Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Month: September 2015 (page 2 of 2)

Energy survey results

Louise Comeau delivering findings on our national energy survey findings (photo: Tania Cheng).

Louise Comeau delivering findings on our national energy survey findings (photo: Tania Cheng).

On Wednesday, Fredericton-based collaborator Dr. Louise Comeau presented results from our fall 2014 national energy survey to a conference in Toronto hosted by the Energy Exchange on Energy Literacy. About 70 people were there from industry, education, government, industry associations and academia. By all accounts the response was positive, particularly on the differences between genders that Louise and others have teased from the data. The full report and some papers are still pending, but some analysis of the impact of trust on participation has also been presented and is currently being written up.

Marginal land survey update

An eloquent note by a Nova Scotia farmer, accompanying his completed Marginal Land survey.

An eloquent note by a Nova Scotia farmer, accompanying his completed Marginal Land survey.

We have an approximately 25% response rate so far from our Marginal Land survey of Nova Scotia farmers, after two postcards and one survey mailout. We are hoping that this week’s survey mailout will get us up to our 33% response target. It is a difficult time of year to be surveying farmers, a necessity brought on by our funding horizon, so we’ve been secretly hoping for rain so that farmers haven’t got ‘better things to do’. We are thrilled with the rich data so far; some farmers even insert additional notes such as the one above, to help us understand their perspective. One farmer even sent a note apologizing that “the dog ate my survey”, to explain the condition in which it arrived back with us.

Industrial skylines

The smokestacks from the now-decommissioned generating station in Dalhousie, NB, were finally demolished today.

The smokestacks from the now-decommissioned generating station in Dalhousie, NB, were finally demolished today.

It is remarkable how locals can get attached to man-made infrastructure, even that which has no aesthetic value to an outside observer. The smokestacks in the now-decommissioned power station in Dalhousie, NB, were finally demolished today after a failed attempt August 16. They have been standing since 1969, and the plant’s closure represents the third in a line of industrial closures, starting with AbitibiBowater Pulp and Paper and Olin Corp in 2008. What is notable to me is the coverage about the value of these stacks as a local landmark. According to the Mayor, “…losing the smokestacks will be a major loss to the community’s skyline”:

It’s gonna be sad to a certain point because we give direction to people in and out of town. Where do I go and how do I find one route? Well, you just gotta have a look at the smokestacks in or out of town, and then you’ll find your way.

Such attachment to industrial heritage  and landscape has often been described in post-industrial England, but not often in ‘new world’ countries like Canada. There is a lot of infrastructure reaching the end of its life, some of which may no longer be fit for purpose. We will see even more of this as the large number of smaller and more distributed installations (e.g. wind turbines) reach their own use-by date.  How we respond as a culture to the need to re-write landscape to suit new challenges or opportunities, or calls to memorialize past ones, will have a big impact on our capacity to adapt.

Feral is as feral does

The Canadian edition of Monbiot's book Feral has a new introduction with harsh words for Canada's environmental trajectory.

The Canadian edition of Monbiot’s book Feral has a new introduction with harsh words for Canada’s environmental trajectory.

Few books have stimulated so much thinking, and coalesced so many of my existing ideas, as George Monbiot’s book Feral: Rewilding the Land, the Sea and Human Life. I owe a debt to Simon Greenland-Smith, who gave it to me after his thesis defense as a thank you. Monbiot makes a many-faceted argument for re-wilding of a new (and sometimes radical) kind. He is not for restoration that turns back the clock, holding a landscape in a nostalgic level of human modification, suppressing succession or ignoring the changing global conditions. Rather, he’d like to see us take a chance and remove such pressures and see what new ecosystems emerge (barring introducing an elephant or two). In his own words (p. 10):

…I have no desire to try to re-create the landscapes or ecosystems that existed in the past, to reconstruct – as if that were possible – primordial wilderness. Rewilding, to me, is about resisting the urge to control nature and allowing it to find its own way. It involves reintroducing absent plants and animals (and in a few cases culling exotic species which cannot be contained by native wildlife), pulling down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, but otherwise stepping back. At sea, it means excluding commercial fishing and other forms of exploitation. The ecosystems that result are best described not as wilderness, but as self-willed: governed not by human management but their own processes. Rewilding has no end points, no view about what a ‘right’ ecosystem or a ‘right’ assemblage of species looks like. … It lets nature decide.

The ecosystems that will emerge, in our changed climates, on our depleted soils, will not be the same as those which prevailed in the past. … While conservation often looks to the past, rewilding of this kind looks to the future.

The Common Agricultural Policy is given scathing treatment, for incentivizing continued grazing and mowing land even where production is not needed or even productive. He lambasts conservation groups for maintaining grazing in parks to retain the species that existed under that pressure. He draws on shifting baseline syndrome, which we recently used in the Mactaquac Dam case work, to reveal the landscape impacts of otherwise benign generational forgetting. He describes re-wilding as re-introducing humans to landscape as much as native species (although he leans heavily on the economic benefits of tourists to replace production, an economy that will have limits in terms of scale, especially for places with a long winter). But he seeks to keep people like farmers in the picture; increase their options rather than erase them (p. 11-12):

I do not think that extensive rewilding should take place on productive land. It is better deployed in the places – especially in the uplands – in which production is so low that farming continues only as a result of the taxpayer’s generosity. … It should happen only with the consent and enthusiasm of those who work on the land. It must never be used as an instrument of expropriation or dispossession.

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