stories from the Public Lab community
This week, something really exciting happened for our partners in Africatown, Alabama. The historic slave ship the Clotilda was reported discovered in Mobile Bay (also see this piece by Ben Raines in Alabama Local News). For those who have been following the posts and projects of MEJAC and Africatown (also see Bridge the Gulf and MEJAC), you will have heard of the Clotilda before. It's known as the "Last Known Slave Ship in U.S."
However, the dark history of the Clotilda does not end the story of injustice brought to those the ship carried below its wood and iron deck. Today's piece in the Guardian "'Still fighting': Africatown, site of last US slave shipment, sues over pollution" highlights many of these struggles, and what Africatown residents are doing about them:
"Today, this mostly black, low-income community has more than just a unique history as an against-the-odds bolthole of black independence in the Reconstruction south. Residents say they also have a serious industrial pollution and public health problem, and a group of about 1,200 have launched a lawsuit against the owners of a now-shuttered paper plant that was built in 1928 on land that was then owned by A Meaher Jr.
“People born after 1945 seem to be dying before the age of 65,” said Womack, who grew up during the mid-century heydey of the International Paper plant that drew thousands of workers here but also, according to residents, spewed ash across the town."
MEJAC President, Ramsey Sprague, sums it up:
"The news of the Clotilda slave ship discovery is incredible, but so is the resolve of Africatown residents fighting for Environmental Justice today! International Paper may have been a keystone economic driver for Mobile for most of the 20th century, but that does not mean it should have been given immunity from compliance with federal law. No one should be able to poison with impunity. Mobile must deal with its legacy of environmental racism...It's amazing that Africatown’s dioxin/furan contamination lawsuit against International Paper and the formation of CHESS is finally getting attention after a year of work - in a UK media outlet no less. Local media, where are y’all?"
For the first time in a while, we've updated MapKnitter.org -- after the release of Leaflet.DistortableImage v0.1.3 -- incorporating new improvements from @justinmanley's Leaflet.toolbar project, as well as some key changes to the image distortion (rubber sheeting) interface. Thanks to @icarito for the help!
The biggest change, however, is that, due to supporting Leaflet v1.0, we now support very high zoom levels in MapKnitter -- a long-requested feature we could never get working under older versions of Leaflet. You can now zoom well past the resolution of the reference map, which will just stretch to fit.
This means you can do really really high resolution maps -- like gardens, for example. In the example above, the left image shows a single van parking space at a YMCA near where I used to live, while the right image shows the highest zoom level available under the old version of MapKnitter -- the maximum zoom of the reference map. It just stretches, but this is really key for very small mapmaking!
Here's another example of a map by @radikaltech that I hope will be able to use this higher-zoom system! Please tell me if it helps!
A Victory for Clean Water: Citizen Science Data Leads to Change
June 1, 2017
For years, the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and its volunteers have helped to document water pollution problems in the Town of Belmont. This week, that hard work paid off.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued an Administrative Order on Consent with the Town of Belmont over years of water quality damages. Over the next five years the town has agreed to make a significant investment in repairs to its storm water system, which is discharging pollutants, including human sewage, into waters of the Mystic River watershed. We congratulate Belmont on their commitment to improve water quality to tributaries to Alewife Brook.
This is a success story for citizen science and for non-profit environmental collaboration with government agencies. Data acquired by MyRWA volunteers and shared with EPA was key to making progress. This has been a group effort---from the dozens of volunteer monitors who go out each month to collect samples, to the tireless work of others like Roger Frymire, who spent countless hours finding sources of pollution in the Alewife Brook area.
Since 2000, volunteers through the MyRWA's Baseline Monitoring Program have generated water quality data that is shared with state and federal agencies. Each year the EPA in conjunction with MyRWA issues a water quality report card for the Mystic River watershed.
The 2015 water quality report card for the Belmont area tells the story: Alewife Brook earned a D grade with 50% compliance with boating and swimming standards for bacteria; Little River a D- grade at 44% compliance; and Winn's Brook an F grade at 33% compliance.
One powerful aspect of the Baseline Monitoring Program is that it is poised to document success as well as problems. As infrastructure repairs are made in Belmont, we fully expect these grades to improve. We look forward to documenting and celebrating water quality improvements to Alewife Brook, Little River, Winn's Brook, Wellington Brook---and the Mystic River itself---over the next five years!
Congratulations and thanks to everyone who continues to work with us for protecting clean water.
EPA Water Quality Grades 2014-2016
2014 2015 2016
Mystic River B+ A- A-
Alewife Brook D D D+
Little River D- D- D
Winn's Brook F F D-
Public Lab and some DIY science friends (Hey @maxliboiron, @eymund, @shannon and @warren !) were recently featured in a piece in The Economist. Check out the article entitled "Do-it-yourself science is taking off."
Happy New Year to all, and a special welcome to everyone who has found Public Lab and DIY science projects through The Economist piece!
Image obtained from: https://imgur.com/gallery/zfxwB
The FCC will likely be voting to repeal Net Neutrality on December 14th. The two main modes of civic engagement to protect Net Neutrality are to (1) contact Congress (who oversees the FCC) to remove or delay the scheduled vote, and (2) contact the FCC and tell them to NOT repeal Net Neutrality. There are also protests scheduled outside of Verizon stores (since the head of the FCC used to be a top lawyer for Verizon).
Some resources for civic engagement are:
Contact Congress: http://act.freepress.net/call/internet_nn_call_congress/
Find a local protest: https://www.battleforthenet.com/
There are some great informational resources available about what Net Neutrality is, why it is important, the regulatory context of it, and political and social analyses of the current proposal:
For clear and concise information about Net Neutrality and its importance, please see: https://www.savetheinternet.com/net-neutrality-what-you-need-know-now
For more discussion of its importance and some regulatory context about Net Neutrality, please see: https://www.wired.com/story/fcc-wants-to-kill-net-neutrality-congress-will-pay-the-price/
For a brief analysis from a centrist news source, please see: http://thehill.com/policy/technology/362868-fccs-net-neutrality-repeal-sparks-backlash
Please make your voice heard, and share information widely!
View of the marsh in the morning, as seen from my dormitory window. An egret basks in the sunlight.
As a 90's child in Houma, Louisiana, we would visit LUMCON on school field trips. I remember being charmed by the facility at a young age, a strange and seemingly out of place cement fortress at the end of the world, surrounded by wooden homes raised on stilts to protect them from rising waters. LUMCON has been the site of five Public Lab Barnraisings, in part because it exists at the very fringe of land and water off of the Louisiana coast, at the front lines of climate change in the United States. It's been about two decades since my first visit to LUMCON and the change in landscape is visceral and painful for me to acknowledge. It's been five years since the first Barnraising in Cocodrie, and the importance of Public Lab's work is made emminent when overlooking the receding marsh land and discussing the challenges we still face as advocates for a healthy natural environment.
LUMCON as seen on Google Maps. The amount of land loss is striking, as is the very linear canal across the bottom of the image which bisects the meandering natural waterways.
This year's barnraising brought together a diverse collection of knowledge - experts in their fields ranging from the Gulf coast to the Eastern seaboard, with representatives from the United Kingdom and China present to discuss the ways that we can continue to work collaboratively in order to better understand the environment and make scientific knowledge more accessible. Although everyone had their own specific question, or method for studying the environment, there was a common goal of creating an interdisciplinary, international network of citizen scientists and activists.
The weekend's agenda was built based on negotiating time and space for everyone's questions to be heard.
The ethos of the Barnraising is to address what knowledge is available within the Public Lab community, and how this information can best be disseminated to a multifaceted audience using a variety of organizing techniques. While a large amount of Public Lab's work is rooted in technology and development, there is an equally important foundation built on participatory science, community organizing, networking and power building. By taking an interdisciplinary approach to science and education, Public Lab promotes the capacity of each and every participant as a unique and invaluable asset towards furthering the goals of Public Lab as a community. On our first day at the Barnraising, Liz introduced a few mantras that encapsulated this sentiment perfectly, one of which being "EVERYONE HERE IS THE RIGHT PERSON."
Scott Eustis and a team of volunteers launch a Public Lab balloon mapping kit in order to create imagery of a nearby pond.
My prior involvement with Public Lab is minimal: I am trained as an archaeologist and a digital cartographer, with ancestral ties to the landscape of coastal Louisiana and an ingrained sense of stewardship for the cultural ecology that I was raised in. However, it was made apparent from the initial introductions and reading of the Code of Conduct that all sources of knowledge, ancestral or academic, were integral towards building an interconnected body of information and toolkit for studying the environment. The discussion frameworks endorsed by Public Lab incorporated the ecological, historical, social, and cultural backgrounds of all participants, and examinend the points wherever these bodies of knowledge and experience intersected.
The team deflating and repackaging the balloon, while confirming that the data collected covered the study area.
The Barnraising this year focused upon many issues that have increasingly impacted the quality of life for citizens across the globe for the past year. Some issues examined the natural environment, such as coastal land loss, lead and hydrogen sulfide poisoning, and the increasing number of oil spills and hurricanes, while other issues were anthropocentric, working to build strength through community organizing, raising support / funds, and democratization of data collection and tools for analysis. As a prerequisite for many sessions, the group would tackle major issues by unpacking issues down to their core, redefining common terms, and designing solutions based on publicly available resources. What is science, and why does the word have negative connotations? What is a community, and how do they define themselves?
Take-aways from the session, "How do we influence climate change deniers? / How do we make science cool?"
In each of session, regardless if it was discussion based or more tactical, the goal was to identify a problem, and then develop methods that will generate a better understanding of the issue. These discoveries should be recorded as data, so that others who share a similar curiosity can build off of an existing idea, set of code, or game design. Communicating data and results in an accessible manner, regardless of the audience's experience or background, was the central focus of every session that I attended.
@Rockets taking selfies of the group during a Barnraiser editing session using his DJI Spark drone.
In every interaction, there was a genuine feeling of admiration and respect for each other. The community established after spending three days exploring, building, kayaking, and sharing with others in a research center at the end of the world is a testament to what can be created when people come together around a common interest. In three short days, a group of 30 strangers gathered together to build a digital microscope and a weather-hacking antenna, while simultaneously solving the issues of climate change denial and lead contaminated soil in historic cities, forming friendships and connecting information.
Weather satellite antenna team, with sample hacked imagery behind them. From left to right: Gabi, Chase, Lyssa, Shan, and Tony.
I am inspired by the dedication and hard work exhibited by the Barnraising attendees towards each of their individual projects, and their willingness to contribute mental energy and emotional labor towards the disappearing landscape of coastal Louisiana. The struggle felt in the Mississippi delta is a result of an exceptional, uniquely self-sabotaging relationship between the land, water, and energy infrastructure that depends on depleting our resources for profit, however, our exploitative model of resource extraction has inspired others and spread. The gulf coast has felt the imminent crisis of climate change, rising sea levels, increasing subsidence, and more frequent hurricanes approaching for decades, and adaptation strategies are already being implemented in some of the most vulnerable communities. Our struggle is echoed in the environmental justice fights happening around the globe, and it is crucial that other cities learn from the successes and mistakes that have already occurred in Louisiana.
View from the tower of the surrounding marshland. One team of kayakers is just setting out on their journey, while another group walks towards an outdoors discussion.
The landscape of coastal Louisiana is historically volatile, and the people have adapted to the abundantly harsh ecosystem by forming a culture of resiliency and self sufficiency. I believe that these cultural values are reflected in the work of Public Lab, which operates in order to return authority and power to the groups of people who come together to build it. It is my hope that Louisiana will soon become a place for radical experimental development in coastal monitoring and restoration technology, so that lessons learned here can be utilized in other locales which are less prepared for life in a rapidly changing landscape. Public Lab provides an excellent framework for individuals from all walks of life to engage with the world around them using science, math, code, visual art, language, and storytelling as tools of inquiry. These open source, accessible tools are necessary in order to rapidly and thoroughly document a vulnerable landscape. Governmental organizations simply do not have the most important resource to complete the tasks at hand: they lack the sense of purpose, the ability to create place, and the inherent power residing in a group of people united.