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.


New Citizen Science for air quality campaign

Mapping for Change, the social enterprise that I co-founded, has been assisting community groups to run air quality studies for the past 5 years. During this period we have worked in 30 communities across London, carrying out studies with different tools – from collecting leaves, to examining lichens, to using diffusion tubes. We have also followed the development of low-costs sensors – for example, through participation in the AirProbe challenge EveryAware project or hosting a discussion about the early stages of the Air Quality Egg.

We found out that of the simple tools that are available to anyone, and that require little training, NO2 diffusion tubes are very effective. We’ve seen them used as a good sign of the level of pollution, especially from traffic. They sense pollution from diesel vehicles.

We also found that reliable equipment that can measure particulate matter known as PM2.5 (very small dust considered harmful) and other pollutants is expensive – as high as £5000 and more. Unfortunately, low-cost equipment cannot give accurate information that can be used in making a case for action.

Now, after developing the methodology for working with different groups and supporting local efforts, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a large scale data collection campaign using diffusion tubes, with an aim to go beyond and create an equipment library that can be used by communities – free of charge apart from disposable parts (filters) and delivery – that can be shared across London and beyond.

With a community investment of £250 we will deliver 10 diffusion tubes and support the creation of a local NO2 map. There are other levels of support to the campaign – including sponsoring a specific piece of equipment.

Use this opportunity and organise a local air quality map for your area! 

Eye on Earth (Day 1 – afternoon) – policy making demand for data and knowledge for healthy living

The afternoon of the first day of Eye on Earth (see previous post for an opening ceremony and the morning sessions) had multiple tracks. I selected to attend Addressing policy making demand for data; dialogue between decision makers and providers

wpid-wp-1444139631192.jpgThe speakers were asked to address four points that address issues of data quality control and assurance, identify the major challenges facing data quality for decision-making in the context of crowd-sourcing and citizen science. Felix Dodds  who chaired the session noted that – the process of deciding on indicators for SDGs is managed through the UN Inter-agency group, and these indicators and standards of measurements need to last for 15 years.  There is now also ‘World Forum on Sustainable Development Data’ and review of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) is also coming. The speakers are asked to think about  coordination mechanisms and QA to ensure good quality data? How accessible is the data? Finally, what is the role of citizen science within this government information? We need to address the requirements of the data – at international, regional, and national levels.

Nawal Alhosany (MASDAR institute): Data is very important ingredient in making policy when you try to make policy on facts and hard evidence. Masdar is active throughout the sustainability chain, with a focus on energy. The question how to ensure that data is of good quality, and Masdar recognised gap in availability of data 10 years ago. For example, some prediction tools for solar power were not taking into account local conditions, as well as quality assurance that is suitable to local needed. Therefore, they developed local measurement and modelling tools (ReCREMA). In terms of capacity building, they see issues in human capacity across the region, and try to address it (e.g. lack of open source culture). In Masdar, they see a role for citizen science – and they make steps towards it through STEM initiatives such as Young Future Energy Leaders and other activities.

David Rhind (Nuffiled Foundation): many of the data sets that we want cover national boundaries – e.g. radioactive plum from Chernobyl. When we want to mix population and environment, we need to deal with mixing boundaries and complex problems with data integrity. There are also serious problem with validity – there are 21 sub-Saharan countries that haven’t done household survey sine 2006, so how can we know about levels of poverty today? There is a fundamental question of what is quality, and how can we define it in any meaningful sense. Mixing data from different sources is creating a problem of what quality mean. Some cases can rely on international agreements – e.g. N principles, or the UK regulatory authority to check statistics. Maybe we should think of international standards like in accountancy. In terms of gaps in capacity, there is a quick change due to need for analysis and data scientists are becoming available in the UK, but there is issue with policy makers who do not have the skills to understand the information. Accessible data is becoming common with the open data approach, but many countries make official data less open for security. However, data need some characteristics – need to be re-use , easy to distribute, public and with open licensing. The issue about the citizen science – there are reasons to see it as an opportunity – e.g. OpenStreetMap, but there are many factors that make its integration challenging. There is a need for proper communication – e.g. the miscommunication in L’Aquila

Kathrine Brekke (ICLEI) – perspective from local government. Local government need data for decision-making. Data also make it the city suitable for investment, insurance, and improve transparency and accountability. There are issues of capacity in terms of collecting the data, sharing it, and it is even down to language skills (if it is not available in English, international comparison is difficult). There are initiatives such as open.dataforcities.org to allow sharing of city data. There are 100 sustainability indicators that are common across cities and can be shared. In terms of data quality we can also include crowdsourcing – but then need to ensure that it the data will be systematic and comparable. The standards and consistency are key – e.g. greenhouse registry is important and therefore there is global protocol for collecting the data.

Ingrid Dillo (DANS, Netherlands) there is data deluge with a lot of potential, but there are challenges about the quality of the data and trust. Quality is about fitness for use. DANS aim is to ensure archiving of data from research projects in the Netherlands. Data quality in science – made of scientific data quality but also technical. Scientific integrity is about the values of science – standards of conduct within science. There are issues with fraud in science that require better conduct. Data management in small projects lack checks and balances, with peer pressure as major driver to ensure quality – so open science is one way to deal with that. There are also technical issues such as metadata and data management so it can be used and stored in certified trustworthy digital repository.

Robert Gurney (University of Reading) -in environmental science there is the Belmont Forum e-Infrastructures & data management. The Belmont forum is association of environmental science funders from across the world. The initiative is to deal with the huge increase in data. Scientists are early adopters of technology and some of the lessons can be used from what scientists are doing by other people in the environmental sector. The aim is to deliver knowledge that is needed for action. The infrastructure is needed to meet global environmental challenges. This require working with many supercomputers – the problems are volume, variety, veracity, velocity (Big Data) – we getting many petabytes – can reach 100 Petabytes by 2020. The problem is that data is in deep silos – even between Earth Observation archives. The need to make data open and sharable. There will be 10% of funding going towards e-infrastructure. They created data principles and want to have the principle of open by default.

Marcos Silva (CITES)  Cites is about the trade in engendered species . CITES (since mid 1970s)  regulate trade in multi-billion dollar business with 850,000 permits a year. Each permits say that it’s OK to export a specimen without harming the population. It is data driven. CITES data can help understanding outliers and noticing trends. There are issues of ontologies, schema, quality etc. between the signatories – similar to environmental information. They would like to track what happen to the species across the world. They are thinking about a standard about all the transactions with specimen which will create huge amount of data. Even dealing with illegal poaching and protection of animals, there is a need for interoperable data.

Discussion: Data Shift for citizen generated data for SDG goals. Is there data that is already used? How we are going to integrate data against other types of data? We risk filtering citizen science data out because it follow different framework. Rhind – statisticians are concerned about citizen science data, and will take traditional view, and not use the data. There is a need to have quality assurance not just at the end. The management of indicators and their standards will require inclusion of suitable data. Marcos ask what is considered citizen science data? e.g. reporting of data by citizens is used in CITES and there are things to learn – how the quality of the data can be integrated with traditional process that enforcement agencies use. Science is not just data collection and analysis, such as climateprediction.net  and multiple people can analyse information. Katherine talked about crowdsourcing – e.g. reporting of trees in certain cities  so there is also dialogue of deciding which trees to plant. Ingrid – disagree that data collection on its own is not science. Nawal – doing projects with schools about energy, which open participation in science. Rhind – raised the issue of the need for huge data repository and the question if governments are ready to invest. Gurney – need to coordinate multiple groups and organisations that are dealing with data organisations. There is a huge shortage of people in environmental science with advanced computing skills.

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgThe second session that I attended explored Building knowledge for healthy lives opened by Jacqueline McGlade – the context of data need to focus on the SDGs, and health is underpinning more goals then environmental issues. UNEP Live is aimed to allow access UN data – from country data, to citizen science data – so it can be found. The panel will explore many relations to health: climate change, and its impact on people’s life and health. heatwaves and issues of vulnerability to extreme events. Over 40 countries want to use the new air quality monitoring that UNEP developed, including the community in Kibera.

wpid-wp-1444166114783.jpgHayat Sindi is the CEO of i2Institute, exploring social innovations. Our ignorance about the world is profound. We are teaching children about foundation theories without questioning science heroes and theories, as if things are static. We are elevating ideas from the past and don’t question them. We ignore the evidence. The fuel for science is observation. We need to continue and create technology to improve life. Social innovation is important – and she learn it from diagnostic for all (DFA) from MIT. The DFA is low cost, portable, easy to use and safely disposable. The full potential of social innovation is not fulfilled. True scientists need to talk with people, understand their need, and work with them

Maria Neira (WHO) – all the SDGs are linked to health. A core question is what are the environmental determinants of health. Climate change, air quality – all these are part of addressing health and wellbeing. Need to provide evidence based guidelines, and the WHO also promote health impact assessment for major development projects. There are different sectors – housing, access to water, electricity – some healthcare facility lack access to reliable source of energy. Air pollution is a major issue that the WHO recognise as a challenge – killing 7m people a year. With air quality we don’t have a choice with a warning like we do with tobacco. The WHO offering indicators who offer that the access to energy require to measure exposure to air pollution. There is a call for strong collaboration with other organisation. There is a global platform on air quality and health that is being developed. Aim to enhance estimation of the impacts from air quality.

Joni Seager (GGEO coordinating lead author) talking about gender and global environmental outlook. She looks at how gender is not included in health and environmental data. First example – collect gender data and then hide it. Gender analysis can provide better information can help in decision making and policy formation.  Second method – dealing with households – they don’t have agency in education, access to car or food security, but in reality there is no evidence that food security is household level attribute – men and women have different experience of coping strategies – significant different between men or women. Household data is the view of the men and not the real information. Household data make women especially invisible. There are also cases where data is not collected. In some areas – e.g. sanitation, information is not collected. If we building knowledge for healthy life, we should ask who’s knowledge and who’s life?

Parrys Raines (Climate Girl) grown in Australia and want to protect the environment – heard about climate change as 6 years old and then seek to research and learn about the data – information is not accessible to young girls. She built close relationships with UNEP. There are different impacts on young people. She is also sharing information about air quality and pollution to allow people to include youth in the discussion and solutions. Youth need to be seen as a resource across different levels – sharing generation, global thinking. There is need for intergenerational communication – critical. knowledge of data is critical for the 21st century. Need organisations to go out and support youth – from mentoring to monetary support.

wpid-wp-1444166106561.jpgIman Nuwayhid talking about the health and ecological sustainability in the Arab world. There are many Millennium Development Goals MDGs that have been achieved, but most of the countries fell short of achieving them. In ecological sustainability, the picture is gloomy in the Arab world – many countries don’t have access to water. Demand for food is beyond the capacity of the region to produce. Population is expected to double in next 30 years. Poorer countries have high fertility – lots of displacement: war, economic and environmental. Development – there are striking inequities in the region – some of the wealthiest countries and the poorest countries in the world. Distribution of water need to consider which sector should use it. In comparison of health vs military expenditure, the Arab world spend much more on military than on health. There is interaction between environment, population and development. The region ecological footprint is highest and increasing. There are also issues of political instability that can be caused by environmental stresses. Displacement of people between countries create new stresses and question the value of state based analysis. Uncertainty is a major context for the region and science in general.

Discussion: the air quality issue – monitoring is not enough without understanding the toxicity, dispersion. Air pollution are impacted also by activities such as stone quarries. Need to balance monitoring efforts with accuracy and the costs of acting. Need to develop models and methods to think about it’s use. Some urban area of light and noise have also impacts not just on death but on quality of life and mental problems.

Two side events of interest run in parallel:

wpid-wp-1444166098477.jpgThe European Environmental Bureau presented a side event on collaborative research and activist knowledge on environmental justice. Pressure on resources mean extractive industries operate in the south with the outcomes used in the North. There is an increased level of conflicts in the south. The EJOLT project is a network of 23 partners in 23 countries. It’s collaborative research of scientists, grass roots organisations, NGOs and legal organisations. They had a whole set results. A visible result is the Atlas of environmental justice. There is plenty to say about citizen science and how important is that information come from people who are closed to the ground. They work with team in ecological economics, that created a moderated process for collecting and sharing information. The atlas allow to look at information according to different categories, and this is link to stories about the conflict and it’s history – as well as further details about it. The atlas is a tool to map conflicts but also to try and resolve them. The EEB see the atlas as an ongoing work and they want to continue and develop sources of information and reporting. Updating and maintaining the tool is a challenge that the organisation face.

At the same time, the best practice guidelines Putting Principle 10 into action was launched, building on the experience from Aarhus guide, there are plenty of case studies and information and it will be available at on the UNEP website

wpid-wp-1444166160281.jpgThe gala dinner included an award to the sensable city lab project in Singapore, demonstrating the development of personalise travel plans that can help avoiding pollution and based on 30-40 participants who collected data using cheap sensors.

Mapping for Change community-led air quality studies

As part of the citizens observatories conference, I represented Mapping for Change, providing an overview of community-led air quality studies that we have run over the past 4 years. Interestingly, as we started the work in collaboration with London Sustainability Exchange, and with help from the Open Air Laboratories programme the work can be contextualised within the wider context of NGOs work on citizen science, which was a topic that was covered in the conference.

The talk covered the different techniques that were used: eco-badges for Ozone testing, Wipe sampling, Diffusion tubes and particulate matter monitoring devices. In the first study, we also were assisted by Barbara Maher team who explore tree leaves for biomonitoring. The diffusion tubes are of particular importance, as the change in deployment and visualisation created a new way for communities to understand air quality issues in their area.

The use of a dense network of diffusion tubes became common in other communities over the past 4 years. I also cover the engagement of local authorities, with a year-long study in the Barbican with support from the City of London. There is a lesson about the diffusion of methodologies and approaches among community groups – with the example of the No to Silvertown Tunnel group carrying out a diffusion tubes study without linkage to Mapping for Change or London Sustainability Exchange. Overall, this diffusion mean that over 20 localised studies are emerging across London.