Edited by Shannon O’Lear
Chapter 4: The geopolitics of environmental global mapping services: an analysis of Global Forest Watch
This chapter analyzes how geographic monitoring tools relate data maps to environmental politics by taking as an example the most extensive forest watch platform known at the moment, Global Forest Watch (GFW). The GFW platform can be used as a test case for geopolitical claims on forests, which by installing a feedback system aims at changing human–environment interactions by monitoring precisely these interactions. We will investigate how the GFW platform prestructures the process from seeing to action in the case of global forests: from discovery, to insight and analysis, to detection of illegal actions and finally to political action on a local level on the ground. Drawing on the extensive interface of the platform and a mixed-methods approach combining rhetoric and media studies, we first analyze the notion of environment that is represented in GFW – as in, how forests and related features are categorized and generalized on the platform. In a second step we ask which political perspectives are favored in these definitions and by the technologies used to create them – the Google Engine and a synoptic (top-down) perspective. Finally, we consider how these dynamics frame human agency and political action in the interscalar space between global and local views of environment. We discover a complicated picture in which GFW facilitates important local actions while continuing to validate a globalized, neoliberal, technocratic approach to defining and managing forests. We conclude by proposing criteria for evaluating platforms like GFW in terms of analogical symmetry, that is, the degree to which they support local, situated views of environment without reducing them to global views.
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