simple relationship with larger particles distribution also their circulations, accumulation is complex and uncertainties. Also, the sources are indoor and outdoors (e.g. toner), but even open fire. Filtering the diesel particles increased the production of nano particles. Also produced by breaking in cars. There are also complex temporalities of exposure and harm – like asbestos and might be that it only happens when people live long enough. So it can be disruptive of the assumed making and also what kind of justice – it’s not distributional: no classic analysis is possible, and it might not work. It is also procedural and epistemic – can get people involved but who to involve, whose voices should come – e.g. industrial environment, and is the work in the workplace that tested diesel can provide lay epidemiology. Ethical issues of how to respond to self-diagnosis.
The question is how disruptive will new making visible and what politics will come along with nature-culture, health consequences, responsibility, are there specific sites of contestation – work environment, places.
The politics of science and the media: the controversy on record air pollution in Oxford Street and other debates on bad air in London
Anneleen Kenis (KU Leuven, Belgium)

“This paper studies how air pollution as a largely invisible social-natural artefact has been translated into an issue of contention and debate in London during the last 20 years. Starting from the coverage of air pollution in five main newspapers, the paper identifies the critical discursive moments which significantly changed the terms of the debate. The staging of Oxford Street as the most polluted street in the world, the controversy around Sahara Dust as a ‘natural’ explanation for a smog episode in 2014, and the action of Black Lives Matter at London City Airport, which stated that those who are the first to die are not the first to fly, are just a few of the examples of initiatives that put air pollution on the agenda in recent years. The paper investigates the decisions, choices and exclusions that inevitably take place in this staging of air as a political issue. Already at the level of the construction of a scientific ‘fact’, processes of inclusion and exclusion take place. The spatial location of monitoring stations, the focus on particular pollutants and the chosen time frame influence the way the ‘fact’ of air pollution is constructed. But important choices also take place in the translation of these scientific ‘facts’ into ‘political ‘problems’. From high to illegal levels of air pollution, from the number of deaths to the level of costs, from people’s health to children’s health: these constructions all influence the terms of the debate. The emergence of political fault lines and antagonisms and the (lack of) activity of a whole range of social actors result from this and will in their turn further push the debate in specific directions. The paper analyses how this complex set of relations, and the forms of power involved, determined the framing of air pollution as we know it today.”

Media analysis of air quality in London which done in KCL group. Part of identifying how air is translated from largely invisible social natural artefact into political issues. Looked over 1594 articles in Guardian, FT, The Independent, Telegraph, Times. Started with quant analysis. Looked from 1997 to 2017. and noticed debate going on, until April 2014 from which it starts jumping up and especially growing very much now in 2017. The long period of low interest – the assumption is that “it’s all already there”, doesn’t lead to wider debate. Single articles, small spikes for all sort of reasons. April 2014 – Sahara dust and Oxford Street pollution – politicians dismiss it as a natural phenomenon that it is not serious. This is a moment that makes air pollution visible. There is another peak in 2015 in April 2015, the same story – the conflict seems to be overcome – are pollution is recognised as serious and man-made. Need new conflict lines – this is provided in July 2015 because of the Heathrow 3rd runway and VW scandal. There are conflict lines that are emerging and leading to interest: mayoral elections, MPs noticing public health emergency, Sadiq Khan making it a priority in May and Brexit debate toward the vote is noted. Last period from Sep 2016 and Mar 2017 you get social divisions and also “black lives matter city airport action” also the client earth work. Newspapers were selected according to who set the terms of the debate.

The upward spiral can come to saturation, or alternatively, new issues come to the foreground, say other issues.

Discussion points: other cases of impact on the brain include a mobilisation of the lead cases – and how people were thinking of bodies and vulnerability.

Advertisements

Published by

mukih

Professor of GIScience, University College London

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s