This is a summary of the main new thoughts and additions to the zoöp concept that were developed in the second zoöp research workshop. This workshop focused on ways to assess ecological development.The following text assumes that the reader has a basic familiarity with the zoöp concept. For a regularly updated version of the zoöp concept and its organisational diagram, please check the Zoöp research project page.
Many instruments instead of one
The premise of this workshop was that zoönomic assessment would best be done by one instrument to be used by all zoöps. This instrument would aggegrate different kinds of data and information at the level of local zoöps into coherent representations that would make zoöps easily comparable. Unpacking and critically examining this approach led to the important conclusion that assessment of zoönomic development should not and cannot be left to one standardizing method. Instead, it should always be approached by applying simultaneously a set of different instruments and or methods. For this choice, important methodological, philosophical, as well as operational arguments were made. The choice for a flock of instruments rather than just one also meant that the role of the instruments in the zoönomic network had to be reconsidered.
Methodological, theoretical, practical reasons
The first set of reasons are methodological. At this moment there are no straightforward, reliable, and/or universal acknowledged methods to measure ecological development. Measuring biomass and biological diversity flatten complex qualities into one-dimensional numbers. Using one tool and one standard to assess zoönomic development would bring the risk of stepping into a definition trap that would be hard to get out of. Applying different instruments and regularly updating the sets of instruments mitigates this risk and acknowledges formally an essential methodological openness. New insights in ecological processes emerge at a rapid pace and constantly lead to new methods of assessment. Zoöps want to be able to flexibly adopt such new methods and drop outdated ones.
The methodological arguments build on new theoretical and philosophical ground work that is being done around understanding qualities of ecological development, also from nonhuman perspectives. Humans involved with zoönomic operations can not act on the presumption that it is clearly established what is best for nonhuman entities. The zoöps’ collection of tools and assessment methods should acknowledge (and keep acknowledging) that important aspects of this question are and will remain unknown. Our past, current and future methods of assessment will all be subject to cultural, specieist and temporal bias. This is unavoidable, but should also not be ignored.
Lastly there are good practical reasons to work with a set of tools and methods rather that with one overall instrument. For the Zoönomic Mother Board (ZMB) it is easier to adopt new instruments and stop using outdated ones, than it is to continuously rebuild an existing instrument. By selecting and advising on specific combinations of instruments, the ZMB can cater for different kinds of human populations of zoöps. For instance: a primary school with a playing field and a huge group of untrained children would require and be able to use other tools than a farm with a few professional adult humans. Also, different collections of instruments would work better for different types of spatial and contextual circumstances. A zoöp in shallow coastal waters with only a series of windmills and few human visitors would have to apply other instruments than an urban food forest with intense neighbourhood participation.
In fact, with the choice for a multitude of zoönomic instruments one of the research propositions of the first Terraforming Earth Lab (in which an early version of the zoöp concept was generated) can be realised.The zoöp model is now so malleable that it could even extend to zoöps that focus on the ecology of human bodies, as these are in themselves ecological collectives that include more than human entities. (Image a university turning zoöp with the ambition to increase the quality of the microbiome of its human bodies.)
A zoöp always works with a flock of tools, methods and kinds of assessment, which together should give a robust indication of zoönomic development. The ZMB advises on good combinations that fit the needs and circumstances of particular zoöps.
Calibration of instruments
As every instrument or method to some extent embodies its own knowledge practice and because every zoöp operates under its own unique circumstances, all instruments and methods have to be calibrated in relation to a shared reference. Two different general approaches to calibration were proposed. One would be to calibrate instruments against an external reference frame. In this context the (speculative) Chernobyl Standard was discussed. The Chernobyl Standard would work with the human exclusion zone around the former nuclear plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine. Following the near meltdown and resulting explosion in the reactor in 1986, an area with a radius of roughly 30 kilometers around the reactor was deemed unfit for human dwelling, due its high levels of radiation. The area, which was already ecologically rich, has since shown a great increase in biodiversity and signs of general health of nonhuman populations. The Chernobyl Standard would indicate a maximum possible level of development without human interference. If a zoöp would apply the Chernobyl Standard, it would express its level of development as the degree to which it has fulfilled the zoönomic potential indicated by the Chernobyl human exclusion zone.
The other method of calibration would start with an initial baseline measurement in a given zoöp. Zoönomic instruments would then have to be able to indicate the zoönomic development with reference to the baseline observation.
Accountability and interoperability of zoönomic instruments
The workshop started from the idea that integrated zoönomic assessment would be more practical and transparent for auditing and would better facilitate exchange knowledge exchange between different zoöps. However, it became clear that neither interoperability nor audibility require integration, and that, on the other hand, abstaining from integration and using a range of different tools and methods would provide the zoöperations with crucial advantages (listed above), which strenghten the zoöp concept.
It was also observed that there are sound reasons to generalise certain aspects of local zoönomic knowledge and to use some tools that allow easy comparison between different zoöps. The ZMB would advise every zoöp to apply some instruments that facilitate this.
The role of humans: the responsibility of care
The responsibility of humans towards the quality of life of the collective body of nonhumans within their zoöp is understood as a responsibility of care, regardless of whether the humans belong to the local zoönomic foundation or to the human organization.
Practically this means that humans aim to contribute to the increase of zoönomic quality and intervene in the case of zoönomic decrease, to which they are made aware by the instruments their zoöp is using. Humans involved in a zoöp have the responsibility to act in the face of such decrease, mindful of the difference between long term and short term approaches.
Consequentially, zoöps that have reached high zoönomic development do not leave the zoöps collective because they have great capacity to care for the development of other zoöps..
The power of the Zoönomic Mother Board
In the conceptual framework, the Zoönomic Mother Board (ZMB) has a range of important functions.
- it is the center of knowledge development and facilitator of knowledge exchange between zoöps,
- it is the initiator of local zoönomic foundations,
- it develops and calibrates zoönomic assessment instruments,
- it ratifies the zoöp contracts between human organisations and local zoönomic foundations,
- it also has the power to withdraw the zoöp status, if a zoöp does not perform to its standards.
This comes down to a significant amount of influence of the ZMB in relation to the zoöps. Therefore it was decided that the ZMB itself should be held accountable to the collective of local zoönomic foundations.
The organisational structure of the zoöp project thus bears some similarities to that of the franchise structure, as adopted by, for instance, the Demeter brand for biodynamic farming, but also by IKEA or SPAR. But in contrast to typical franchise organisations, there is a much greater diversity in economic forms among different zoöps, which can be farms, schools, sportclubs, hotels, et cetera. The key commonality among zoöps is the zoönomic partnership between a human organisation and a local collective body of nonhumans.
Zoöps & ecological services
Some instruments will use quantitative methods, with which a particular economic perspective on zoönomic development is opened, namely that of ecological services, basically: selling ecological labour of nonhumans. Collective bodies of nonhumans do the work of cleaing air and water; sequestering CO2, et cetera. Potentially, these ecological services can create an interesting revenue stream. However, the local zoönomic foundations will carefully deliberate the delivery of ecological services, because the key task of these foudnations is to further the qualitity of life of the local community of nonhumans. Delivering ecological sevices can be an interesting and impoartant side-effect. but is not the first goals in the hieracrhy of goals. In this way zoöps are protected from economic extractivism and avoid become so-called green deserts. Green deserts are the effects of one-dimensional and shortsighted adherence to a purely quantitative understanding of ecological value creation, like sequestering a tonnage of CO2. Ironically, such a limited focus leads to poor performance also in economic terms because ecologically rich pieces of land sequester much more CO2.
Zoönomic instruments in development
The Datafusion Instrument
This instrument is developed by Space4Good and will combine data gathered by different Earth watching satellites with information from sensors on site in different zoöps. A proof of concept only (applying satellite data only) is made that already shows a very interesting potential. This working prototype gives a vegetation index (NDVI) a humidity index (NDWI), it gives chlorophyll content of a surface area’s and it performs change detection by combining the above measurements with observations by Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR, particularly efficient in cloud and tree canopy penetration) and aggregating them in a temporal grid.
Visual and other interpretation
Whenever data is dealt with, bias and correction are crucial issues. It is recommended to never jump to visual interpretation but to always consider the processing behind. The INSPIRE standard (INfrastructure for SPatial Information In Europe) safeguards arbitrariness in data processing. Everything is broken down in a series of steps that transparently reveals what kind of processes have been applied to the data. In this way it is always possible to reconstruct the tree of knowledge.
From raw data to meaningful data
Data dating back to 1990 are free and available from European Space Agency. Space4good generates its own data from those. For instance: a radar on a satellite measures 12 bands of wavelength. The data reports all those 12 bands. In order to produce the vegetation index, Space4Good takes 8 bands, drop 4, that don’t relate to vegetation apply a particular formula on the remaining data which delivers the vegetation index.
Data from local sensors, on or in the ground can add precise numerical accounts of acidity levels, organic content, humidity, soil depth, ground life density, retention capacity, adding spatial and temporal granularity.
The Datafusion Instrument can help zoönomic assessment by tracking developments in vegetation density, humidity, gas presences and air quality and by monitoring changes in the distribution of certain plant and tree species, potentially for all of the zoöps. Also it could set up an automated warning system, that alerts to anomalous changes or dangerous level of one or the other phenomenon.
DeepSteward is an unsupervised machine-learning-system that develops taxonomies of ecological behaviours that are not based on prior human understanding of ecology. It observes a volume of biosphere with a camera, registers qualities of movement in different temporal registers, from very slow to very fast and everything in between and tries to find correlations between them. Since DeepSteward does not have any prior knowledge of ecosystems, it may develop taxonomies of knowledge different from the way humans observe. While DeepStewards knowledge production may not immediately lead to major breakthrough in human knowledge of ecological development, it is likely that it will lead to new kinds of questions to be asked.
Using human sensory perception for zoönomic instruments
Where (partly) digital instruments work with quantitative modes of knowledge, the capacities of sensory perception of organic bodies open possibilities to work with qualitative ways of knowing.
Commonly, these kinds of knowledge practices are referred to as ‘complex’. This can be understood as an effect of a certain established hierarchy of among knowledge practices. The notion of complexity works from the assumption that prior to the integrated, (complex) perception there exist separate, knowable, quantified items that in their interrelatedness make up a complex perception. As such, the notion of complexity is rooted in quantified ways of knowing. But in actual human aesthetic perception this notion of complexity is side-tracked. For instance in regarding a landscape, the first thing that is registered is an atmospheric, affective ‘whole’, which at closer inspection can be broken down into separate visual, olfactoric and sonic elements. These could be quantified, if desired, but this quantification would not be able to capture the qualities of the holistic perception.
It would be interesting to find ways to apply this primary and in certain ways simple capacity for holistic, qualitative perception towards assessing zoönomic development. But in order to harness this capacity into one or more zoönomic instruments, it would be necessary to find ways to calibrate and document it, so that it gives way to transferable, auditable forms of knowledge.
Different instruments therefor require different skillsets to be used. Because of that they will not all be equally interoperable. A way around that could be if the same people would be using one methods in a number of different zoöps. Also, some instruments might only lead to situated knowledge about zoönomic development, calibrated against a local baseline study.
These are all questions to which an approach has to be developed by the ZMB.
More than human assessments
To the range of zoönomic instruments should also belong some that work with quality assesments by nonhuman bodies, interpreting different kinds of behaviour by different kinds of nonhuman species. Designing these will be an important and interesting artistic project, to be undertaken in part of the further development of the zoöp project.
Text by Natalia Derossi and Klaas Kuitenbrouwer.
- Andrei Bocin-Dumitriu (space4good)
- Ricardo Cano-Matteo
- Natalia Derossi
- Syne Fonk
- Sjef van Gaalen
- Lotte van Geeven
- Ian Ingram
- Theun Karelse
- Klaas Kuitenbrouwer
- Anne van Leeuwen
- Marthijn Pool
- Gijs (weathermakers
- Debra Solomon
- Bianca Slieker
- Jay Springett
- Thijs de Zeeuw