Eric Nost

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Assistant Professor of Geography, Environment, and Geomatics | University of Guelph

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Welcome!

I am a geographer researching how data and technology inform conservation. I draw on and contribute to the fields of political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), and digital geographies. My most recent project followed the US state of Louisiana’s efforts to simulate future wetlands loss along the Gulf Coast. Based on interviews, document surveys, and attendance at public meetings, I explain how bureaucrats and ecosystem scientists develop an infrastructure for modeling, build an institution and lean on technologies to learn from their simulations, and apply their findings to planning large-scale coastal restoration. The project characterizes the winners and losers that result and speaks to the opportunities and limits of applications of “big data” in (environmental) governance. Some of my previous research examined the contested role of software in ecosystem services markets in Oregon, while new projects explore digital agriculture, especially the design, maintenance, and use of decision-support tools and the governance of ag data infrastructure.

I teach classes in nature-society geography and (web) mapping, using maps to publicize hidden dimensions of environmental policy. I also participate in the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, tracking how the US federal government portrays climate change and other issues on the web. For the past several years, I have collaborated in an effort to visualize US EPA data on the North American hazardous waste trade. View our work here.

Digital governance and infrastructure

Environmental governance actors - states, corporations, conservationist groups, farmers, and so on - struggle to get the data they want. There’s a lot out of it there - and more every day - but not all of it is relevant nor is there the time or money to make sense of it. In other words, governing nature means governing data, raising questions of who collects data, who manages it, who contributes to databases and who has access, and who pays. These questions often crystallize in attempts to “infrastructure” data. What are the platforms - environmental information systems, models, webmaps, databases, etc. - enabling environmental governance? What are the controversies around these platforms? Who wins and who loses?

Digital practice and praxis

Policy-makers and other (environmental) governance actors increasingly aim for what they call “data-driven management.” But if data is to “drive” governance, it must be learned from, through social institutions for accessing expertise, communicating expectations, and legitimating “good modelers,” as well as through technical affordances. Who are the users of digital tools? What can actors learn and do with these tools? How can data serve public ends, in and beyond the classroom?

Methods for environmental governance and political ecology

How can political ecologists scholars sharpen or build new methods and concepts for understanding environmental governance issues?

Webmapping and other programming projects

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