Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Month: August 2015 (page 2 of 2)

The Sentimentalists

Would you take this book to have a dam-building theme?

Would you take this book to have a dam-building theme?

I am always amazed at how books choose me, sometimes. Johanna Skibsrud’s Giller Prize-winning The Sentimentalists jumped out from a Halifax Central Library shelf after a stolen hour there refereeing a  journal manuscript (I rejected it). The cover wasn’t particularly promising, but I flipped it and the second paragraph of the blurb on the back read, “He retreats to a small Ontario town where Henry, the father of his fallen Vietnam comrade, has a home on the shore of a manmade lake. Under the water is the wreckage of what was once the town–and the home where Henry was raised.” I took it home.

I have read a few other books about dam-related inundation, starting with Flood (1963), by Robert Penn Warren. My torn 1964 copy was picked up at Berkelouw’s Book Barn a decade ago and pleasingly includes cancelled stamps inside the cover from the American Merchant Marine Library Association (Boston, MASS) and the Ship’s Company Library, HMAS Brisbane. I think that book started a renaissance in my reflection on the place where I grew up, on to today’s scholarly interest, but I have noted since then the use made of impending or past dam impoundment in pop culture, for dynamic tension (consider the movie Deliverance, for instance) or as shorthand for suppressed history, injustice and loss of place. There is a cultural studies thesis in this somewhere.

I’ll leave you with a sample of the narrator’s voice in The Sentimentalists, in a place where it startlingly echoes my own experience:

We must have known, and then ignored for lack of real evidence, that Henry, and a few others that we saw regularly around the lake, could still remember that original town. That they perhaps even felt that it was to the old rather than the new that they more fully belonged. But because they hardly spoke of it, they did not interrupt our dreaming, and perhaps were even instrumental in leading me, at that age, to the false presumption that a thing could, quite simply, be forgot. (p. 37)

New energy Q paper in Environmental Sociology

Our national energy project implemented Q-method interviews in Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick, where participants sorted a concourse of statements about energy beliefs, preferences and tradeoffs. A new paper in Environmental Sociology, Identifying energy discourses in Canada with Q methodology: moving beyond the environment versus economy debates, led by University of Alberta colleague John Parkins, discusses the five emergent discourses and their implications for advancing complex energy debates. It will be interesting to see how these discourses align, or not, with the large n (p-set) national sorting survey of the same statements that was implemented online last year. The abstract follows:

Drawing inspiration from the literature on social imaginaries and cultural models, this study explores contending perspectives on energy and sustainability, moving beyond a simplistic understanding of support or opposition to specific energy developments. With a comparative study in three regions of Canada, we use Q methodology to identify five key discourses on energy issues: (1) climate change is a primary concern, (2) maintain the energy economy, (3) build on the resilience of nature and local energy systems, (4) markets and corporations will lead and (5) renewable energy sources are the path forward. We find several under-examined perspectives on energy and society – one discourse that attempts to balance growth in the energy economy with environmental concern and another discourse that promotes the resilience of natural and local energy systems. We also find a proclivity towards science, ingenuity and technological innovation as a strategy to resolve contemporary challenges in the energy sector. This study helps to elaborate energy policy conversations beyond the common environment versus economy tropes. The study also reveals opportunities to forge common ground and mutual understanding on complex debates.

Mitacs Globalink internship opportunities for Summer 2016

Landrovers, researchers and penguins on a Falklands beach, January 2015 (photo: Carlos Andrade Amaya)

Landrovers, researchers and penguins on a Falklands beach, January 2015 (photo: Carlos Andrade Amaya)

A Canadian program called Mitacs Globalink brings high-achieving upper-year undergraduate students to Canada to work with researchers for 12 weeks. Eligible countries this year include Australia (a new addition), Brazil, China, France, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Vietnam. Applications are now open here for North American summer 2016 (closing Sept 24, 2015). It is a great program: it is currently funding Joy Wang to work in my lab monitoring tree cover under grazing via Google Earth Pro. For Summer 2016 I have submitted opportunities for two students on my new sustainable tourism landscapes and seascapes research work in the Falklands (see also here, if you are looking for a Masters project in this area). Broadly, one project is on spatial science, land cover and ecology, and the other related to ecotourism, visual sociology and social media. I am looking forward to interviewing this year’s crop of applicants later this fall. A summary of the above project (#7229) follows, but for more details, go to the Mitacs Globalink website.

The Falkland Islands are a remote British Overseas Territory east of Patagonia with a limited and contested land mass, unique ecosystem (including five species of penguins), and a historical reliance on renewable ecosystem goods and services to support its people, particularly grazing and fishing. Cruise ship tourism has become an increasingly important part of the local economy, and more recently, oil and gas exploration offshore has led to development for extraction. These four sectors interconnect in interesting and challenging ways and all have impacts on the local community and supporting ecosystems. I am using social and spatial methods to explore these landscape issues.

Two research projects within this larger domain are based on existing and secondary datasets and appropriate for involvement by short-term undergraduate research projects. The first is the use of existing GIS and aerial/satellite imagery going back 60 years to explore the impact on land cover of increasing numbers of tours to the King Penguin rookery at Volunteer Point. Poor transportation infrastructure outside of the main town of Stanley means that such tours are undertaken in Landrovers, sometimes tens of them at a time, which often fan out to avoid becoming bogged in peat.  Specifically, is repeated vehicle traffic increasing the amount of ponding in the peatlands being traversed, or otherwise changing vegetation cover? Can such patterns be linked to visitor numbers?

The second project will use social media to explore perceptions of the Falklands land and seascape as oil and gas exploration begins. Software can be used to extract rich observations in the form of text and photo from Twitter and Instagram, using either hashtags or geotags. These data can be analyzed to explore the visibility of oil and gas infrastructure, and understand perceived tradeoffs that this industry presents for the community, ecology and economy.

 

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