An Introduction to Anne-Charlotte Gillard, OEDP’s Research & Policy Fellow (Summer 2022)
We welcome Anne-Charlotte Gillard, Fellow at the Forefront, to the Open Environmental Data Project team! Below is an introduction to her goals, interest and work.
I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. In a city dominated by urban sprawl and industrial development, it was challenging to connect to nature because of my lack of exposure to natural spaces. While placemaking has been hard for me to find in my hometown of Houston, interacting with my father’s homeplace of Switzerland — both physically and through memory — helped me form an attachment to nature and construct an understanding of the ecological and cultural significance of place in communication with nature. In Switzerland, place derives from a culture wed to the land. For example, Switzerland’s sustainable and decentralized practice of dairy production grew out of its high percentage of non-arable land. The cows and bulls that graze this land fuel the dairy industry, inspire local music with the sounds of their handcrafted bells, and initiate the start of fall in their annual procession from the summer alpine pastures.
This learned appreciation and awareness of the value in preserving natural spaces and mutual engagement with my environment prompted me to seek ways in which to support the environment around me in Houston. This was reinforced when Hurricane Harvey ravaged Texas — particularly Houston and Harris County — and Louisiana at the start of my freshman year of high school. Thousands of homes were destroyed, roughly 30,000 people were displaced, and levels of air pollution surged due to the release of massive quantities of toxic petrochemical waste. This disaster, like most, particularly affected Houston’s underserved fence-line communities. Harvey demonstrated the catastrophic effects of climate change and the real consequences of governmental shortcomings. Prioritizing urban development and industrial expansion, Houston continues to pave natural grasslands (which mitigate flooding) and overlook the medical, behavioral and economic health of people and communities impacted by the oil and petrochemical industry, issues that have only been exacerbated by an increased frequency of extreme weather events.
During the 2021 Texas power crisis, induced by extreme cold temperatures and state government failures to monitor and manage the electrical grid, I volunteered with Beto O’Rourke’s phone-banking campaign, connecting Texans across the state to health and utility resources. My frustration with this avoidable catastrophe prompted my interest to learn more about public policy, and ways in which individuals and communities can practice climate resilience, especially when governmental aid is often inaccessible and/or inadequate.
As a native Houstonian, these direct experiences with extreme weather events and their impact on the health of people and communities has commanded my interest in climate and environmental justice. I began engaging with policy from a healthcare perspective. I spent two years conducting health policy research as a research assistant at Baylor College of Medicine, Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy. My group evaluated questions of healthcare access and informed consent for digitally delivered healthcare services. This work taught me about the various gaps in our healthcare system and the subsequent external factors that contribute to adverse health outcomes including social and environmental factors.
After my first year as an undergraduate at Harvard University, I learned about the history and science of anthropogenic global warming and its implications for our ecological crisis on human and non-human life, our future energy systems, and the ethical and sustainable pathways to facilitating the transition to clean energy. Learning about the inextricable relationship between environmental health and human health/adverse health outcomes made me realize I wanted to engage with environmental policy to work to mitigate community vulnerability.
My past work and current interests drew me to the Open Environmental Data Project. I admire OEDP’s approach to collaborative engagement on ecological and climate crisis solutions based on data collection, data sharing and data-inspired narrative storytelling. Inspired by OEDP’s Design Trust initiative–dedicated to rethinking the process, procedure, and methodology of data management and visualization–I am crafting a visual future narrative. I am using art to examine how open data and the knowledge commons can support urban agriculture to improve community health in Houston. I am hopeful this project will emphasize the necessity/benefit of multi-sector collaboration towards achieving resilience within environmental justice communities. This summer, I am excited by the opportunity to contribute, learn and support the collaborative initiatives of the OEDP.