Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Statistical tea-test

A thank you note written on a returned landholder survey.

A sweet thank you note written on a returned landholder survey.

In my time doing interviews with farmers in Australia, Nova Scotia and the Falklands I have probably consumed a few hundred cups of tea.  Now I’m a coffee gal, generally, but it feels social to sit with a cuppa over an interview, and I like how it structures the interaction. There are clearer rules for having tea than there are for conducting interviews – particularly being the ‘subject’ of one. In fact, the protocols that do exist for interviews I don’t like, being too formal and seeming to frame the interviewer as the expert. When you accept a cup of tea, the farmer as host takes control of the proceedings, and as guest I become a grateful recipient of hospitality as well as their expertise.

Earlier this year, Simon and Mhari and I were brainstorming how to inspire a high response rate for a survey of a small farmer population (~n=225), that had to be a single mail-out for time reasons. Simon suggested including a teabag. So off we went. Boxes of English Breakfast were purchased and individually packaged envelopes included with each survey. We hoped farmers would come back from the barn after morning chores and do the short survey over a cuppa. Well, we’re just short of 12% completion rate so far, with only a trickle now coming in. Though we have had some sweet notes about the tea (see above), I think we can confidently say that tea is not enough of a incentive. Does this indicate a cultural change to coffee among farmers? Maybe a K-cup would have been a better idea. But it was worth a try.

The Politics of Scale (2017)

A great primer on rangeland science as well as scientific hubris more generally.

A great primer on rangeland science as well as scientific hubris more generally.

I had a sunny lunchtime meeting with Nathan Sayre when I was in Berkeley a few weeks ago, and ordered his new book as soon as I got back. While I regularly devour fiction within days, rarely do I do it with non-fiction, which can be more of a plod with pencil in hand. But Sayre’s volume was a good read, as well as being a book that I needed to read. I have stumbled somewhat into rangeland research, through my post-doc in Australia, and now my new research on livestock grazing, including fieldwork in the Falklands. But I don’t have a rangelands background. Sayre’s book thus played a remedial role for me, as well as placing some of the scientific chauvinism that I have experienced in a broader context.

Ever the geographer (Sayre leads the UC Berkeley Department of Geography), the recurring theme is one of scale, including the poor fit between the scale of rangeland science (i.e. experimental plots and fields) and the scale of rangeland management. Moreover, however, he brings a critical perspective to unexamined assumptions and justifications in the study and administration of rangelands: how governance can drive management priorities of land (e.g. overgrazing is great for fire control); that no commons can be sustainable; that equilibrium is inexorable and singular, that fences are better than shepherds. Sayre also illustrates the hubris of ‘command and control’ approaches to landscape, such as species eradication. Allan Savory gets perhaps surprisingly little attention, but what is given is insightful. Sayre contrasts the grassroots popularity of Savory’s holistic management, which proceeds despite the alarm of range scientists, with the forceful, colonial and paternalistic division of rangelands in places like Africa (that  can lead to violence e.g. when drought pushes former pastoralists against imposed fencelines):

Holistic management’s popularity raises the possibility that a scientifically flawed theory–if willingly embraced rather than imposed–may in some cases induce improvements in range management for reasons that cannot be–or at least have not yet been–reducible to controlled experimental testing (p. 208, italics in original)

Earth Day contrast

Elementary school kids at J. W. MacLeod, Halifax, laugh, hoot and awwww watching an environmental video for Earth Day 2017.

Elementary school kids in Halifax laugh, hoot and awwww watching an environmental video for Earth Day 2017.

I just got back from an Earth Day assembly at my daughter’s school (what in kindergarten she called a ‘dissembly’). It was certainly chaotic, but amidst that there was great beauty, and I teared up a few times. These kids get it. It is simple for them. Of course we know it is more complicated than they think: littering and taking shorter showers won’t keep us thriving here. But the kids are passionate, and I think they believe that we adults are firmly ‘on the job’. If only that were so. I think we’re doing an awful lot of things that they would find dreary and uninspiring at best, and frankly scary and unfair at worst. Anyone making big decisions, for instance undergoing a Faculty level strategic renewal, should imagine having to pitch their plan to these kids.

Alumni in the news

Wood Turtles are a species at risk in Nova Scotia.

Wood Turtles are a species at risk in Nova Scotia.

Two SRES grads were in the news together last week. Simon Greenland-Smith, MES and now working for the NSFA (though he still sits down the hall), is launching his new Wood Turtle Strides farmer incentive program for species at risk, with the help of Katie McLean, MREM and now Clean Annapolis River Project. Another recent MREM grad, Mhari Lamarque, is also working on the Wood Turtle Strides project doing program evaluation.

Yan Chen at IAIA in Montreal

Yan Chen chatting with another attendee at IAIA 2017 in Montreal.

Yan Chen chatting with another attendee at IAIA 2017 in Montreal.

Congratulations to Yan Chen, who represented Energy Transitions in Canada at this year’s International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) meeting in Montreal. Climate change was the main theme this year. This conference is less academic than most she has attended and includes many people from the private sector and government departments, including consultants ‘selling’ their new services and tools. Her presentation, Using geo-tagged social media data to map landscape values, was in the second half of the session titled “Digital Impact Assessment”, Wednesday afternoon, April 5th, along with two other presenters focused on pipelines. She talked about her work using Instagram to understand landscape values around hydroelectricity proposals in BC (Site C) and NB (Mactaquac). She was keeping an eye out for the team about news around new SIA tools leveraging social media, but didn’t see much.

 

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