The Rise of a Technoscientific Third Pole: Environmental Data Practices in High Mountain Asia
Recent studies have revealed decades of glacial melt in the Hindu Kush Himalayas and Tibetan Plateau (“High Mountain Asia”). A region with a dearth of in-situ environmental data and opaque, fragmented governance, remote sensing data plays a key role in uncovering the region’s environmental concerns. These range from disasters such as flooding and earthquakes that have devastated the region to the glacial melt that impacts water supply for local livelihoods and agricultural systems. In this growing environmental discourse surrounding High Mountain Asia (HMA), analogies such as “water tower of Asia” and “Third Pole” have become correspondingly popular.
The focus of this dissertation is on how the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), an intergovernmental organization, participates in region-building. Primarily this dissertation focuses on ICIMOD’s efforts to respond to concerns over the lack of environmental data in the region, and critically examines the role of environmental data and its use in environmental governance. This dissertation engages in science and technology studies, geographies of science, and institutional ethnography in order to understand the confluence of region-building in a highly contested space and a growing focus on environmental monitoring programs due to the region’s sensitivity to climate change, natural disasters, and infrastructure development.
One might consider HMA far from the usual suspects of a study on technoscientific practices. Typically sites such as Silicon Valley or the Antarctic are recognized as principal producers of science and technologies. However, it is in a region like HMA where conceptions of scientific knowledge are most deeply felt. Where ideas and policies of climate change debated in global scientific communities have deep ramifications for millions of people vulnerable to its impacts living in the high mountains or relying on its resources downstream. The diversity of these communities and the landscapes they inhabit problematize the epistemologies of climate change knowledge production. How does one capture such diversity in the understanding of environment? Therefore, it becomes impossible to consider these technoscientific methods without placing them within a broader pluralistic understanding of the mountain environment.