karen bakker

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Karen Bakker is a professor, author, and researcher of digital innovation and environmental governance.

The Sounds of Life

“Western scientists assumed turtles were mute and deaf. It was humans, as it turns out, who were the ones who couldn’t hear.” —from The Sounds of Life 

“Humanity may be on the brink of inventing a zoological version of Google Translate.” —from The Sounds of Life 

Western science and philosophy has long assumed that sonic communication—and hence language—was limited to relatively few species. But as professor Karen Bakker shows in her thrilling and deeply researched new book, THE SOUNDS OF LIFE: How Digital Technology Is Bringing Us Closer to the World of Animals and Plants (Princeton University Press; October 18, 2022) we can now—thanks to advances in bioacoustics, Artificial Intelligence, and other digital technologies—listen to and decipher the intricate communication of plants and animals, much of which occurs at frequencies imperceptible to the naked human ear. These breakthroughs give us remarkable new ways of observing life on planet Earth, and put us on the cusp of an entirely new realm of scientific knowledge.

THE SOUNDS OF LIFE is a popular science book that will fundamentally change the public conversation about humanity’s relationship to the environment.

Bakker takes readers on a tour of the vast and wondrous sonic landscape of plants and animals: Dolphins call each other by individual names, and in response to the buzz of bees, flowers flood themselves with nectar. Turtle embryos, still in their shells, coordinate the timing of their births through sound. Coral larvae find their way home by sensing the symphony emanating from a reef’s aquatic life. Bakker explains how scientists are using bioacoustics to protect and regenerate endangered species across the planet, from the Silicon Valley to the Great Barrier Reef, to the Arctic and the Amazon. And she reveals how even subtle forms of noise pollution are dramatically damaging the natural world—including humans.

Most astonishing of all, scientists are using digital technologies to break the barriers of interspecies communication. Using robotics and AI, researchers are decoding non-human language, creating dictionaries in languages like East Africa Elephant and Sperm Whalish, and engaging in two-way dialogues with dolphins and honeybees.

Featuring a cast of characters ranging from scientists and conservationists to digital tech entrepreneurs, THE SOUNDS OF LIFE is an electrifying story of scientific discovery, a novel journey through the natural world, and an impassioned call for environmental conservation. In the tradition of SILENT SPRING and A SAND COUNTY ALMANAC, this poetic, enthralling, and accessible book will forever change how you look at, and listen to, the world.

Water Teachings (2020)

“Water Teachings” is an edited book which explores perspectives on Indigenous water law, bringing together voices of Indigenous scholars and community members from across Canada. This book was co-authored by a collective of Indigenous scholars and community members, and edited together with Courtenay Crane, a photographer/filmmaker and member of Key First Nation. After consultation with my research collaborators (including Indigenous scholars and Indigenous community organizations), we decided to publish this book ourselves, in order to make it available free of charge. View here. 

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(Matina S. Horner Distinguished Visiting Professor)

I’m thrilled to have been named a Fellow of the Harvard Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies for the 2022/2023 academic year. During my fellowship, I will be writing a book which explores how the tools of the Digital Age could be mobilized to address some of the most pressing [..]

(John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellow)

I’m deeply honored to have been named a Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation for 2022. As the Foundation writes about my work: Karen Bakker is Professor of Geography at the University of British Columbia, where she is an Associate of the Institute for Resources, Environment and [..]

Over the past decade, the water-energy nexus (WEN) has emerged as a prominent framework with which to analyze and visualize interconnections between energy production, freshwater resources, and the hydrological cycle. The WEN is a fundamentally geographic concept embedded in landscapes. WEN analyses often include landscape visualizations, yet these are rarely conceptually rigorous; consequently, the visual-representational [..]

Excited to announce we have just launched our new portal: waterteachings.com. Water Teachings presents teachings from scholars and community members who are working to protect and honour the water. This is a collaborative e-book project co-edited by Courtenay Crane and Karen Bakker; Courtenay began this project as the Media Manager for the Decolonizing Water Project at UBC (and is now [..]