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.
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.
A distinctly under-the-weather Iain Rankin, Minister for Lands and Forestry, rises to announce the Biodiversity Act in yesterday’s media briefing.
I enjoyed visiting Province House yesterday for the media briefing around the province’s new Biodiversity Act. As one of the three-member Biodiversity Council that has acted as advisors to the process since last year, it was very satisfying to join the Minister and Deputy Minister, as well as other staffers at Lands and Forestry. Nice also to get the support of Nature Conservancy Canada and the Ecology Action Centre. This Act fills critical gaps in our capacity to protect Nova Scotia’s ecosystems against known and as-yet-unknown challenges.
I faced my first media scrum after the briefing. I’m weighing up how to rank it on discomfort in comparison with the mammogram I had immediately before. Some of the press from that scrum appeared on CBC and the Chronicle Herald (though the latter misspelled my surname), and since then I have done a little more (News 95.7 live interview). We missed the tabling of the Act yesterday, thanks to slow service at The Old Triangle, but this morning it had its second reading in the House. Minister Rankin included some of my comments in his address (see Hansard):
Mr. Speaker, I heard strong support for our bill from several key players in biodiversity. Dr. Kate Sherren, of Dalhousie University and a Biodiversity Council member, spoke yesterday during the bill briefing. She said the priority is to address current issues where there are gaps and to have a tool kit ready when they are needed. As she said, biodiversity is an engine of the ecosystem. We don’t know what we’ll be up against and we will need legislation to manage it.
I look forward to continuing with the Council as we hit the ground with regulatory priorities if this goes through.
Craig Smith from NCC enters the scrum I just left, March 14, 2019.
OECD ad for new Rising Seas report
Last summer I led the writing of a case study on an innovative coastal adaptation project underway in Truro, Nova Scotia, a place plagued by flooding for decades. A confluence of provincial department interests enabled collaboration on a dyke realignment and salt marsh restoration project in the absence of overarching climate adaptation or coastal protection policy. That case study was Canada’s contribution to an OECD report (featuring case studies also from New Zealand, Germany and the United Kingdom). That report , “Responding to Rising Seas: OECD Country Approaches to Tackling Coastal Risk“, was released this week with a webinar from Paris (slides here). I was proud that OECD’s Lisa Danielson, who also joined us in Halifax for our workshop on the case study last November, highlighted the Truro case during the session. The report features some excellent synthesis of learnings from the four case studies, as well as some novel analysis on cost-benefit ratios for adaptation action for the world’s coasts: sadly rural areas aren’t going to pay for themselves this way, so novel finance options will be needed.
OECD’s Lisa Danielson speaks to the Truro case study at the Rising Seas webinar, March 6, 2019