In October 2019, Taiwanese petrochemical company Formosa Plastics agreed to pay a record settlement of $50 million for their release of plastic pellets into Lavaca Bay and Cox Creek in Texas. The settlement was achieved by a group of activists that made extensive use of “citizen science” (TRLA 2019). In Louisiana – in the petrochemical corridor known as “death alley” – environmental justice groups working in the spirit of “bucket brigades” are challenging the opening of a new Formosa Plastics Plant (Mosbrucker 2019). And in Yunlin County, following an explosion at a Formosa-owned naphtha cracking facility, Taiwanese citizens have pushed back against the expansion of the company and argued for advanced data collection (Tu 2019).
In all three cases here, civic data work has been a key tactic in responding to petrochemical disasters, fast and slow (Nixon 2011; Knowles 2019). Activists in these three cases also recognize the need to build infrastructures for connecting their sites and cases. In this presentation, I will draw on interviews with activists US and Taiwan to begin imagining what civic data practices and infrastructure are needed to support response to Formosa going forward. Members of the audience will be asked to help sketch this out, helping move the “informating of environmentalism” (Fortun 2004) forward, tuned to the Anthropocene. The Formosa project extends from and contributes to two collaborative projects, one focused on knowledge infrastructures for Quotidian Anthropocenes and another focused on Visualizing Toxic Places.
Abstract for presentation at the virtual 4S/EASST Conference 2020. Panel: Holding It Together? Data And Disasters, organized by Louise Elstow (Lancaster University) and Ben Epstein (UCL)
Schütz, Tim. 2020. Civic Data for the Anthropocene: Visualizing Taiwan's Formosa Plastics. 4S/EASST Conference, August 18–21.