Local Data Sovereignty: Cultivating marginalized access towards technological stewardship

“ I want to talk about ancestral bones as more than historical artifacts; something that is cumulative—a past, present, future—something that has cultural and spiritual legacy connecting us to our ancestors, as well as I would argue, to our future generations. Our ancestral bones symbolize deep-rooted knowledge and ecological insight and for some, the bones of our ancestors provide us with a kind of invaluable spiritual guidance. This reverence for our ancestral bones in interfaith parallels the sanctity of religious relics. These are sacred—sacrosanct– and we cannot put a monetary value on them or capitalize upon them in financial markets. How should we approach the pursuit of Natural Capital or Carbon Market schemes that seek to monetize that which is sacred or sacrosanct?” 

So let me begin, In today’s world, where data is often termed the “new oil,” the handling and control of data can significantly influence social, economic, and political landscapes.

However, the governance of data frequently lacks the moral framework that interfaith dialogue can provide, particularly in protecting the interests of marginalized communities.

This oversight can lead to the exploitation of local data without the consent or benefit of the people it represents.

So today’s discussion on local data sovereignty— is about the right of communities to control their data.

This is not merely a technical matter but one of fairness, respecting cultural, environmental, and spiritual values fundamental to these communities.

Spiritual Warfare

Walking up Nuʻuanu Pali Drive, listening to a discussion about biodiversity, economic equity and gender inclusion

We reside in an epoch of seemingly eternal warfare driven primarily by geopolitical economic greed. The system of destabilizing countries and exploiting communities for access or resource theft is as much a part of our evolution as a species as supply chains, markets, and governance.

But the world has changed. We have an expiration date on our evolutionary clock, and I believe that we have known this to be true since the atomic bomb. This ticking clock is evident not only with climate change or the collective trauma of our global pandemic but also in the alignment of our military with Big Conservation to perpetuate economies that privilege the worst abuses of capitalist greed with the promotion of Natural Capital schemes as the only solution for financing climate adaptation and mitigation.

Warfare is global, and it takes place in all communities, it is beyond haves and have-nots, beyond the divisions of our cultural or gender identifiers, and the demarcations of indigeneity, settler colonialism, or citizenship. What defines this warfare are not simply the opinions and actions of neighbors and passersby or the banal and incessant dirge of TV anchors and radio broadcasters drowning out the resonant whisperings of animals, plants, and rocks emerging into our collective consciousness reminding us of potential or impending extinctions.

What is in your heart matters. What you value most determines whether your gut is sick or clean. It is the clean gut and clear heart that will empower our collective defense against the disease that emanates from the very pores of privatization and capitalization regimes. Public relations and marketing departments may embrace a kinder and gentler emoji yet perpetuate the very system that remains tethered to genocide, slavery, dispossession, and fraud.

Spiritual warfare is the struggle within individuals and societies between values and principles that promote compassion, empathy, environmental stewardship, and social justice on one side, and those that prioritize hatred, greed, and exploitation of our planet on the other.

This inner conflict reflects the moral and ethical choices we make in our daily lives, as well as the broader societal choices that impact our planet and its ecosystems. It’s not limited to any particular religious or secular framework; rather, it transcends these boundaries to address our core mutual values and behaviors.

Choosing to love over hate and planetary well-being over greed are shared by many who advocate for a more just and sustainable world. Addressing these challenges requires a collective effort that focuses on shared values of empathy, cooperation, and ecological responsibility.

Addressing spiritual warfare involves shifting our consciousness over how we value a more sustainable and resilient way of living on our planet, one that recognizes our interconnectedness and responsibilities to each other and the environment. This country—this economy embraces capitalization, and the very industries promoting this are as deaf to the voices of this planet as those promoting genocide, obstruction, and containment.

Data Localism

Data localism refers to the concept of generating, storing, and processing data within a local or regional context. In the context of ecological accounting, this approach can provide numerous benefits and provide relevant jobs in both the public and private sectors.  Data stewardship is a service that includes conducting inventories, collecting statistics, publishing data, determining conditions and trends, examining and analyzing changes, summarizing data, describing, compiling, measuring, researching, monitoring, and managing lists of information. These are jobs that belong to the community.

Relevance and specificity: Local data can capture the specific ecological features and characteristics of a given area, making the data more relevant and specific. This can result in more accurate assessments of the ecological value of an area.

Encourages local participation: When data is collected and processed locally, it can encourage community engagement and participation. This can lead to a greater sense of ownership and commitment to ecological preservation.

Speed and responsiveness: Local data can be collected, processed, and applied more quickly, making it more responsive to changes in the local environment.

Avoidance of data colonialism: In the context of global data flows, there’s often an unequal relationship between data-rich developed countries and developing countries that may not have yet developed the capacity to assess their data. Data localism can help to address this imbalance, enabling local communities to maintain control over their ecological data before it is absorbed into foreign accounts.

Tailored solutions: By focusing on local data, ecological strategies can be tailored to the specific needs of each area, leading to more effective solutions. This approach can also lead to more sustainable outcomes, as local conditions and resources are taken into account.

Promotes resilience: By relying on local data, regions can become more self-sufficient and resilient, rather than depending on external data sources that may not always be available or reliable.

Fosters innovation: Dealing with local data can stimulate innovation in data collection, storage, and processing techniques. This can contribute to the development of new methods and technologies that are better suited to the local context.

However, while data localism can provide many benefits in terms of ecological accounting, it’s also important to consider potential challenges. These might include the need for technical expertise and resources to collect and process data, the potential for local biases in data collection and interpretation, and the need for frameworks to ensure that data is used responsibly and ethically, with a Whole of Life, Pasifika ethos.


Why are Pasifika economies smaller than those of other nations? The standard answer to this question highlights the unique vulnerabilities and dependencies of the region, such as size, distance from markets, and climate and disaster vulnerabilities. But what if these barriers were actually the source of our regional equity? What if there existed an opportunity to treat them as benefits that could be accounted for in our national economies? And what does this have to do with ocean governance in the Pacific?

The key point to raise here is that there is an opportunity for the Pacific to determine how best to account for the equity in the region. Often our distant and remote islands have been seen as barriers to economic development.  However, we can measure our economic welfare in a way that recognizes and accounts for the bond that people have with their environment, particularly in the context of increasing loss and damage associated with environmental degradation caused by climate change.


Currently, for the Pacific, the biggest threat and challenge to accessing and building resilient data markets are the advanced economies, particularly the colonial countries that maintain colonial or post-colonial administrations. In the Pacific, this includes Australia, France, New Zealand, and the United States and includes Indonesia’s claim of West Papua and Chile’s claim of Rapa Nui.

If data is wealth, we know that wealth accumulation is a pillar of capitalism. Data Accumulation or theft is happening right under our noses, and Pacific Island Countries are giving it away freely. The three programs for data theft are Maritime Protected Areas, Military Defense Management of EEZs, and Carbon Swap programs.

While these programs seem benign compared to the West’s militarization and containment policies seeking to firm up barriers of trade between new multipolar trade networks, these environmental data programs should be viewed as an aggressive assault upon the sovereignty of not just Pasifika, but of every economy that has traditionally stewarded their blue/green spaces.

Consider that World Bank estimates Natural Capital at $100 trillion and that environmental data can only be counted once (Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals.

While these mitigation numbers are currently pegged to the “values” of carbon sequestration, this is certainly not a fair or balanced program and it’s worth paying attention to the ongoing debate about the appropriate way to value carbon. Some argue that current prices do not fully reflect the true social, environmental, and economic costs of carbon emissions. There are also legitimate concerns about consequences, that this kind of program will further lead to biodiversity loss and other environmental harm.

The value of carbon sequestration is a significant factor when calculating mitigation numbers or determining carbon offset prices. Carbon sequestration refers to the process by which CO2 is captured from the atmosphere and stored in plants, soil, and the ocean, and has become a spurious strategy in climate change policy by overemphasizing the singular problem of offsetting the emission of greenhouse gases when climate change is a manifold problem that requires solutions that western markets are incapable of providing.

Carbon trading is a poor factor in sustainability when offsetting emissions is a direct gateway to more aggressive mining and extraction industries like seabed mining, for example, industries that jeopardize entire ecosystems for clean energy resources.

As such, various approaches to carbon sequestration, such as afforestation (planting new forests), reforestation (replanting existing forests), improved forestry management, and practices in agriculture and soil management, are being monetized based on the amount of CO2 they can potentially capture and store, and not necessarily for the biodiversity it can restore.

The value of this sequestered carbon can then be used to create carbon credits, which can be sold in carbon markets to companies and individuals who want to offset their own carbon emissions. The price of these carbon credits reflects the perceived value of the carbon sequestration.

In terms of data localism, the value of carbon sequestration must include the indigenous or customary management of ecological biodiversity and include cultural and wellbeing factors. As such, communities will benefit far more by localizing data than by swapping it out for million-dollar deals that amount to a shaved splinter of a penny when measured against the tens of trillions of dollars that natural capital is being measured by.

I also want to point out that the Carbon Market, is just one market of the many potential markets that would make much better use of both good climate policy and fair distribution of wealth.

The Pacific is a vast ocean of data and the population of the Pacific is only about 10 million people. No matter how one accounts for data, the Pacific region should be able to leverage trillions of dollars of ecological wealth to invent their own resilience schemes and own the patents for their own mitigation technologies– rather than leasing them from foreign entities. Small Pacific Island States should be devising their own tools and setting international standards, and doing their own assessments and validations in the international context. Tuvalu should be able to leverage its data wealth to hire Tony Stark to defend Tuvalu from the impacts of climate change. If one ever wonders why Australia spent AUD 368 billion on its nuclear sub, they didn’t spend it on the necessity of climate mitigation or resilience, but to keep China (a country that also promotes data localism) from doing business AND to prevent the Pacific from owning their data. AUD 368 billion dollars is a small price to pay for the trillions of dollars they’re anticipating to make to perpetuate their own carbon markets.

I advise all governments already ensnarled in these data schemes to try to withdraw from these agreements and mandate data localism using local auditors to verify the data.

The Eight Tenets on Data Localism

The first tenet is to recognize the intrinsic value of data localism and its role in nature and life.

Pasifika should acknowledge that the prosperity of the region and the welfare of its inhabitants are inherently interdependent. As a result, solution-based programs must be comprehensive and integrated. In this regard, safeguarding our data is imperative, and we must counter attempts by dominant economies to manipulate and exploit our data resources by undermining or downplaying its value through deceptive arguments about the efficacy of “openness,” “transparency,” or “accessibility.” To ensure that data-driven solutions are designed to serve the Pacific region’s unique needs, we must adopt an unrelenting adherence to data localism, an approach that emphasizes community participation, accountability, and cultural relevance.

Data localism is sovereignty. To create a more just, sustainable, and equitable region, we must actively defend our rights and begin to shift from a paradigm of exploitation and waste to one of respect and stewardship. We must reject Natural Capital because nature and life are sacrosanct, and the cumulative impacts are interdependent with existence. We must transition out from a system of commodification to a system of mutual interaction.  This requires that we value, measure, and account for data to meet the targets and goals that we set our baseline to.  Meeting targets and goals can be achieved without the corrupting influence of eco-neoliberal privatization regimes. We must explore data localism, data stewardship, data provenance, and a data marketplace with Pasifika or indigenous-held technologies.

The second tenet is to prioritize data commons. We must empower local communities to take control of their data and promote decentralized systems that allow for greater autonomy and self-determination. This includes advocating for open-source software, community-owned data centers, and community-led data governance structures.

As oil-producing regions produce oil, the Pacific is a vast region where local businesses can manage ecological data to be on par with other regions. Wall Street will exclude people-to-people capacities to exchange, but mutual aid could very well inspire the transition toward a more equitable global economy.

The third tenet is to promote data protocols. Indigenous or customary protocols are unique to specific regions, cultures, and communities, and they reflect the values, beliefs, and practices of those communities. Adopting indigenous protocols can foster new partnerships between professionals from different fields to assist with the development and integration of data into translocal and interglobal markets and exchanges.

Environmental default swaps (EDS), for example, may be a financial instrument that allows us to hedge against environmental risks such as climate change and natural disasters. But an EDS should do more than report on loss and damage and include an account of mitigating and adaptive technologies. Environmental data will transform financial markets and we should be the primary source of information about environmental data markets. It is up to the region to control this data, as our large EEZs and remote locations will provide our small populations with access to capital and new infrastructure.

The fourth tenet is to foster a culture of data reciprocity. We must recognize the importance of mutual exchange and collaboration and promote systems that allow for fair and equitable sharing of data. This includes advocating for data cooperatives, data commons, and open data initiatives that benefit all members of an interglobal community.

By establishing a Pasifika data regime that manages environmental data in market terms, we will set the rules for the region. Much like with the PNA Vessel Day Scheme, Pacific EEZ should set the boundaries of new accounting standards.

The fifth tenet is to prioritize data privacy and security. Individuals and communities have the right to control how data is collected, used, and shared, and that this data is protected from unauthorized surveillance, collection, access, and misuse.

We must prioritize the restoration of ecosystems, protect endangered species, and promote sustainable land and water use practices. Unlike bio-colonial efforts to collect people’s genetic information, biostatistics is a branch of statistics that focuses on the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data related to biological systems. In the context of indigenous and customary communities, biostatistics can provide valuable data about our interactions with environments. Ethical guidelines and regulations must secure our data and we must devise regulatory and auditing processes that can reliably interpret our ocean of data.

The sixth tenet is to recognize data provenance and honor the interconnectedness of data and our lives. We must work to break down the false dichotomies of data versus privacy, individual versus community, and realize that we are all part of a larger, interdependent web of data.

We must recognize the importance of collective action and empower local communities to take control of their own resources and futures. Data provenance refers to the history of the ownership and control of environmental data. It is concerned with the identification of the original source of data, how it has been modified, and who has had access to it. For indigenous and customary peoples, data provenance is critical for maintaining the integrity of traditional knowledge and protecting the rights of their communities. Data provenance provides a mechanism for identifying the ownership and control of traditional knowledge, ensuring that it is not misused or exploited by third parties without the consent of the original owners.

The seventh tenet is to prioritize education and awareness. We must ensure that all people have access to accurate information about the value of data points meeting its targets (or not) and are empowered to make informed decisions about their impact on the digital landscape.

We must ensure that all people have access to accurate information and are empowered to make informed decisions about how they value their interaction with the environment. Developing an accredited curriculum focusing on integrating communities with accounting methodologies that facilitate both translocal and interglobal approaches to ecological-economic accounts provides diligence to monitoring, auditing, and enforcement that will protect both communities and investors and allow for coherent markets to evolve.

The eighth tenet is to recognize and honor the potential for data to create positive social change. We must work to promote data justice and equity and ensure that data is used to promote social and environmental sustainability, rather than perpetuating systemic injustices.

Ecological Accounting and Spirituality: Data Reciprocity and Data Localism

Our relationship with the natural world has been a topic of discussion and contemplation for thousands of years. In recent times, the urgency of addressing the ecological crisis has brought the need for a more integrated approach to the forefront. Exploring the intersection between economics and spirituality argues that incorporating spiritual values into economic decision-making can lead to a more sustainable and equitable world.

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism address the urgent issues of data sovereignty, privacy, and equity in the digital age. It recognizes the need for a radical transformation of our economic and social systems in order to achieve these goals.

The ecological crisis is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today. Climate change, habitat destruction, and the loss of biodiversity are just a few of the many problems that threaten the survival of countless species and the well-being of the planet. The root cause of these problems is often traced back to a human-centered worldview that sees the natural world as a resource to be exploited for human benefit.

Economics, as a discipline, is primarily concerned with the allocation of scarce resources to meet unlimited human wants and needs. However, the current economic system often prioritizes profit over other values such as social and environmental well-being. This has led to a number of negative consequences, including income inequality, environmental degradation, and the depletion of natural resources.

Spirituality, on the other hand, offers a different perspective on the relationship between humans and the natural world. Many spiritual traditions view the natural world as sacred and see humans as part of a larger, interconnected whole. This worldview emphasizes the interdependence of all living beings and the importance of living in harmony with the natural world.

The integration of ecology, economics, and spirituality offers a path toward sustainability by incorporating both scientific and spiritual perspectives on the relationship between humans and the natural world.

One of the key benefits of this intersection is the creation of a more equitable and sustainable economic system. Data measuring our well-being, for example, can be a tool addressing our spiritual values such as compassion and cooperation, and result in economic decision-making guided by a deeper sense of purpose and responsibility. This can lead to a more equitable distribution of resources and a greater emphasis on environmental protection and sustainability.

Throughout history, the spiritual exchange of goods and markets has played a significant role in many cultures and civilizations. In ancient times, bartering was a common practice, where goods and services were exchanged without the use of currency. This exchange was often guided by spiritual beliefs and values, such as the belief in the interdependence of all living beings and the importance of mutual support.

In some indigenous cultures, the concept of the “gift economy” was central to the exchange of goods and services. In these societies, resources were shared freely and individuals were encouraged to give generously to those in need. This was seen as a way of building community and strengthening social bonds and was often guided by spiritual beliefs about the interconnectedness of all living beings.

Religious markets, such as the Suq in the Islamic world, have also played a significant role in the exchange of goods and services. These markets were often a hub of economic activity and served as a place for merchants and traders to exchange goods and services. They were also a place for religious and cultural exchange, where individuals from different backgrounds could come together to exchange ideas and goods.

The concept of “fair trade” and provenance in supply chains has emerged as a way of incorporating more holistic values into an economic exchange. Fair trade is based on the idea of creating a more equitable and sustainable economic system by ensuring that workers and producers in developing countries receive a fair price for their goods and services.

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism recognize that data is a valuable resource that has the potential to empower communities and individuals, but that this potential is often exploited by large corporations and governments. Therefore, any solution to these global challenges must prioritize the rights and needs of people over the profits of a few.

A 21st-century economy integrates the intrinsic value of data and its role in shaping our lives. We must acknowledge the rights of individuals and communities to control and benefit from the data that they produce and shift from a paradigm of surveillance and exploitation to one of transparency and reciprocity.

Prioritize data localism. We must empower local communities to take control of their own data, and promote decentralized systems that allow for greater autonomy and self-determination. This includes advocating for open-source software, community-owned data centers, and community-led data governance structures.

• Foster a culture of data reciprocity. We must recognize the importance of mutual exchange and collaboration, and promote systems that allow for fair and equitable sharing of data. This includes advocating for data cooperatives, data commons, and open data initiatives that benefit all members of a community.

Prioritize data privacy and security. Individuals and communities have the right to control how their data is collected, used, and shared and that this data is protected from unauthorized access and misuse.

Prioritize education and awareness. All people have access to accurate information about their data and are empowered to make informed decisions about their impact on the digital landscape.

Recognize and honor the interconnectedness of data and our lives. Break down the false dichotomies of data versus privacy, and individual versus community, and realize that we are all part of a larger, interdependent web of data.

Recognize and honor the potential for data to create positive social change. Promote data justice and equity and ensure that data is used to facilitate social and environmental sustainability, rather than perpetuating systemic injustices.

Data Reciprocity and Data Localism recognize the urgency of the global crises we face in the digital age.

An integrative approach to ecological economics and spirituality is the creation of a more holistic understanding of our interactions with ecological biodiversity. Translocal markets recognize the importance of protecting the natural world not just for its own sake, but for the well-being of all living beings and for future generations.

The intersection between economics and spirituality offers a path toward a more sustainable and equitable world. By incorporating spiritual values into economic decision-making, we can create a more holistic and compassionate economic system that prioritizes the well-being of all living beings and the planet as a whole.

The Intemerate Equation can be a counterweight to the unbalanced weight of our GDP

In very concrete terms, how we move the global economy is to reform our national accounting system. As long as the wrong things are valued without the counterweight of the right things being valued (like our environment and wellbeing), the global economy will be incapable of a just and equitable change.

The Intemerate Equation addresses this very issue. The equation is tangible in that how we account for restoration fulfills three things: 1) it embraces indigenous and local methodologies to value and interact with their environment; 2) encourages data ownership so that communities can be more self-determining; and 3) promotes people-to-people translocal and interglobal exchange. From a national perspective, a new accounting framework provides the Global South with a path away from the trappings of debt dependency and boomerang aid schemes towards a true mirroring of our economic value, seeking the elimination of the tiered structure that provides advanced economies advantages over developing countries as well as greater access to capital for disadvantaged, displaced, and impacted communities.

Progressive International published an excellent article by Max Ajl called The NIEO in a State of Permanent Insurrection” where he writes, “Production of goods under the law of generalized commodity production, accumulation of value, and for exchange value cannot deliver a decent world. Capitalism cannot be reformed. There must be a shared horizon of production of goods and services for use, with prices engineered to achieve a worldwide just distribution of these goods, social rights guaranteed, and political institutions created to allow for the human reproduction of the ecology. There must be appropriate and ecologically modulated sovereign industrialization alongside regional collective self-reliance.”

We mostly know what the problems are. While we may not know the history that has led us to this place, collectively, we understand the failures of free market capitalism, the myopic pursuit of neoliberalism, and the enforcement mechanisms used to entrench peoples and countries. It is time to sit down and address a tangible pathway forward.