Citizen Science 2019: Indigenous People on the Front Lines: Using Citizen Science to Improve Environmental Public Health

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The session “Indigenous People on the Front Lines: Using Citizen Science to Improve Environmental Public Health” was organised by Judith Zelikoff (NYU medicine), Kathleen Vandiver (MIT), Esther Erdei (University New Mexico / Missouri Breaks Industries Research Inc.), Shirley VanDunk (Ramapough Lenape Tribe)

Judith  – they are part of the NIEHS, and Esther is in the Native Environmental Health equity Center. Citizen science use to improve health. The speakers are Dona Chavis from NC climate justice collective and FoE. The panel includes Jacie Curnick from U of Iowa and Jeff Currie II from Lumbee Riverkeeper.

DSC_1557.JPGDona – a daughter of the Lumbee nation and recognised the original people who were here.  Come from an oral tradition, and can tell a lot of stories – adding “to moving beyond the historical trauma” to the title – according to Maria is the impact of the loss of possessions, people, and places on a group of people. The connection on citizen science is that the impact of the past cannot be separated from the current reality. Every day is on the front line because of the historical trauma and the current struggle. In NC, the native tribes in NC developed a distrust and have been studied “to death” – even anthropologists checking hair, circumferences of heads etc. People were told that they have to participate in studies by the government. Because of that Citizen Science is a foreign concept. For her people, the relationships to water is critical, e.g. the area is a wetland and colonisation happened only in the mid 19th century. The area has a history of hiding – swampland was a place to live: food, medicine, clothing. The colonisation causes these to disappear. Now she’s working in the environmental NGO sector: suffering from CAFO, coal ash, trees are being cut down, and a gas pipeline. There are impacts from hurricanes. In Robertson County, Hurricane Mathew in 2016 and Florence in 2018, the last was massive and it covered and flooded the whole county. They still have elders who remember the pathways of the water, so the discussion on how to revive the waterway, and they realise that they had a traditional knowledge that can be used to address climate change. With Chapel Hill, they put a grant to monitor the water in the area – it moves forward in a way that includes the concerns and understanding of the community. It provided a way that matches community practice of starting the meeting at the community rate and the scientists were respectful of the community. Now they have the first baseline for the community on the impact of storms and what may be found and what should be done about it. Some methods are traditional, but they can be integrated. A big lesson is that inclusion has to start in the planning stage. Information should be released according to when, what, and how it is to be released.

Kathy Vandiver – a citizen science Passamaquoddy environmental dept. The study was done where the communities were highly involved, pleased with the results, high calibre research and sampling by citizen scientists and community input with a report back. Create a professional pipeline that was improved, and the literacy of the public regarding environmental health was improved. This started with the interest of masters students from civil and environmental engineering. The results – engagement of 22% of the population, 145 wells that tested for arsenic. The students (Abby and Tchelet) used a water sample for standing and running water samples from the faucet at home, checking for led, arsenic and so on. The kits were collected in the community offices – an early workshop didn’t work well, and the students delivered flyer. The results were useful as 26% were above the acceptable level and well owners were given advice on arsenic filters. There was an important aspect of improving the professional pipeline with the tribal environmental dept member who helped in the analysis.  The Passamaquoddy stayed on campus. The Masters engineering students learn how to run the meetings, and the project was also for the community to learn about EPA rules and the health effects of contaminants in the water. Helping to explain to people how to interpret the results. Students learned how to talk with the public, and also created a capacity for tribal members.

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Judith Zelilkoff – empowerment of the Ramapough Nationa – a toxic legacy moved to action. Native Americans have a shorter life expectancy by 4.4 years and that is because they are exposed disproportionately to nuclear test sites, uranium mines, power plants, toxic was. 25% of Superfund sites are in Indian country. For 75% in 2013 didn’t have safe water to drink and then there are 61% of air pollution sources. The Ramapough Lenape – the tribal chief came to NYU and they are in New Jersy that are in a Superfund site where the nation lives, 50 miles from NYC. The tribal nation, there were iron mines in their area. In the 1960s, a Ford subsidiary disposed of paint sludge and car parts in the unused mines – with lead paint and for 10 years disposing of paint waste and electronic waste. The result is a 500-acre superfund site. In the area of Ringwood in 1970 they put tarpaulin over the waste, and high level of iron and other pollutants in the area and Ramapough made a lawsuit and got very little to the community. in 2013, statistically, there is an impact of the pollution with diseases, there increase in asthma, heart disease, high blood pressure. People have a lot of concern – they are scared of eating from the garden, can’t use the land, can’t fish and game. Done focus groups and studies on what they can do for them – concerns about water quality was high and they’ve worked together to have and collected water collection that was done by community members with help from graduate students. Tests for lead in the water was done by community members and other contaminants. They used community relevant test kits. Also some trace and toxic metals. In reporting back, they recommended not to fish in a specific area (Sallys Pond) and the chief was involved as a facilitator. Slides are reviewed by community members. Summary: restoring dignity and ownership over their community; prioritise a community research agenda, and change public policy. They back up community concerns with evidence and science.

DSC_1565.JPGEsther Erdie, work in Southeastern USA – 90% Native American are populating the area. There are 3% of the US population are native, there are 573 federally recognised tribes in 36 states. The Navajo Nation has 300,00 people. In 2004 there was recognition that environmental health is needed for tribal land-based cultures. The relationship to the land is very different from urban cultures, and lack of culturally-centred primary research. In 2015 there was a Mine Release in 2015 that impact a large area in Gold King Mine. There are over 4000 uranium mines, so big issue. There is a legacy of the extraction industry that leads to environmental injustice in the south-west US, there are airborne nanomaterial metals (U, V, Si), and lung exposure pathways because it’s an open cast mine. The Navajo nation when examined in 2010, showed 21% high level of Uranium in them. The citizen science goes to 1972 there were discharges and in 1979 tailing spill. There are problems lead to the sampling of radiation from 2002. In Church Rock uranium mine they took samples by community members who act as citizen scientists and identify 376 water source that is exceeding regulated level in 2011. There are problems in different sites and created a traffic light system to indicate how the water can be used. The issue is how the community want to use the information, the Navajo nation is focusing on the creation of a medical school and use the science to address issues. Education is important and needs to integrate traditional ways of thinking and considering issues.

DSC_1568.JPGJefferson Currie II from the Lumbee in North Carolina, and is a riverkeeper. The job is about citizen science, he comes from community background and the watershed that he deals with are brownfields, Swine and poultry CAFO, coal ash, oil and gas pipelines, etc. The approach that he takes is that he continues to talk with community members, and get information. His job is to stop pollution and hold people to account for it. They had a huge increase in poultry operations and there is a problem of not letting the operations growing. People say that the water becomes brown because of the swine CAFO and that is a way to identify violations. Floods – people who are older can explain things on how they are happening. They get reports on flooding that can be caused by solar farm and can local knowledge can work.

Judith – citizen science includes citizens and citizens. There are no short projects with communities and the Ramapough project is one that requires long term commitment and there is a long term commitment.

Dona – the distrust is when there is extractive knowledge an element of academia that is linked to funding, which researchers refuse to help because of funding. There are concerns about contaminations that require long term engagement. Beyond the funding, there will be leaders and people in the community that will continue to carry out the work. Consider other exchange – time, food and more. Need to maintain relationships.

Language – Judith went to learn the language, but there is wide use of English. In Esther case, 30% only speak Navajo and working with the community requires to have community members that are a local speaker, for example, there is a need to have female community researchers because of matriarchal structures. There are Native American that are becoming scientists. Dona – there is also a need to talk about the cultural language, not only the verbal language.

Vi – for true community based participatory research in different communities, ask them what is their area of concerns and help them to design the research and make sure that it is their data. Native American can tell their own stories and their own knowledge. Need to consider. Judith – there can be an interaction, that includes people who with an agreement that they will be the voice of the community.

There are panels that need to be considering the inclusion of different groups, such as black communities is needed to be included from the start of processes and be represented by themselves.

The suggestion of developing long terms relationships with community

Consortia of native academics who are building protocols with native communities to maintain knowledge by the communities of people that integrate traditional and scientific knowledge in themselves. The native academics didn’t experience disconnect – maybe the language and jargon, but there is a need to start with the people first and then it is how the relationship is being built. Native academics are fostering. In terms of self-determination – concepts of Free, Prior and Informed Consent is central. Bottom determinant.

 

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Citizen Science 2019: Citizen Science in Action: A Tale of Four Advocates Who Would Have Lost Without You

DSC_1533.JPGJessica Culpepper (Public Justice), Larry Baldwin (Crystal Coast Waterkeeper), Matt Helper (Appalachian Voices),  Michael Krochta (Bark). 
Jessica – there can be a disconnect between the work on the ground and how it is used in advocacy. On how to use the information to make the world a better place, and hold polluters to account.
DSC_1534.JPGFirst, Michael Krochta (Bark) from Portland, OR – NGO focusing on restoring forests about Mt Hood. Doing volunteer surveys.  They carry out ground truth by volunteers to inform management but also litigation in case of logging – a project about an old growth forest that was suggested, but volunteers identify rare species habitat which stopped the logging. The Mt Hood provide drinking water, but also an area of commercial logging activities. There are programmes of logging from the forestry service – an area is going through EIA according to NEPA, and if it is suitable, it is auctioned off. The national forest management act requires them to have a forest management plan, especially concerns over spotted owl from the 1970s. At each time, there is a large area that is being analysed for exploitation, and they don’t analyse it well enough. The ground truthing is to train volunteers are checking the information and demonstrating, for example, that an area that is the map indicated as only 30-year growth is actually an old growth one. Ground truthing include taking images, checking a diameter of a tree, and assessing the canopy cover. The forest service (USFS) have limitations and they do very simplistic analysis and apply an analysis of a small area over a large area – e.g. an area of 11,742 acres that through an effort by the NGO they dropped 1531 by demonstrating that aspect and slope are greater than 30%. There is a requirement to use more complex equipment.
The forest service is describing “desired future conditions” and demonstrating that the conditions are already there. Another evidence is “survey and manage” – the forest service require to survey and manage trees that are over 80 years old. There is an example of the Red Tree Voles (which the Spotted Owl) and because it’s hard to find the next of the voles, they don’t climb trees – once people are trained to climb Douglas Fir, they can collect evidence – the forest service is doing only ground-based surveys. A detailed map of the area helps in removing places that are within a radius from identified nests. There are also protected plant species that they identified by volunteers. Existing legal hook – National Forest Management Act on land allocation and current ecological conditions, NEPA in terms of baseline conditions and cumulative impacts, Endangered Species Act, “Survey and manage” from Northwest Forest Plan. bark-out.org
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Volunteers demonstrate misclassification of an old growth area
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Surveying Red Tree Voles nests

DSC_1538.JPGMatt Hepler – Appalachian Voices – part of Appalachian Citizens Enforcement alliance, is doing engagement with people about the Clean Water Act to monitor their watershed and bringing local knowledge to the front. People feel disempowered and don’t interact with state agencies – gave up hope or don’t know how. Holding state agencies and coal companies accountable. The sites that they are researching are hot spot – word of mouth on local knowledge, use of Google Maps and Google Earth and also use QGIS, and they look at Discharge Monitoring Reports – the mines are supposed to produce DMRs for each stream, and these can be examined and can also grab location so they can carry out their own analysis. Spending as much time analysing the maps to decide where to take samples as much as doing in the fields. Mapping is important – but not every community members are not good with computers or explaining how to use GPS and coordinates. The maps are important for not trespassing so to find places that it is possible to properly sample. There can be intervening sources that can impact the sampling site. They are using equipment in a library – using a pH buffer bottle, using instruments and people monitor pH, temperature, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Conductivity. If there is low pH or high conductivity they do further tests for heavy metals and sulfates and lab methods. It’s important to have QA – training on how to calibrate, how to not trespass and upload the data. There is limited editing access for data so it can be controlled. Calibration of probes before landing them. Using Virginia Tier II water quality data standards – checking that it’s good enough for state-level monitoring and evidence. There is also polaroid justice – provide photographic evidence for the work that they do so it can be submitted “Polaroid Justice”. They have a website http://www.act-project.org and now considering replacing it with smartphones with EpiCollect and ArcGIS Online, as it allows offline data collection. ArcGIS online can pull data from the EPA, state agencies and other sources and that are useful. Some successes – in specific streams (Kelly Branch and Penn Virginia) for illegal discharge of selenium and that led to Supplemental Environmental Project that bring money to remedy, reporting water quality violations, also found abandoned mines locations, and increased knowledge and awareness. Data have been used by academics who are interested in water quality in Appalachia.

DSC_1541.JPGLarry Baldwin – talking from multiple organisations that he involved in: crystal coast waterkeeper and coastal Carolina riverkeeper. The issue is Coal Ash and CAFO – the residue for coal that is used in power plants, and CAFO is concentrated Animal Feeding Operations from pork and poultry (turkey and chicken) because of industrial farming. They got information from a farmer about coal ash spill in the Dan River and took to the air, showing a spill from coal and CAFO sources. They had volunteers who recognise the discharge and people took photos for weeks. There are quite a few sites like that. The issue with CAFO that come from factory farms that got a “lagoon” which is a cesspit – a hole in the ground that include the sewage from the swine and then sprayed on the ground as a “fertilisers”. There are issues of discharge from CAFO – you find it out from neighbours who are checking the information, Trespassing is an issue, and they allow the organisation to go and sample. There are big mountains of poultry waste – with nitrate, bacteria and all sort of other things in it. There are 2400 swine “lagoon” mostly near low-income communities and black and Hispanic communities. So they provided tools to allow communities members to collect evidence from aerial monitoring with volunteer pilots – who have their own aeroplane who are willing to fly over the property, with attempts not to allow flying a drone over a facility because that is not allowed by law. After hurricane Florence, when it hit on Saturday, they flew for 8 days, to document the impact of the storm. Used a sign on the board of the local airport and recruiting pilots this way (covering the fuels). Also doing campaigns which get people involved – including billboards. The industry got upset about the billboards that they put their own campaign. Use an innovative way to engage people – they pay for themselves in terms of participation. Going to lawsuits only as last options – using clean air act or legislative actions to campaign and change things. Lobbying, campaigning, the court of public opinion is also important – using the information from volunteers to put it in front of the public, conventional media (print/radio/TV), documentaries – bringing people from Russia, China and other countries to avoid the problem in their own country, and finally social media. Training people to take samples and teaching people to use equipment to prove the point in a specific issue. If it is not part of the volunteers who step up to be part of the solution.
DSC_1546.JPGJessica Culpepper  – Public Justice is a national advocacy organisation and they have lawyers and been doing it for 7 years. There are environmental lawsuits that are based on citizen science and it is important to use it in these cases. There are also gag laws that are being put even to block access to public land (the Wyoming law). These laws are there to stop citizen scientists to identify problems. Public justice is to identify the problems in the energy and agricultural sector – coal ash, water. The Food Project try to support dismantling industrial agriculture towards a regenerative form of animal agriculture. Believe in deep partnership with communities and representing farmers, rural communities, consumers, and workers. Focusing on communities that don’t have clean water because of nitrates. Poultry has issues of working rights and other issues. The Burton et al v Mountaire Poultry – in a Milsbrough they experience water pollution that a community of colour was exposed to without knowing. There is row poultry waste sprayed on the field, and when the incident happened, the environment agency sample 11 wells and just sent water softener without explanation how it will help the situation. A group at the Sussex County Del. , with a group keep our wells safe, and explain to community members that their water is not space, and stepping up is very scary – losing a job, excluded from a local church, children being bullied etc. There is a disposal field not far away from the community. There was a child who died from asthma, limb loss for diabetic patients – all associate from nitrate. They start by community well sampling project -and went door to door to do onsite nitrate and discovered that a lot of wells are contaminated. Used Google Earth to map Nitrate and also got evidence through freedom of information. As a lawyer, she can demonstrate that it is a facility that can be blamed It is possible to demonstrate the link – without citizen science and community science that enabled data collection. They also show that the trend is going up since the farm happened. The chart was created by one of the citizen scientists in the community. The data enabled to collaboratively create a groundwater flow map through a hydrogeologist – and they could prove that could bring a lawsuit on behalf the community – and there was a question of what they want to get out of it. They also did media blitz in USA Today and asked why senators don’t show up  in the communities, and that influenced the advocacy – it led to the America Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 to get a grant to monitor and if the polluter is identified, they need to cover the costs – that despite the link between Tom Carper link to Poultry industry in Delaware. You need a positive vision, show up and document, willingness to be out in the media by the community, work with a wider network – work of citizen scientists is amazing. Burnout is real, and you need to work with different groups – an effort by communities and fighting for 25-30 years, and there is a personal price that they pay, with threatening family members.
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Mapping with tools such as Google Earth is valuable in EJ legal cases as it shows the vicinity of pollution sites to houses
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Analysis by a community member provides evidence linking the development of the facility with pollution

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 equaly – 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.

 

 

 

Chapter in Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice – Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice has been published in mid-September. This extensive book, of 670 pages is providing an extensive overview of scholarly research on environmental justice

The book was edited by three experts in the area – Ryan Holifield from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jayajit Chakraborty from the University of Texas at El Paso, and Gordon Walker from the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK. All three have affiliations that relate to Geography, and geographic and environmental information play a major part in the analysis and action regarding environmental justice.

The book holds 51 chapters that are covering the theory and practice of environmental justice – from how it is analysed and understood in different academic disciplines, to the methods that are used to demonstrate that environmental justice issues happen in a place,  and an overview of the regional and global aspects of current environmental justice struggles. The range of chapters and the knowledge of the people who write them are making this collection a useful resource for those who are studying and acting in this area (though few top authors in this field are missing, but their work is well referenced)

However, with a price tag of £165 for the Book, the costs put an obstacle for those who need the information but suitable for universities and libraries. The eBook is £35, which makes it much more affordable, though having used the online system, the interface could be better. Luckily the policy of Routledge permits sharing the chapters on personal websites.

My contribution, together with Louise Francis, is in Chapter 24 –Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action. In this chapter, we provide an overview of the use of participatory GIS in environmental justice action, but in particular, a detailed explanation of the methodology that we have developed a decade ago, with contributions from Colleen Whitaker, Chris Church and other people that worked with us a the time. The methodology is now used in the activities of Mapping for Change.  The methodology supports both participatory mapping and citizen science.

As we note in the chapter “Our methodology emerged in 2007, through the London 21 Sustainability Network project ‘A Fairer, Greener London’, which aimed to give six marginalised communities the opportunity to develop their own understanding of local environmental justice issues and supporting action plans to address them. The project was integrated closely with the project ‘Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities’ which was funded as part of the UrbanBuzz scheme. Both projects were based on accessible GIS technologies and available environmental information sources.

The methodology evolved into a six-stage process that is inherently flexible and iterative – so, while the stages are presented here as a serial process, the application of the methodology for a specific case is carried out through a discussion with the local community.” The chapter provides an example for the implementation of the methodology from the work that we carried out in the Pepys Estate.

If you want to read the whole chapter (and use the methodology) you can find it here. For any other chapter in the handbook, email the authors and they will probably share a copy with you. 

Algorithmic governance in environmental information (or how technophilia shape environmental democracy)

These are the slides from my talk at the Algorithmic Governance workshop (for which there are lengthy notes in the previous post). The workshop explored the many ethical, legal and conceptual issues with the transition to Big Data and algorithm based decision-making.

My contribution to the discussion is based on previous thoughts on environmental information and public use of it. Inherently, I see the relationships between environmental decision-making, information, and information systems as something that need to be examined through the prism of the long history that linked them. This way we can make sense of the current trends. This three area are deeply linked throughout the history of the modern environmental movement since the 1960s (hence the Apollo 8 earth image at the beginning),  and the Christmas message from the team with the reference to Genesis (see below) helped in making the message stronger .

To demonstrate the way this triplet evolved, I’m using texts from official documents – Stockholm 1972 declaration, Rio 1992 Agenda 21, etc. They are fairly consistent in their belief in the power of information systems in solving environmental challenges. The core aspects of environmental technophilia are summarised in slide 10.

This leads to environmental democracy principles (slide 11) and the assumptions behind them (slide 12). While information is open, it doesn’t mean that it’s useful or accessible to members of the public. This was true when raw air monitoring observations were released as open data in 1997 (before anyone knew the term), and although we have better tools (e.g. Google Earth) there are consistent challenges in making information meaningful – what do you do with Environment Agency DSM if you don’t know what it is or how to use a GIS? How do you interpret Global Forest Watch analysis about change in tree cover in your area if you are not used to interpreting remote sensing data (a big data analysis and algorithmic governance example)? I therefore return to the hierarchy of technical knowledge and ability to use information (in slide 20) that I covered in the ‘Neogeography and the delusion of democratisation‘ and look at how the opportunities and barriers changed over the years in slide 21.

The last slides show that despite of all the technical advancement, we can have situations such as the water contamination in Flint, Michigan which demonstrate that some of the problems from the 1960s that were supposed to be solved, well monitored, with clear regulations and processes came back because of negligence and lack of appropriate governance. This is not going to be solved with information systems, although citizen science have a role to play to deal with the governmental failure. This whole sorry mess and the re-emergence of air quality as a Western world environmental problem is a topic for another discussion…

Environmental information: between scarcity/abundance and emotions/rationality

The Eye on Earth Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi last week, allowed me to immerse myself in the topics that I’ve been researching for a long time: geographic information, public access to environmental information, participation, citizen science, and the role of all these in policy making. My notes (day 1 morning, day 1 afternoon, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3 morning & day 3 afternoon) provide the background for this post, as well as the blog posts from Elisabeth Tyson (day 1, day 2) and the IISD reports and bulletins from the summit. The first Eye on Earth Summit provided me with plenty to think about, so I thought that it is worth reflecting on my ‘Take home’ messages.

What follows are my personal reflections from the summit and the themes that I feel are emerging in the area of environmental information today. 

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgWhen considering the recent ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by the UN Assembly, it is not surprising that they loomed large over the summit – as drivers for environmental information demand for the next 15 years, as focal points for the effort of coordination of information collection and dissemination, but also as an opportunity to make new links between environment and health, or promoting environmental democracy (access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice). It seems that the SDGs are very much in the front of the mind of the international organisations who are part of the Eye on Earth alliance, although other organisations, companies and researchers who are coming with more technical focus (e.g. Big Data or Remote Sensing) are less aware of them – at least in terms of referring to them in their presentations during the summit.

Beyond the SDGs, two overarching tensions emerged throughout the presentations and discussions – and both are challenging. They are the tensions between abundance and scarcity, and between emotions and rationality. Let’s look at them in turn.

Abundance and scarcity came up again and agin. On the data side, the themes of ‘data revolution’, more satellite information, crowdsourcing from many thousands of weather observers and the creation of more sources of information (e.g. Environmental Democracy Index) are all examples for abundance in the amount of available data and information. At the same time, this was contrasted with the scarcity in the real world (e.g species extinction, health of mangroves), scarcity of actionable knowledge, and scarcity with ecologists with computing skills. Some speakers oscillated between these two ends within few slides or even in the same one. There wasn’t an easy resolution for this tension, and both ends were presented as challenges.

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With emotions and scientific rationality, the story was different. Here the conference was packed with examples that we’re (finally!) moving away from a simplistic ‘information deficit model‘ that emphasise scientific rationality as the main way to lead a change in policy or public understanding of environmental change. Throughout the summit presenters emphasised the role of mass media communication, art (including live painting development through the summit by GRID-Arendal team), music, visualisation, and story telling as vital ingredients that make information and knowledge relevant and actionable. Instead of a ‘Two Cultures’ position, Eye on Earth offered a much more harmonious and collaborative linkage between these two ways of thinking and feeling.

Next, and linked to the issue of abundance and scarcity are costs and funding. Many talks demonstrated the value of open data and the need to provide open, free and accessible information if we want to see environmental information used effectively. Moreover, providing the information with the ability of analyse or visualise it over the web was offered as a way to make it more powerful. However, the systems are costly, and although the assessment of the IUCN demonstrated that the investment in environmental datasets is modest compared to other sources (and the same is true for citizen science), there are no sustainable, consistent and appropriate funding mechanisms, yet. Funding infrastructure or networking activities is also challenging, as funders accept the value, but are not willing to fund them in a sustainable way. More generally, there is an issue about the need to fund ecological and environmental studies – it seem that while ‘established science’ is busy with ‘Big Science’ – satellites, Big Data, complex computer modelling – the work of studying ecosystems in an holistic way is left to small group of dedicated researchers and to volunteers. The urgency ad speed of environmental change demand better funding for these areas and activities.

This lead us to the issue of Citizen Science, for which the good news are that it was mentioned throughout the summit, gaining more prominence than 4 years ago in the first summit (were it also received attention). In all plenary sessions, citizen science or corwdsourced geographic information were mentioned at least once, and frequently by several speakers. Example include Hermes project for recording ocean temperatures, Airscapes Singapore for urban air quality monitoring, the Weather Underground of sharing weather information, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team work in Malawi, Kathmandu Living Lab response to the earthquake in Nepal, Arab Youth Climate Movement in Bahrain use of iNaturalist to record ecological observations, Jacky Judas work with volunteers to monitor dragonflies in Wadi Wurayah National Park  – and many more. Also the summit outcomes document is clear:  “The Summit highlighted the role of citizen science groups in supporting governments to fill data gaps, particularly across the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. Citizen Science was a major focus area within the Summit agenda and there was general consensus that reporting against SDGs must include citizen science data. To this end, a global coalition of citizen science groups will be established by the relevant actors and the Eye on Earth Alliance will continue to engage citizen science groups so that new data can be generated in areas where gaps are evident. The importance of citizen engagement in decision-making processes was also highlighted. ”

However, there was ambivalence about it – should it be seen as an instrument, a tool to produce environmental information or as a mean to get wider awareness and engagement by informed citizens? How best to achieve the multiple goals of citizen science: raising awareness, educating, providing skills well beyond the specific topic of the project, and democratising decision making and participation? It seem to still be the case that the integration of citizen science into day to day operations is challenging for many of the international organisations that are involved in the Eye on Earth alliance.

Another area of challenging interactions emerged from the need for wide partnerships between governments, international organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), companies, start-ups, and even ad-hoc crowds that respond to a specific event or an issue which are afforded by digital and social network. There are very different speeds in implementation and delivery between these bodies, and in some cases there are chasms that need to be explored – for example, an undercurrent from some technology startups is that governments are irrelevant and in some forms of thinking that ‘to move fast and break things’ – including existing social contracts and practices – is OK. It was somewhat surprising to hear speakers praising Uber or AirBnB, especially when they came from people who familiar with the need for careful negotiations that take into account wider goals and objectives. I can see the wish to move things faster – but to what risks to we bring by breaking things?

With the discussions about Rio Principle 10 and the new developments in Latin America, the Environmental Democracy Index, and the rest, I became more convinced, as I’ve noted in 2011, that we need to start thinking about adding another right to the three that are included in it (access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice), and develop a right to produce environmental information that will be taken seriously by the authorities – in other words, a right for citizen science. I was somewhat surprised by the responses when I raised this point during the discussion on Principle 10.

Final panel (source: IISD)

Finally, Eye on Earth was inclusive and collaborative, and it was a pleasure to see how open people were to discuss issues and explore new connections, points of view or new ways of thinking about issues. A special point that raised several positive responses was the gender representation in such high level international conference with a fairly technical focus (see the image of the closing panel). The composition of the speakers in the summit, and the fact that it was possible to have such level of women representation was fantastic to experience (making one of the male-only panels on the last day odd!). It is also an important lesson for many academic conferences – if Eye on Earth can, I cannot see a reason why it is not possible elsewhere.

Citizen or Civic Science, activism and NIMBY

Recently, I attended a meeting with people from a community that is concerned with vibration and noise caused by a railway near their homes. We have discussed the potential of using citizen science to measure the vibrations that pass the sensory threshold and that people classify as unpleasant, together with other perceptions and feeling about these incidents. This can form the evidence to a discussion with the responsible authorities to see what can be done.

As a citizen science activity, this is not dissimilar from the work carried out around Heathrow to measure the level of noise nuisance or air pollution monitoring that ExCiteS and Mapping for Change carried out in other communities.

In the meetings, the participants felt that they need to emphasise that they are not against the use of the railway or the development of new railway links. Like other groups that I have net in the past, they felt that it is important to emphasise that their concern is not only about their locality – in other words, this is not a case of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ (NIMBY) which is the most common dismissal of local concerns. The concern over NIMBY and citizen science is obvious one, and frequently come up in questions about the value and validity of data collected through this type of citizen science.

During my masters studies, I was introduced to Maarten Wolsink (1994) analysis of NIMBY as a compulsory reading in one of the courses. It is one of the papers that I keep referring to from time to time, especially when complaints about participatory work and NIMBY come up.
Inherently, what Wolsink is demonstrating is that the conceptualisation of the people who are involved in the process as selfish and focusing on only their own area is wrong. Through the engagement with environmental and community concerns, people will explore issues at wider scales and many time will argue for ‘Not in Anyone’s Back Yard’ or for a balance between the needs of infrastructure development and their own quality of life. Studies on environmental justice also demonstrated that what the people who are involved in such activities ask for are not narrow, but many times mix aspects of need for recognition, expectations of respect, arguments of justice, and participation in decision-making (Schlosberg 2007).

In other words, the citizen science and systematic data collection are a way for the community to bring to the table evidence that can enhance arguments beyond NIMBY, and while it might be part of the story it is not the whole story.

For me, these interpretations are part of the reason that such ‘activism’-based citizen science should receive the same attention and respect as any other data collection, most notably by the authorities.

Wolsink, M. (1994) Entanglement of Interests and Motives: Assumptions Behind the NIMBY-Theory on Facility Siting, Urban Studies, 31(6), pp. 851-866.
Scholsberg, D. (2007) Defining Environmental Justice: Theories, Movements, and Nature. Oxford University Press, 2007