GIS and Access to Information

When you have a chance, you should check out the paper on the Sillicon Valley Toxics Coalition website: SVTC under the heading “Sustainable Water” on the right, then under “Publications”, “GIS and Health”. Or rather, here’s the link directly to the paper: Interactive Applications of GIS in Understanding Community Environmental Health The paper emphasizes collaboration from varying sectors in promoting the health field and trying to increase the public and private knowledge base overall, through the exchange of information. It claims that new technologies are more often developed outside the public sector and rather should be reintigrated into the public sector. It focuses on the interactive use of Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers (PRTRs), originally known a emission inventories, that are made available to the public. For instance, SVTC’s EcoMaps include “information identifying the name and contact information of the polluting facility’s environmental, health and safety officer” (Stanley-Jones 20). This allows the community to question the particular company’s involvement in pollution prevention; however, as the paper reveals later, the information is often screened first by state agencies, and by the company itself, and the company can choose what information, if any, it wants to disclose to the public. Stanley-Jones argues we need more collaboration between community members and government policy-makers, through ‘democratic interactivity’: “Individuals and civic organisations must become the co-producers of environmental information guiding public policy if the cognitive challenges to managing such information are to be met” (Stanley-Jones 23). He promotes community-based monitoring projects as an effective means for attaining this, and lists a number of organisations that have taken this approach. I think this is a good approach, because it seems to be more holistic, in incorporating the public to a larger extent in policy decisions. If we limit information exchange to just a select few, we are limiting ourselves from increased knowledge, and as a result we often make less informed decisions which in turn, can often lead to negative consequences. It is interesting to wonder what kind of reprecussions this will have in the future in the health field. Suppose you can quickly find out which neighbourhood has the most polluting factories nearby, and statistics can help determine your life span if you choose to live there…of course, there are many factors linked to health, and landscapes do change, so perhaps it may not reach that level. The implications of this paper seem promising, though, as the paper seems to encourage more responsibility of companies towards the environment. As a result, this may lead to tighter regulations, and in turn, the standards will keep going up, and we will try to arrive at better solutions, with the help of both private and public sectors…what are your thoughts on this?

Comments are closed.