Eric Nost

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

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Welcome!

I research how data and technology inform environmental governance, drawing on and contributing to the fields of political ecology, science and technology studies (STS), and digital geographies. New kinds of data-generating sensors and data-synthesizing algorithms are becoming central to everyday life and may prove transformational at a policy-level as well. A key challenge for geographers in the coming years is assessing emerging geospatial technologies’ promise to help society solve sustainability issues related to food security, climate change adaptation, and ecosystem services. This will be done by understanding their human dimensions - their design, use, maintenance, and social impacts - alongside other governance trends such as marketization and metrification.

My dissertation followed the US state of Louisiana’s efforts to simulate future wetlands loss along the Gulf Coast. I explain how bureaucrats and ecosystem scientists develop an infrastructure for modeling, build institutions and lean on technologies to learn from their simulations, and apply their findings to planning large-scale coastal restoration. The project characterized the winners and losers that result and speaks to the opportunities and limits of applications of “big data” in conservation. Some of my previous research examined the contested role of modeling software in ecosystem services markets in Oregon, while new projects explore digital agriculture, especially the design and use of farm decision-support tools.

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.

Recruitment

I am recruiting a Master’s student with interests in agri-environmental stewardship, geospatial technology, and science-policy interfaces, to start in Fall 2019. The student will complete a social science research project on ag data governance and use, conducting interviews with and surveying stakeholders including crop advisors, government agency staff, and representatives of farmers groups. The thesis will be developed alongside collaborators who are creating a soil carbon accounting and profit mapping tool (see Capmourteres et al. 2018) that will require assessing existing/best practices for farm-level data management and how users might actually employ such information in their decision-making. The research is funded by the Arrell Food Institute at the University of Guelph via the Canada First Research Excellence Fund.

For a full description of the position, see this page or the PDF. Prospective applicants should contact me via email and forward an unofficial transcript, resume or CV, and a statement outlining their interests as they relate to the project description above.

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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