Citizen Science 2019: Environmental Justice and Community Science: A Social Movement for Inpowerment, Compliance, and Action

DSCN3340The session was opened by Na’Taki Osborne-Jelks, Agnes Scott College (CSA board) – the environmental justice movement have used methods of community science we need to include in the tent of citizen science. There are 60 participants in the conference that are supported by the NSF to participate in the conference. There was a special effort to ensure that Environmental Justice is represented in the conference.

Ellen McCallie (NSF), which provided a grant to support EJ activists to join the conference, noted that the NSF Includes got a specific focus on those that are under-represented in STEM and that are underserved by NSF projects. There are about 150 projects by NSF that include citizen science and crowdsourcing, and all of them push boundaries in knowledge or help people to learn about science.

The panel was moderated by Sacoby M. Wilson, Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH), University of Maryland-College Park. The chair set three questions:

First question: how you got into citizen science/community science?

Second question: what were some successes?

Third question: what your message to the CSA?

Panellists:

Viola “Vi” Waghiyi, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT), St. Lawrence Island, Alaska.

Located in the north Baring Sea, shes have 4 boys and the community. They are close to Siberia, and the Air Force established two bases in the Cold War. The people in the area continue to leave in the land and they wanted to keep the way of life and not separate themselves from the land and sea. It’s an Island the size of Puerto Rico, but TB, starvation and other impact reduce them to 1500 people. The bases established at each end and stay there from 1940 to 1970, and the contamination impacted cancer and health defect. They were ignored about the impacts and pleaded to help. An executive who was a scientist and they started a community based participatory research and they know that they have a higher PCB and one of the most contaminated community because they rely on traditional food – chemical releases end in their environment without chemical factories. They have a crisis in their community. She took a position to learn about chemicals and the impact on her people and been doing it for 17 years – taking samples, doing research, train local people.

Success – the institutional barriers that a small non-profit has challenges in addressing the PCB and the state is pro=developement of energy sources. So the state agencies don’t look after marginalised communities. There are also issues of funding, with a refusal of funding as their expertise are not valuable. The success – there are so many chemicals that are being created and all that impact you and your body. Companies that don’t take human health into account. The indigenous group is part of the human right convention and trained to use their voice to influence the process – work at the international level helps everyone.

Traditional knowledge, song, dances, creation stories, and we need to have sound data that scientists need to use to help communities in health and disparities.

Margaret L Gordon, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Oakland, CA – dealing with dirty diesel project. Connected her community to improve the air near the port for over 25 years

How got to the field? Got involved in citizen science because she got tired of the state agencies and local agencies and lack of response. The organise to demonstrate that the city, the county, to EPA to demonstrate that they can collect information and measure their own air quality. They started in 2008 in Oakland and Berkeley, and researcher came to them. They started to use dust measurement, and a community measurement technician and really understood how to use the equipment and keep it accurate.

Success – part of creating an equitable solution, and problem-solving mechanisms to solve the issues. An understanding of problem-solving and bring people from the city, but need an equitable process and she was also the board of the port of Oakland and that was useful to address issues. Some people in citizen science, who didn’t learn how to be community engaged should not come to communities – they had to teach researchers how to work with them, and there are also issues with universities who want to collaborate and don’t share funding with community organisations. Relationship of trust and good communication can work.

We need cumulative impacts that need to be carried out in impacted communities and there is not enough academic research in the communities that are exposed to pollution. Better impact science.

Question about Climate change: we need to talk about Climate justice, and that need to be discussed about the impact on poor communities to deal with floods, and other impacts.

Omega R. Wilson, West End Revitalization Association (WERA), Mebane, NC – doing a Community Owned and Managed Research – the gold standard for community science.

EJ movement and activity started 70 years ago (he is 69), before they were bord – it was passed from their mothers. Issues of toxic free soil, good water, good air – there is a continuum. Moved after university to the Mississippi and in NC develop a new understanding of EJ issues and with the support of NIH helped to develop research in the area of North Carolina.

Successes – community groups deserve recognition in books and publications. There were intimidations of family members of activists by state officials. The use of the law is a way to get things working and to achieve.

The Citizen Science Association should be about dealing with problems, not just studying them. Push universities to actually fund pollutants use – the CSA should encourage growing education of Hispanic, Black and Indigenous groups education in science. The association need to support where there are getting the resources. Science for people, as science for action.

The issues are about terminology and changing citizen science and use community-based science and community-based research: everyone has a right to clean water.

Vincent Martin, Community Organizer Against Petroleum Refineries, Detroit, MI – push issues of air quality around Detroit and active at the national level. Got his company to assist the community with EJ issues.

The basic right for air, water, and climate change will get worse in poor communities. His community got coals, roads and highways, and a lot of hazardous material is released to their community.  When they started all the “white crosses” on a map of each person that died from an environmental related disease was unbearable and they had to stop. Experienced that with a brother who died from that impact. There was a proposal to bring Tar Sands for processing to their area, and the pointed that the zoning laws are incorect, and that was ignored – but then when the authorities check, they show that this was correct but the city authorities approved the expansion. Started to learn about toxics and about issues and how communities are being treated in such a situation. The community need to provide oversight and “hey, we don’t want that” and get some transparency and equity.

Beverly Wright, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and Dillard University, New Orleans, LA – influenced at national policy and influenced EJ issues nationally.

Got her PhD in Buffalo, as a sociologist working with the trauma of the love canal and the impact on the community. In the Missisipy Industrial Corridor they could see the chemical impact on the community and while people could see the evidence on fish, insect, and because there was only one chemical at the time, they couldn’t show link. In a community that she worked with, they took their own sample. Fell into citizen science through “we don’t trust you” and recruited toxicologist, and set out environmental sociology to work with a community. They create the first GIS map that shows the spatial distribution by race and income to TRI facilities and there were clusters of black communities.

Success – one of the only PhDs that are not being kicked out of community meetings. They made a community university model in 1992 and they use that model for a Community University Partnership by the EPA. Louisiana there were issues of working with communities – most environmental organisations that are typical (white, middle class – Big Green) bring students from the outside who then go away and don’t leave anything behind. So brought researchers to teach communities how to use the processes and collect data – and that is the creation of the Bucket Brigade. The White Crosses were used to demonstrate strange cancer rates in the chemical corridors. It took 18 years to win a case, but with the effort of the bucket brigade effort and capturing white steam that goes through the community and it was sent to EPA. Once it was captured, the EPA change the approach and organise the community in Diamond Plantation who got funding for relocation.

The level of pollution that is allowed by EPA – permits are set by the first company that was allowed to pollute, and the licences are about poisoning people, in effect.

Science not leading to action – most of the time. Need political science: science and advocacy.

There is an internalised racism and that is real and black people who are working for everybody, and there is an issue that someone is speaking for them. The black people are the only group that was enslaved by this country and that is persistent even in EJ, and other ethnic groups are not supporting black group – e.g. Latinos, Native American etc. It is an issue of racism that carried over to other minorities group. But black people learned to stand for themselves.

Climate change: the EJ movement pushing that the Green New Deal includes justice element and equity, and not to allow carbon trading that will leave pollution to poor communities. Need to think about how to have a just transition to a green economy. That is an effort towards the election of 2020.

Carmen Velez Vega, PhD, MSW, Tenured Full Professor, University of Puerto Rico – Medical Sciences Campus – addressing public health issues, and involved in the recovery of Porto Rico after Hurrican Maria.

Became involved in EJ because before that she was activists in the LGBT: e.g. the same-sex adoption, and that experience opens up other experiences. Puerto Rico is an Environmental Injustice Island – one phenomenon is the same people fighting on everything. As a social worker started to learn and in the school of public health. She was involved in a project that was funded by the NIH and looked at someone to do community engagement with a known researcher, and use the text of Phil Brown and through that, she was exposed to the risk that women in reproductive age are exposed to. There is an issue of contaminated water and toxic products. She learned that not all women are exposed equally – the more poor and brown you are, the more exposed you are. After Hurricane Maria, they were abandoned by the authorities and that added to the injustice. The injustices would not disappear.

The CSA should promote policies that push towards environmental justice and impact at a larger scale. Promoting young people and leaders in the area of environmental justice. Need to work with the communities.

 

 

Published by

mukih

Professor of GIScience, University College London

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