How Not to Be Complicit in the Datafication of Environmental Injustice

Authors: Megan Ybarra*, University of Washington
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Environment, Political Geography
Keywords: environmental justice
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 1:30 PM / 2:45 PM
Room: Virtual 10
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


When – and how – might biophysical geographers say that there is already enough research to decide to save human and non-human lives? Ruha Benjamin (2019:116) describes the datafication of injustice as the point when “the hunt for more and more data is a barrier to acting on what we already know.” This paper draws on the experience of new and ongoing harms, particularly construction of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant in a liquefaction zone that already hosts both remediated Superfund sites and an immigrant detention center, to point to when no further research is needed. Laura Pulido (2015) trenchantly described the ways that environmental laws and regulations create the “illusion of safety when, in fact, they may be more accurately conceived of as state-sanctioned violence.” In this case, construction of an LNG plant continues unabated as regulators and judges deliberate over the extent of the plant’s potential harms. In this paper, I discuss how we might act responsibly as researchers when no more research is needed to demonstrate a harm – indeed, more research may provide for time for the new harm to be perpetuated. Drawing on Benjamin’s datafiction of injustice, I reflect on the work of biophysical research in the face of insurmountable harms.

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