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.