Canada’s Climate Change Ambassador, Patricia Fuller (Photo @tcadaptations)
I spent most of this week at an excellent workshop organized by TransCoastal Adaptations, a group led by Danika van Proosdij at Saint Mary’s that I’m aligned with via the Making Room for Movement project. Attendees came from across Canada and the US from academe but also government, NGOs, consulting and other practitioners, and instead of most conferences where those fragment across parallel sessions, the entire event was held in plenary style. This led to wonderfully rich conversations around the shared challenges we faced as members or stakeholders of the Cold Regions Living Shorelines Community of Practice. I met engaged folks from West Coast Environmental Law, White Point Lodge, Helping Nature Heal, Nature Conservancy, Kensington North Watersheds Association, Army Corps of Engineers, CBCL Consulting, and the Geological Survey of Canada, to name just a few, and had the rare opportunity to have dinner with Patricia Fuller, Canada’s Climate Change Ambassador.
Many definitions and synonyms of ‘nature-based’ were discussed, and I noted the tendency of the conversation toward ‘holding the line’ naturally rather than changing what we do behind that line, however green and/or fuzzy it is. Danika and I co-led a session on the communication dimensions where I called for empathy around the challenges that people face talking about retreat and other significant adaptations. We also presented our OECD case study, which prompted a discussion about how communication can be unpredictable. One person volunteered that instead of telling citizens what needs to be done, Surrey found it is best to show them the data and let them discover what needs to be done, then they own it. A Clean Foundation program manager talked about how they approached a First Nations community looking for sites to restore to salt marsh, but heard back about values to restore (such as specific plants). The Ecology Action Centre found that attendance at meetings varies dramatically depending on how recently adverse events have been experienced in the location. There is much more work to be done on best practices in this space. We are looking forward to contributing to the conversation after our focus groups in coming months.
Archetypal land sparing in the southeastern Australian grazing landscape.
Back in 2014 colleagues at Leuphana and I had a chapter accepted in a volume of Ecological Reviews on Agricultural Resilience: perspectives from ecology and economics. I’m delighted to be able to report that the volume is finally published, five years later. Our chapter looks at the resilience implications of land sharing and land sparing, using as a case study the southeastern sheep-wheat belt where co-author Joern Fischer and I did our postdocs back at ANU in the late 2000s. We compared grazing archetypes of land sparing (fencing out dense woodlands for protection while continuously grazing the rest; see above) and land sharing (farmers using HM, who grazed intensively and rotationally pretty much everywhere on their farms, supporting scattered trees and their recruitment but few dense woodlands; see below). The resilience implications of these options are analyzed, integrating ecology, economics and social dimensions, and consistent with where the broader sharing/sparing debate has settled, reached the conclusion that a diversity of approaches is needed for system-wide sustainability.
Archetypal land sharing in the southeastern Australian grazing landscape thanks to HM to the left of the fence.
Some of my favourite parts of the chapter are the sample quotes included on the social challenges of adopting HM practices that draw from my 2008 photo-elicitation interviews with graziers across a range of practices. They speak to the mundane yet powerful barriers of change that come from our need for relationships and respect: for instance, not having anything to talk to conventional farmers about at BBQs (“what will I open with?”), or having people think they’ve “lost the plot” and feeling the pressure after HM training to “go like a sheep and follow the rest” rather than convert. Such pressures align with some of what we’re hearing from HM trainers, too.
Flooded islands from Springhill Road, foggy Easter Sunday morning
Another long weekend, another trip to Fredericton. Feeling lucky to get through on the Trans-Canada, particularly upon return, given flood stage at Jemseg. Despite the impacts to many up and down river, Fredericton still throws an impromptu ‘flood fest’ at such times, with residents driving downtown to view the swollen river and flooded infrastructure. Based on the art installation showing the levels of past floods (see upright posts, below), unlike last year this one will not make the history books. [Update Apr 25: I spoke too soon. Fredericton has now broken records and the highway is closed at Jemseg]
Impromptu flood fest at the Fredericton waterfront, Easter Sunday
The newly renovated Beaverbrook had its flood gates up, but we were able to drop in to see the wonderful show by Ian MacEachern, The Lost City, documenting the vibrant community before and during urban ‘renewal’ in Saint John in 1968. Interesting to see this in the context of Halifax’s Cogswell Interchange renewal process: we’re pulling down the highway interchange created after slum clearance around the same time here.
Ian MacEachern photography show on urban renewal and dispossession in Saint John at the Beaverbrook
Front row to flooding at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Fredericton
Climax thinking, illustrated (Sherren, forthcoming in Energy Impacts: A Multidisciplinary Exploration of North American Energy Development, co-edited by Jacquet, Haggerty and Theodori)
We recently learned that the collected volume manuscript that began with an NSF-funded workshop at Ohio State University in 2017 has been accepted by the publishers (Social Ecology Press & Utah State University Press) for release late 2019 or early 2020. My sole-authored contribution to that collection, From climax thinking to a non-equilibrium approach to public good landscape change, is a theoretical culmination of a few years of work in hydroelectricity and coastal landscape change. Climax thinking uses a ecological analogy (i.e. climax in succession theory) to explore resistance to landscape transitions like those needed for renewable energy, coastal adaptation or urban densification. Feeling like your landscape has reached its ‘climax’ state is a powerful illusion, and leads those with means to push landscape change to those without. Three dimensions of the pathology are described and some possible ‘cures’ presented, hopefully leading to a non-equlibrium approach to landscape so we can meet the challenges ahead.
As so often happens when I read fiction, I am startled by links to theory. So it was when finishing up Rachel Cusk’s 2003 The Lucky Ones (p. 97-98) last week, a perfect microcosm of the fiction and injustice of holding landscapes in privileged stasis as described by climax thinking:
Ravenley had no pub or shop, no car park or playground, not even a telephone box. Superficially, it had not changed in a hundred years. The world beyond it sustained this appearance in the way that a life-support machine sustains the sleep of a dead patient. It was a costly process that had no purpose beyond the consolation of certain feelings. On the other side of the hill different standards obtained. Electricity pylons marched across grey, cluttered fields. Housing developments rose bloodily from the earth. Roads and roundabouts, petrol stations, landfill sites, industrial estates and shopping centres, all at different stages in a cycle of decay, gave the impression of something injured, something mutilated perhaps beyond repair, but for the time being at least independently alive. Cars issued discreetly from Raveley’s well-tended properties, ascended to the horizon and disappeared, to return again later, freighted with food and fuel. These properties, so unmarked, seemed like embodiments of pure emotion. Detached from their material shame, with no discernible edge of need, they gave the impression of housing lives in which fact was recessive and feeling predominant, in which feeling might have attained the status of fact, and become the moderating force of daily existence.