Catalyzing uncertainty and ecological risk: An Environmental archive for readying Hong Kong’s plural ontologies

Student: CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel

Supervisor: Ashley Scott Kelly
Thesis section: Engaging development through critical landscape planning
Programme: Master of Landscape Architecture
Date: June 2020


Today, with a global environmental emergency alongside political battles for democracy and human rights, new strategies are needed to articulate trust and promote democratic environmentalist values, especially in contested regions. Contemporary society presents extreme discontents underpinned by ecological risk and an environment threatened by increasingly unchallenged dominant voices. Hong Kong’s environmental decision-making occurs within a laissez-faire economic system best described as neoliberalism with Chinese characteristics. Critical analysis of Hong Kong’s environmental governance system shows high relevance of advocacy groups, a lack of public participation, corporate pressure, weak institutions necessary for articulating various knowledges, and inadequate evaluation of the cumulative effects of environmental contamination. Following arguments across Hong Kong’s legal, information technology, and environmental sectors for the implementation of an archives law, this thesis proposes creating an Independent Environmental Archives Agency (IEAA) capable of collecting and representing evidence of cumulative impact, supporting process-oriented environmental governance, and “salvaging” (Choy, “Ecologies of Comparison”, 2011) scientific uncertainty for more sustainable development. Through a requirement of including the ontological perspectives of seven stakeholder groups with distinct and sometimes divergent sustainability practices, this agency both effectively guarantees inclusion of diverse perspectives while also filtering knowledge and facilitating dialogue that privilege environmental uncertainty, longer-term objectives, and intergenerational equity. Examples of stakeholders include a director of corporate sustainability, an indigenous community leader, a Special Rapporteur to Hong Kong, a civil servant, an environmental activist, an environmental manager, and a developer-employed architect. Each stakeholder poses to the IEAA questions formed from distinct socio-political and disciplinary backgrounds (e.g., training in environmental law or corporate sustainability, degrees in social sciences or ecology, certificates in sustainable community governance), along with those backgrounds’ attendant biases and assumptions. A species-based approach helps further focus the selection of evidence and design of monitoring programs. The IEAA’s capacity for targeting, collecting, filtering, and returning “data” from the archive on cumulative impact is improved as projects, assessments, and, most importantly, stakeholder queries are entered into and help strengthen its archive.

Keywords: Hong Kong; environmental governance; scientific uncertainty; environmental knowledge; impact assessment

Enlarge Photo: Environmental governance in Hong Kong is driven by its '2030+ Plan'. Hong Kong's regional development ambitions, aggravated by the global environmental emergency and together with historical political clashes, are concentrated in Hong Kong's western regions. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: This thesis analyzes Lung Kwu Tan, a contested and vulnerable area that constitutes a key environment for the Chinese white dolphin and unique butterflies in Hong Kong. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: Environmental impact assessments around Lung Kwu Tan hinge on rather substantial uncertainties in processes of environmental contamination and their continuous concentration and dispersion. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: Hong Kong today is an example of what sociologist Ulrich Beck's 'ecological risk society', whereby risk drives the circulation of capital, people's perception of their environment, and the planning and development of contested projects. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: Dolphins and butterflies are interconnected by two biochemical processes called bioaccumulation and biomagnification. The cumulative contamination process affects the whole food chain. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: This thesis proposes a strategy to archive scientific uncertainties important to discerning cumulative impacts through a species-based conservation approach. These species become archives and a burden of proof. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: With the use of environmental monitoring, a site's environmental relations are diversified through collecting data in diverse formats. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: The Independent Environmental Archives Agency guarantees including diverse voices of a range of sustainable practices through an interrogative performance that foregrounds scientific uncertainty. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: These voices and their backgrounds and biases will change in the future with the evolution of local society, knowledge, and world context. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.Enlarge Photo: The scope of cumulative assessment is expanded by each included project and interconnected through monitoring programs. By CEVALLOS BARRAGAN Francisco Daniel.