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Karen Bakker

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Karen Bakker
Bakker in 2018
Bakker in 2018
Born(1971-12-06)6 December 1971
Montreal, Canada
Died14 August 2023(2023-08-14) (aged 51)
Vancouver, Canada
OccupationAuthor, professor, researcher
LanguageEnglish, French, Spanish
Alma materMcMaster University, Oxford University
SubjectDigital transformation, environmental governance, sustainability, water
Notable awardsRhodes Scholarship, Guggenheim Fellowship, Annenberg Fellowship in Communication at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (Stanford), Trudeau Foundation Fellowship, Harvard Radcliffe Institute Fellowship

Karen Bakker (6 December 1971 – 14 August 2023)[1] was a Canadian author, researcher, and entrepreneur known for her work on digital transformation, environmental governance, and sustainability. A Rhodes Scholar[2] with a DPhil from Oxford, Bakker was a professor at the University of British Columbia.[3] In 2022–2023 she was on sabbatical leave at Harvard, as a Harvard Radcliffe Institute Fellow.[4] She was the recipient of numerous awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship,[5] Stanford University's Annenberg Fellowship in Communication,[6] Canada's "Top 40 Under 40",[7] and a Trudeau Foundation Fellowship.[8]

Bakker's research focused on the intersection of digital technologies and environmental governance, digital environmental humanities, digital geographies, political ecology, and political economy.[3] In the early part of her career, she focused on water and climate issues.[8] Later, she concentrated on digital technology and environmental futures studies as critical yet pragmatic projects aiming to advance regenerative sustainability and environmental justice.[9]


Bakker was born in Montreal and raised in Ottawa. She trained in both the natural and social sciences at McMaster University (a combined Bachelor of Arts and Science (minor in Physics), followed by a DPhil in geography at the University of Oxford). She published over 100 academic publications, including seven sole-authored and edited scholarly books.[10][11] Her work has been cited over 18,000 times.[12]

She also served as a policy advisor to organizations at the forefront of digital innovation on environmental issues, including the Digital Research Alliance of Canada,[13] Future Earth,[14] Sustainability in a Digital Age,[15] and the International Institute for Sustainable Development.[16] Her advisory roles have also included the IPCC, National Round Table on Environment and Economy, OECD, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, and OHCHR.[17][18]

Bakker was a member of the Decolonizing Water research collective[19] and the Riverhood project team (funded by the EU),[20] as well as the Coalition on Digital Environmental Sustainability,[21] and the Policy Network on Environment of the Internet Governance Forum.[22] She was also a board member of the National Research Council Canada,[23] and a member of the editorial board of Global Environmental Change.[24]

Bakker delivered over 200 conference presentations and invited lectures over the course of her career, at academic institutions such as Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford, and UCLA. These span several disciplines including geography and environmental studies, computer science, urban studies, labour studies, political ecology, and political economy.[10]

Digital transformation and sustainability: The Smart Earth Project[edit]

Bakker's Smart Earth project engaged with two of the most destabilizing, controversial trends of our time: digital transformation and global environmental change.[25]

Smart Earth brings together researchers, educators, and policymakers to study environmental knowledge and seeks to better understand the complex relationships between humans and nature.[25] This project was launched with a meta-review of a smart technologies database in 2018.[26] Bakker curated a website with learning tools regarding digital technologies and their application to environmental issues,[25] and has collaborated with the United Nations Environment Program to map out a roadmap for international action on digital transformation and sustainability.[27]

Interspecies communication and bioacoustics: The Sounds of Life[edit]

Bakker worked at the intersection of data and sustainability, exploring how technology can be leveraged to better protect, understand, cohabitate, and perhaps even communicate with our non-human counterparts. Bakker wrote critically about the potential pitfalls of the digital listening agenda, comparing it to an environmental variant of surveillance capitalism.[28]

In October 2022, Bakker published her book: The Sounds of Life: How Digital Technology is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants (Princeton University Press).[29] The book was chosen as the NPR Science Friday Book Club book of the month for November 2022,[30] selected as one of Malcolm Gladwell's Next Big Idea Club nominees in October 2022,[31] and received both popular and critical acclaim, including a review in Science, which described the book as "thoughtful and rigorous…meticulously researched and colorfully presented…in a way that is accessible to non-experts. A wonderful mix of animal ecology, narratives of science-doing, futurism, and accounts of Indigenous knowledge that is as interdisciplinary as the field itself."[32] She was invited to present the book at Google Talks, Aspen Ideas Festival and was the opening keynote at the TED 2023 conference.

Water governance[edit]

Bakker also worked broadly on issues of water accessibility, governance, and policy. Her publications include Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Urban Water Crisis[33] (Cornell University Press), An Uncooperative Commodity: Privatizing Water in England and Wales[34] (Oxford University Press), "Neoliberalizing Nature? Market Environmentalism in Water Supply in England and Wales" (2005),[35] and "Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm" (2012).[36] The Privatizing Water book was awarded the Urban Affairs Association Book Award (2011; honourable mention)[37] and the Rik Davidson/Studies in Political Economy Book Prize (2012).[38]

As Karen Le Billon[edit]

Writing under her nom de plume, Karen Le Billon, Bakker wrote two popular science books on children, food, and families. French Kids Eat Everything[39] (HarperCollins, 2012) was published in 15 countries and 12 languages,[10] awarded the Taste Canada Food Writing Award in 2013,[40] and widely featured in the press, including The New York Times,[41] The Guardian,[42] and The Sunday Times.[43] The follow up book Getting To Yum: The 7 Secrets Of Raising Eager Eaters (HarperCollins, 2014) was also well received by experts and the public.[44]


Bakker died after a brief illness on 14 August 2023.[45]

Notable works[edit]


  • Gaia's Web: How Digital Environmentalism Can Combat Climate Change, Restore Biodiversity, Cultivate Empathy, and Regenerate the Earth (Penguin Random House Canada, 2024)
  • The Sounds of Life:: How Digital Technology is Bringing Us Closer to the Worlds of Animals and Plants (Princeton University Press, 2022) ISBN 978-0-691-20628-8.
  • Water Teachings, K. Bakker and C. Crane (eds) (2020)
  • Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Urban Water Crisis (Cornell University Press, 2010)[33] ISBN 978-0-8014-6700-4.
  • Eau Canada: The future of Canada's water (UBC Press, 2007) ISBN 978-0-7748-1339-6.
  • An Uncooperative Commodity: Privatizing Water in England and Wales (Oxford University Press, 2004)[34] ISBN 978-0-19-925365-4.

Chapters and Articles (Peer-Reviewed)[edit]


  1. ^ "Remembering Dr. Karen Bakker". University of Britisch Columbia. 13 September 2023. Retrieved 18 September 2023.
  2. ^ "Rhodes Scholar Database". Rhodes House. Rhodes Trust. Archived from the original on 1 July 2022. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  3. ^ a b "About Karen Bakker". UBC Geography. UBC. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  4. ^ "Fellows: Karen Bakker". Harvard Radcliffe Institute. Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study Harvard University.
  5. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Fellows: Karen Bakker". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.
  6. ^ "CASBS Announces Class of 2015–16". Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. 3 April 2015. Retrieved 18 May 2022.
  7. ^ "2010– Canada's Top 40 Under 40". Canada's Top 40 Under 40. Caldwell Partners. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  8. ^ a b "Karen Bakker, Fellow 2017". Trudeau Foundation. Fondation Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation.
  9. ^ "Smart Oceans: Artificial Intelligence and Marine Biodiversity Governance". Oxford Water Network. Oxford. 18 March 2021. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  10. ^ a b c "CV – Karen Bakker". karenbakker.org. Karen Bakker. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  11. ^ "Globe 2016 Speaker: Karen Bakker". Globe Series. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  12. ^ "Google Scholar – Karen Bakker". Google Scholar. Retrieved 8 September 2023.
  13. ^ "Canada's New Digital Research Infrastructure Organization Names Inaugural Researcher Council". Digital Research Alliance of Canada. 24 September 2020. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  14. ^ "CPSC 2021 Schedule". CPSC 2021. Future Earth. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  15. ^ Jensen, David; Bakker, Karen; Reimer, Christopher (21 January 2020). "Are these the 20 top multi-stakeholder processes in 2020 to advance a digital ecosystem for the planet?". Sustainability in the Digital Age. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  16. ^ "IISA – Karen Bakker". iisd.org. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  17. ^ "Research – Karen Bakker". karenbakker.org. Karen Bakker. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  18. ^ "FWD50- Karen Bakker". FWD50. FWD 50. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  19. ^ "Decolonizing Water – People". Decolonizing Water. Decolonizing Water Research Group. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  20. ^ "RIVERHOOD: Living rivers and new water justice movements". Wageningen University and Research. Wageninen University. 5 March 2021. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  21. ^ "Coalition for Digital Environmental Sustainability (CODES)". Sparkblue. United National Development Programme. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  22. ^ "PNE Multistakeholder Working Group". Internet Governance Forum (IGF). United Nations. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  23. ^ "Biography: Karen Bakker". National Research Council Canada. Government of Canada. 22 August 2019. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  24. ^ "Global Environmental Change – Editorial Board". Science Direct. Elsevier. Retrieved 19 May 2022.
  25. ^ a b c "About – Smart Earth Project". Smart Earth Project. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  26. ^ Bakker, Karen; Ritts, Max (September 2018). "Smart Earth: A meta-review and implications for environmental governance". Global Environmental Change. 52: 201–211. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2018.07.011. S2CID 158985965.
  27. ^ Jensen, David; Bakker, Karen; Reimer, Christopher. "Are these the 20 top multi-stakeholder processes in 2020 to advance a digital ecosystem for the planet?". Medium. Medium, with Support of UNEP. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  28. ^ Ritts, Max; Bakker, Karen (August 2021). "Conservation acoustics: Animal sounds, audible natures, cheap nature". Geoforum. 124: 144–155. doi:10.1016/j.geoforum.2021.04.022. S2CID 237722043. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  29. ^ Bakker, Karen (18 October 2022). Princeton University Press: The Sounds of Life. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0-691-20628-8.
  30. ^ "SciFri November Book of the Month: The Sounds of Life".
  31. ^ "Next Big Idea Nominees".
  32. ^ Gottesman, Benjamin (20 October 2022). "Babbling bats and raucous reefs". Science. 378 (6617): 254. Bibcode:2022Sci...378..254G. doi:10.1126/science.ade1290. PMID 36264787. S2CID 253045020.
  33. ^ a b Bakker, Karen (15 February 2013). Privatizing Water: Governance Failure and the World's Urban Water Crisis. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. p. 320. ISBN 978-0-8014-6700-4. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  34. ^ a b Bakker, Karen (1 April 2004). An Uncooperative Commodity Privatizing Water in England and Wales. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 248. ISBN 978-0-19-925365-4. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  35. ^ Bakker, Karen (2005). "Neoliberalizing Nature? Market Environmentalism in Water Supply in England and Wales". Annals of the Association of American Geographers. 95 (3): 542–565. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00474.x. S2CID 144211707. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  36. ^ Cook, Christina; Bakker, Karen (February 2012). "Water security: Debating an emerging paradigm". Global Environmental Change. 22 (1): 94–102. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2011.10.011. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  37. ^ "Best Book in Urban Affairs". Urban Affairs Association. 7 January 2019. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  38. ^ "A Recent Award Winner". Cornell Press. Cornell University Press. 8 March 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  39. ^ Le Billon, Karen (2014). French Kids Eat Everything. New York City: Harper Collins. p. 320. ISBN 978-0-06-210330-7. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  40. ^ "Taste Canada Awards – French Kids Eat Everything". Taste Canada. 22 October 2018. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  41. ^ Le Billon, Karen (16 March 2012). "How My Daughters Learned to Eat Like the French". New York Times. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  42. ^ Le Billon, Karen (17 August 2012). "Parents can't end Britain's child obesity epidemic alone". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  43. ^ Le Billon, Karen (22 April 2012). "Petits gourmands". The Sunday Times. Retrieved 20 May 2022.
  44. ^ "Learn how to get your picky eater to say 'yum' instead of 'yuck'". WDG Public Health. Retrieved 3 September 2023.
  45. ^ "Remembering Dr. Karen Bakker". Department of Geography. Retrieved 19 November 2023.

External links[edit]