The Sierra Club are well worth following. They’re a US based environmental agency founded in 1892 with the mission of protecting communities, wild places and the planet itself. They’re one of the few twitter accounts I have on my phone who’s notifications are always turned on. As soon as they tweet. I know about it. And unlike many other accounts I’ve tried to follow regularly, whenever @SierraClub tweet, it’s usually something that I want (or need) to know about.
One of their latest tweets directed me towards good human and documentary filmmaker Noah Hutton who was at a scientific symposium when he first encountered someone called Max Liboiron. “I kept hearing some of the sharpest, smartest critiques of [scientific] status-quo assumptions I’ve ever heard. She engaged with other’s viewpoints totally empathetically, but would then forcefully challenge their assumptions in a way that wasn’t personal. It was completely intoxicating and invigorating, like a voice from the future.”
What was most compelling to Hutton, however, was that Liboiron wasn’t just pondering changes to the scientific method on a theoretical level—she was living them. Her Newfoundland lab, the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research (CLEAR), interrogates what Liboiron believes to be systemic problems in science. CLEAR conducts its research on microplastics from a feminist and anti-colonial perspective. This epistemic approach informs the lab’s scientific protocols, ethics, and research designs. Taylor Hess and Hutton’s short documentary Guts – a short film well worth 12 minutes of your time – is an inside look at the lab, the research it conducts on plastic pollution and sustainability, and the way Liboiron empowers citizens to engage in science at the community level.
“Every time you decide what question to ask or not ask others, which counting style you use, which statistics you use, how you frame things, where you publish them, who you work with, where you get funding from … all of that is political. Reproducing the status quo is deeply political because the status quo is crappy.” Max Liboiron
Liboiron’s critiques aren’t limited to methodology. In the documentary, she asks a group of well-intentioned recyclers to look closely at their individual consumer behaviors. The data on waste management, she says, suggest that recycling doesn’t do much to mitigate the problem of plastic pollution. “The only mode of attack is to deal with a heavy decrease in the production of plastics, as opposed to dealing with them after they’ve already been created,” she tells the group. “Your consumer behaviours do not matter. Not on the scale of the problem … It’s the cessation of production that will make the big-scale changes.” She also advocates for removing subsidies from oil.
Liboiron has made conducting research on plastic pollution accessible to members of her community—a growing trend often referred to as “citizen science.” (Citizen science is where the public participates voluntarily in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems).