17. Sensing Climate Change and Expressing Environmental Citizenship in Program Earth

The use of environmental sensor technology which is low cost to enable Citizens to became engaged in their environments. Sensors along with practises become environmental (smart cities that join up gadets and sensors and smart phones). The Citizen becomes a sensor node in these scenarios. Using digital tech. to enact engagement. Urban sensing.


Chapter 4: Sensing Climate Change and Expressing Environmental Citizenship in Program Earth: Environmental Sensing Technology and the Making of a Computational Planet (Electronic Mediations) by Jennifer Gabrys

We are now in the mountains and they are in us.
—John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra 

We are in the world and the world is in us.
—Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought 

 practices of climate change monitoring in the Arctic and ask: How do we tune into climate change through sensing and monitoring prac- tices? What are the particular entities that are in-formed and sensed? How do the di ering monitoring practices of arts and sciences provide distinct engagements with the experiences of measurement and data? And what role do more-than- humans have in expressing and registering the ongoing and often indirect e ects of climate change, such that categories and practices of “citizenship” and citizen sensing might even be reconstituted? 

Climate change becomes a recurring factor that in-forms how and why environmental monitoring takes place and the environmental data that might be generated. Sensing of temperature in air, water, and soil; inventories of organisms and pollutants; and samples of pH in lakes and streams are examples of monitoring practices that can accumulatively demonstrate how environments are changing in relation to a warming planet 


persistent organic pollutants (POPs) 

to increasing temperatures and shifts in land use, the Arctic is a region undergoing considerable changes 

While envi- ronmental monitoring at observatories may not initially have been established to study climate change, the decades-long stores of data that observatories now hold have often provided useful records for understanding how environments have changed over tim 

Planetary warming is taking place in much greater intensity in the Arctic regions due to the circulation of atmo- spheric and ocean currents toward the northern regions.7

Fifty Essential Variables 

In order to gather the data that are the basis for observed change, direct and ongoing measurements as well as historic and proxy measurements are gathered in relation to fty “essential cli- mate variables.” These variables include everything from air and sea surface tem- peratures to carbon dioxide levels, ocean acidity, soil moisture, and albedo levels (or the ability of surfaces to re ect solar radiation) 

Measurements gathered in relation to more contemporary events are col- lected through airborne instruments, satellites, ocean vessels, and buoys, as well as terrestrial monitoring stations such as carbon ux towers that can be found dotted around the globe. 

most discussions focus on the ris- ing concentrations of CO2, which correlate to increasing global average tempera- tures. 

The current concentration of CO2 currently hovers around 400 parts per million (ppm), a level that was last reached in the mid-Pliocene, two to four mil- lion years ago, when sea levels were up to twenty meters higher than present-day levels.11 

Climate change monitoring produces pronounced and startling encounters that unfold across environmental datasets. Rates of greenhouse gas rises in the atmosphere are referred to as “unprecedented”16 and connected to increases in air temperature in the troposphere, marine air temperature, sea surface tempera- ture, ocean heat content, temperature over land, water vapor, and sea levels, as well as decreases in glacier volume, snow cover, and sea ic 


environmental sensors have become a common device within ecological study. 

creative practitioners are also developing new practices in relation to computational sensors in order to gather and repurpose distinct sense data about environmental phenomena. 

including geophones and hydrophones, YSI water sensors, light sensors, and more 

it has historically had an absence of biota such as algae. But through the collecting and recording of sense data including temperature, water samples, sediment samples, oxygen measurements, and anal- ysis of diatoms as bioindicators, evidence of increasing levels of biota has emerged. The warming of Arctic lakes, in other words, is in part expressed through the increasing numbers of organisms populating these waters 

Whether it be for meteorological, hydrological, oceanographic or climatological studies or for any other activity relating to the natural environment, measure- ments are vital. Knowledge of what has happened in the past and of the present situation can only be arrived at if measurements are made. Such knowledge is also a prerequisite of any attempt to predict what might happen in the future and subsequently to check whether the predictions are correct.25 

Also included is the Arctic Perspective Initiative, an artists’ project that develops a DIY environmental sensor network for studying ora and fauna through computational techniques, and which focuses on installing sensors for community-oriented scienti c research 

Creative-practice projects that deploy environmental sensors often focus on ways of monitoring pollution. 

. We began our conversation by asking who or what is a citizen, and how di erent notions of “citizen” might in uence the type of sensing that might take place. We also asked how citizen sensing might shift when we trouble assumptions about who or what is a citizen in these projects. 

We discussed additional examples of citizen-sensing projects from Beatriz da Costa’s Pigeon Blog, to Safecast, a project for detecting radiation after the Fuku- shima nuclear fallout in 2011, to the dont ush.me project, which uses proximity sensors to inform New Yorkers when to avoid ushing the toilet when the sewer system may be at capacity and in danger of dispersing waste into the harbou 

Other projects, such as Vatnajökull (the sound of ), allow listeners to phone up a melting glacier in Iceland, while Pika Alarm puts mountain rodents to work as sentinel species for climate change.37 

While we had initially hoped to develop speculative practices around what other possible forms of citizen-sensing practices might look like if new forma- tions of citizens were introduced, many discussants were concerned about the use of the term “citizen” to describe more-than-humans. Don’t citizens have free will and rights? Aren’t animals simply the props for human experiments into sens- ing? Are these sensing practices perhaps even exploitative? How could a tagged reindeer possibly be counted as a citizen? In this way, one discussant asked, “Is this about trying to talk with dolphins? I know of an artist who tried to do that and he went a bit mad, actually.” 

ip. One project reference, the Million Trees NYC project in New York, was cited as an example of a practice where crowdsourcing was used to identify where trees might be planted in the city.38 Once planted, the trees could be monitored in order to ensure their longevity. Such a practice of urban tree stewardship implies a relationship with the trees, and environmental citizenship might be practiced through sensing— with or without computational devices—trees and their local environment. 

We are now in the mountains and they are in us.” Included in the epigraph to this chapter, Muir’s statement seems to be a recognition of the ways in which milieus and subjects commingle. 

Sensor networks are not just formed by bits of circuitry and code but also in-formed through exchanges of energy, materializations, and relations that concresce across organisms and that are brought into practices of measurement with climate-change monitoring. 

What a complicated and complicating approach to citizen sensing sug- gests is that we not simply consider what monitoring data makes evident but also experiment with the new subjects, experiences, relationships, and milieus that monitoring practices might set in motion. With such an approach, we might also develop ways to invent new collectives and politics relevant to the concerns of climate change. 





The Living Architecture Lab at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (Directors David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang) and Natalie Jeremijenko, Environmental Health Clinic at New York University

Network of floating tubes at Pier 35 in the East River.

Network of floating tubes at Pier 35 in the East River.mphibious Architecture submerges ubiquitous computing into the water—that 90% of the Earth’s inhabitable volume that envelops New York City but remains under-explored and under-engaged. Two networks of floating interactive tubes, installed at sites in the East River and the Bronx River, house a range of sensors below water and an array of lights above water. The sensors monitor water quality, presence of fish, and human interest in the river ecosystem. The lights respond to the sensors and create feedback loops between humans, fish, and their shared environment. An SMS interface allows citizens to text-message the fish, to receive real-time information about the river, and to contribute to a display of collective interest in the environment.