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.
I looked out our windows at that mill for 14 years and yet can’t figure out where they took that photo from.
Very proud to read this opinion piece by Rob Sherren (damn straight, relation) in the Globe and Mail yesterday, The market doesn’t care about your community. A hard truth, and one that explains much industrially derived grief today from Alberta to Ontario to Nova Scotia. Industry is more than economy, it is culture and identity and community. I find it interesting that the bio lists Rob’s work as the ‘energy sector’, which in these days of government pipelines and bailouts is usually code for the oil and gas sector, but my brother develops wind farms.
Everyone is eager to hear about the coastal protection policy in development.
Fun with flood maps.
Over the past few months I’ve been leading the writing up of a recent dyke realignment and salt marsh restoration project in Truro for an OECD report called Responding to Rising Seas, due out in January 2019. Co-authors are those who designed and implemented the case study from Saint Mary’s University and CB Wetlands and Environmental Services. The Truro case study is one of four cases explored in the report; others are in the UK, Germany and New Zealand. We culminated that case study with an all-day workshop November 21 at SMU on ‘scaling up the insights’ from the Truro case study. Requested by NRCan, funded by Lisa Danielson of the OECD’s Paris office, and hosted by Danika van Proosdij at SMU, we had sessions on policy, financing, engineering and human dimensions. Thirty attendees joined from across all scales of government, NGOs, First Nations and the private sector (as well as a few academics, but that couldn’t be helped). The various conversations and interactions knitted together some previously isolated groups working in parallel, and it felt very much like a day well spent. We hope attendees felt the same way.
Our in-house SRES Legacy Scholarships will be offered again in 2019, and I have pitched in a project called, Last one in, shut the door: Understanding local experiences of urban densification. It is one of up to 8 projects available to high-performing Canadian students who are thinking early for our next MES intake. A short description of my pitch follows; get in touch if you think you’re a good fit:
Most of us now live in cities. Experts advocate for more compact urban forms, rather than sprawl, to improve carbon footprints, as well as cultural vitality, economic activity and public health in cities. Compact cities are more walkable and have more effective public transit, and the numbers of people working and sleeping there are boons for businesses and cultural institutions alike. For most cities to become compact requires the densification of existing neighbourhoods. Like renewable energy, densification goals are often supported in general, but support weakens upon application. Locals often fight to maintain the status quo in the face of densification developments. The success of those residents depends in part on their social position. This research will explore the local experiences of urban densification planning, using case studies yet to be determined and the emerging concept of ‘climax thinking’, to identify social leverage points for urban transformation towards sustainability.