Citizen Science: Monitoring in the EIA Process

“Citizen science is a process by which everyday people take an active role in scientific discovery, joining forces with researchers to answer important science questions” (MASH)

Historically, science was a task that could only be carried out by a couple of advantaged people who had that background training to carry out experiments and the multiple tests it required. What is distinct about Citizen Science (CS) is that it appeals to individuals who would not have been traditionally associated with the field of research.  It is the development of new learning communities that sidestep institutions and tradition as a means of acquiring knowledge that make it possible for individuals to have an impact in the scientific field. In the ’70s activists adopted the saying ‘Science for the People’ but it has been suggested by Silvertown (2009) that “’Science by the people’ is a more inclusive aim”. The publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by Rachel Carlson brought with it a movement which brought to the attention of the people that sciences needed to become accessible to everyone. It is important to note that at the moment, CS now includes participation in many fields such as projects on climate change, invasive species, conservation biology, ecological restoration, water quality monitoring, population ecology and monitoring (Greaves, 2013; Silvertown, 2009).

Terms

Amateurs: A person who does something (such as a sport or hobby) for pleasure and not as a job.

Volunteer: A person who does work without getting paid to do it

Protocol: A system of rules that explain the correct conduct and procedures to be followed in formal situations

Video

Why is Citizen Science accomplished?

I would recommend watching the whole video, but what is most relevant to the field of CS and its ability to attract participants emerges five minutes into the video.

Three factors that lead to better performance & personal satisfaction

  • Autonomy: Desire to be self-directed; management is good for compliance but autonomy is good for engagement.
  • Mastery: The urge to get better at stuff, because it’s fun, because you get better at it and that’s satisfying.
  • Purpose: Transcendence purpose – it makes coming to work better; it’s the way to become more talented.

A question that is brought forward in this video is pertaining to the type of individuals CS attracts. It is stated by the video that technically sophisticated highly skilled people who have jobs are the ones carrying out these tasks. But why are they willing to do so? What does CS give back to individuals as an incentive for them to carry out these tasks? According to the video the answer are straight forwards and simple: “the science shows that we want to be self-directed, make the world a little bit better”.

Tools

What tools makes participation in CS possible?

According to Silvertown (2009), it is any technology that makes it possible for information to be shared. The range for such tools is wide, starting by innovations such as the telephone to more modern ideas of Social Medias. The tools he suggest vary from “Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Google maps, iPod apps, YouTube and wiki” he goes further to state that the tools can be anything that “can be used to reach and engage with a large audience”. To this list I would also add: Smart phones, GPS and open GIS soft-wares.

Limitations

It is noted that some projects such as monitoring can become very complicated. Such projects would typically attract fewer individuals. The literature also suggest that if proper protocols and standardization are put in place then, even very complicated scientific questions can be addressed. (Bonney et al, 2009). Protocols used for citizen science should be easy to perform, explainable in a clear and straightforward manner, and engaging for volunteer participants” ( Silvertown, 2009; Bonney et al, 2009).

Monitoring in Environmental Impact Assessment Process.

A movement towards a new model of industrial performance, which integrates “transcendence purpose”, leaving behind the sole aim for profit by adding a contribution to the social environment is on the go.  The Environmental Assessment Impact process should emulate what the market has started to embrace. Including citizen science in the monitoring process would do just that: it would add a second purpose to the process, revitalize it, and improve public involvement and public concern towards such questions as to whether what happens in and the quality of what is included in an EIA report.

Recommendations

  • Make data resulting from citizen science accessible ( Increasing transparency and public motivation for involvement )
  • Integration of public participation (section) in post project implementation during the monitoring phase of the EIA process.

Links pertinent to Citizen Science

What is citizen science?

Scientific American: List of projects looking for involvement.

Citizen science: Monitoring, Education and Volunteering.

Seek free knowledge (MIT free courses)

Ongoing projects

Christmas bird count-National Audubon Society in the USA –since 1900, 63 million bird observations

The British trust for ornithology -founded in 1932

National Biodiversity network– 31 million records of over 27 000 UK species of animals and plants in majority collected by amateur naturalist

References

Bonney, R., Cooper, C. B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K. V., & Shirk, J. (2009). Citizen science: a developing tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy. BioScience, 59(11), 977-984. http://bioscience.oxfordjournals.org/content/59/11/977.full. Retrieved March 9th, 2015.

MASH(NA)Leaning is open. Toolkit Citizen Sciences. California Academy of Sciences http://alpha.projectmash.org/groups/citizen-science Retrieved March 9th, 2015.

Greaves, S (2013)Citizen Science Musings: The Rise of Citizen Science. http://citizenscientistsleague.com/2013/01/14/citizen-science-musings-the-rise-of-citizen-science/ Retrieved March 9th, 2015.

Silvertown, J. (2009). A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in ecology & evolution, 24(9), 467-471. 

Authenticity verification of EIA reports by NGOs

Over the past couple of months some might have seen this billboard on highway 40 and around Montreal claiming that the sun is the real cause for global warming. In response to such a claim a Quebec based organization led a funding campaign, with Indiegogo, to offer a new billboard to the population of Montreal.(1)

(English: what science really says: climate is changing. Because of us.)

This introduces the main topic of this blog, What do we do when fallacious information is being presented as representing the scientific truth? In the case of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) when such instances occur, agencies such as the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE), when mandated, would identify and offer suggestions. BAPE exists to offer a voice to those who believe negative environmental impacts could arise from upcoming projects(2). When the demand is felt the government would mandate BAPE to carry out an investigation.

Le Bape a pour mission d’éclairer la prise de décision gouvernementale dans une perspective de développement durable, lequel englobe les aspects biophysique, social et économique” (2)

(English: BAPE’s mission  is to enlighten the decision making process for the government,  keeping in mind sustainable development, which encompasses the biophysical, social and  economic sphere. )

There is an obvious need to have a regulatory agency who would protect the public in EIAs, which would act like consumer protection does with deceptive business practices(3 & 4). It would expose misleading information presented to the public related to the implementation of development projects.  The public could gather all the false or erroneous facts, with the help of  social media, such as twitter. Once reported and confirmed, all the information could be collected in one area, possibly a web page. Then a specialist could potentially provide an alternative explanation to what is being claimed.

When NGOs  find errors

Lacking an agency do this task, we could turn to NGOs, which have been known to report instances where sure incidences were found in EIA reports.  Here are two case studies where  NGOs have acted in the interests of the public when faced with shady EIA reports.

India, Mithivirdi nuclear power plant

-Anomalies were found in the EIA report made for this project by a local NGO, Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti. Concerns for the potential cumulative impacts due to the location of nearby dam and ship-breaking yard were ignored in the final assessment. Was this intentional, or a case  of simple carelessness? (more info)(5)

Malaysia, 300mW coal-fired plant

-The NGO at work under the name Green Surf noted many errors in the EIA report made available for the coal-fired plant, ranging from falsely identifying communities  to assessing  species of birds not actually present on the site of the future project. The presence of multiple errors has made local communities hesitant towards the project. (more info)(6)

As a future EIA practitioner, I believe it is important to keep in mind who the results of EIA reports affect the most: the ones at risk with fallacious reports are the local communities around the future project site. There are also ecological risks. To some extent, concerning money & reputation, one could even argue that proponents are also at risk if an issue were to arise in an EIA report and affect the environment. May it be for monetary or for health motivations, one should always express the truth in these report and work with the local NGOs. The extent of the potential impact is too important to continue carrying out EIAs as they are. Information authenticity should be a priority.

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Interesting links

Association des Communicateurs Scientific du Quebec

http://www.acs.qc.ca/

An article about the Friends of Science billboard:

https://ca.news.yahoo.com/blogs/dailybrew/friends-of-science-bring-controversial-billboard-203616672.html

References:

(1)”Riposte à la désinformation scientifique au Québec” https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/riposte-a-la-desinformation-scientifique-au-quebec. Retrieved 23rd, 2015.

( 2)”Le Bureau d’audience publiques sur l’environment”   http://www.bape.gouv.qc.ca/sections/documentation/depliant_Participation.pdf Retrieved 23rd, 2015.

(3) “Consumer Information:Provincial and Territorial Legislation”  http://www.consumerinformation.ca/eic/site/032.nsf/eng/01173.html Retrieved 25th Jan 2015.

(4) “Consumer information: Unfair or Deceptive Business Practices”  http://www.consumerinformation.ca/eic/site/032.nsf/eng/00072.html Retrieved 25th Jan, 2015.

(5)dna “NGO finds errors in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report of Mithi Virdi” http://www.dnaindia.com/ahmedabad/report-ngo-finds-errors-in-environmental-impact-assessment-eia-report-of-mithi-virdi-1830875 Retrieved 25th Jan, 2015.

(6)Sario, R( 2010)”Errors in DEIA leaves Sabahans stunned” http://www.thestar.com.my/story/?sec=southneast&file=%2f2010%2f8%2f2%2fsouthneast%2f6777380 & Green SURF (2009) http://nocoalsabah.blogspot.ca/2009/10/unite.html Retrieved 25th Jan, 2015.

Public Participation: The Voice of Children

by Stephanie Pelletier,

According to the Brundtland Report (1987) “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”2; in other words, the future needs of children. It is unfortunate that the public participation process misrepresents and/or does not include children opinion. How can an issue be properly deliberated if one of the affected parties is excluded?

Children now make up 27% of the world population 3. Even in these large numbers they remain to this day absent in the public affairs of adults, especially concerning economic development projects; prompted by general assumptions that children lack the right skills to partake.

This short commercial demonstrates the problem in public participation towards children:

In this commercial we see a child being protected from a harmful industry when adults decide to participate in public consultations. What we also see is a confused child who does not understand the language being spoken. We see a child who is not explained what is going on, a child who is left in the dark about what is happening to the world he/she will inherit.

What I am worried about is whether or not we are giving children the proper tools to take care of their own futures. The first of these tools which we could make available to children could be the right to take part in the process of public participation. It has been shown that “When the participation process is explained properly, children understand what they can contribute to and what will be done with the outcomes of their consultations. An important part of this process is givingfeedback to the children on what is done with their opinions and why.”1 I believe it is our duty to equip the next generation with the power to voice their opinions.

Yes, initially it might cause more for work for EIAs, since “Children’s participation needs to be organised at the policy level which is closest to the children and around themes which are relevant for children.”1   but in the long run it would prove rather beneficial. If children are included today, then this could potentially result in a higher participation rate in EIAs of tomorrow; it would result in a generation that genuinely wants to engage in a system where their voices are valued.

-For more information on children in public consultation consult: http://www.eurochild.org/uploads/tx_news/OEJAJ_VADEMECUM.pdf

-International best practice guide (it is interesting to note that children are only mentioned once and as a group which has the potential of being impacted by a project):

http://www.iaia.org/publicdocuments/special- publications/SP4%20web.pdf?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1

Reference

  1. Vade -Mecum(2014) Children’s Participation in Public Decision-Making: Why should I involve children? 2014/8651/2. Bruxelles http://www.eurochild.org/uploads/tx_news/OEJAJ_VADEMECUM.pdf (Accessed September 23rd, 2014.)
  2. World Commission on Environment and Development (1987) Brundtland Report. Our Common Future. United Nation. Oxford world press. http://conspect.nl/pdf/Our_Common_Future-Brundtland_Report_1987.pdf  (Accessed September 23rd, 2014.)
  3. Gapminder(2011) The World has reached Peak Number of Children http://www.gapminder.org/news/world-peak-number-of-children-is-now/#.VCIsQGd0yUk (Accessed September 23rd, 2014.)
  1. André, P., B. Enserink, D. Connor and P. Croal( 2006) Public Participation International Best Practice Principles.Special Publication Series No. 4. Fargo,USA: International Association for ImpactAssessment.http://www.iaia.org/publicdocuments/special-publications/SP4%20web.pdf?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1(Accessed September 23rd, 2014.)