Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

Category: Infrastructure (page 1 of 2)

Funded MES projects for fall 2018

Students who are interested in starting a thesis-based MES in my lab starting fall 2018 should start getting in touch now. Early applicants, if high quality, can be put forward for important scholarships like the Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship program: its first round closes in late November.  I am looking particularly for students interested in the social perceptions and implications of energy installations such as wind and hydroelectricity. Backgrounds in sociology, art history, cultural studies, human geography, anthropology are particularly valuable for these roles, but the most important variables are interest and motivation:

  • One project will collaborate with me on a project led by John Parkins out of the University of Alberta, exploring wind energy transitions in Alberta. This research will include engagement with social media as a research tool (e.g. this), as well as quantitative surveys and possibly landscape visualization.
  • Another project is expected to be funded from a grant proposal currently under consideration, to explore the ways that images in social media and digital archives (e.g. newspapers) can help us understand the social impacts of hydroelectricity development over time, and if such insights differ significantly from those provided by conventional social science methods like surveys and interviews. Read this paper for more information.

If you think you have a good alignment with these topics, skills and backgrounds, please get in touch.

New year, new challenges

The mainland side of the Canso causeway, you can see the additional transmission capacity being constructed in preparation for the Maritime Link from Labrador's Muskrat Falls.

The mainland side of the Canso causeway, you can see the additional transmission capacity being constructed in preparation for the Maritime Link from Labrador’s Muskrat Falls.

Things are quiet on the blog as I start a new term (and new course, and new Senate term) after a year’s sabbatical.  A forced trip to Cape Breton increased the pressure, though it also occasioned reminders of my day job. I ran into Ducks Unlimited Canada collaborators in Sydney. We saw energy infrastructure being reinforced in preparation for the Maritime Link (above), as well as clear evidence of coastal storm damage that may have climate links (below). Right before term started I was asked by Natural Resources Canada to be the coordinating lead author for the Atlantic Canada chapter of the new National Climate Change Assessment. The last one was in 2008.  A daunting but welcome opportunity to serve.

A damaged boardwalk at Port Hood, Cape Breton.

A damaged boardwalk at Port Hood, Cape Breton.

The Bugle-Observer

Last week I visited my family’s lake cottage in New Brunswick, and did the usual dash in to the nearest town, Nackawic, for food and drinks. I grew up in Nackawic, and left in 1991 for university and beyond.  After 26 years it is often an uncomfortable outing, undertaken with stealth: I’m always worried I’ll see someone I should know but whose name eludes me. This trip was happily anonymous. I was able to linger in my annual nostalgia trip:  peering in the window of the bowling alley (which seems to have shut down without removing its Open sign); popping in to the post office where I was a frequent customer in the days well before digital (sending letters to many penpals, collecting stamps , and returning Columbia House monthly choices to avoid billing).

At the checkout of the grocery store,  I spied a headline on the regional paper, the Bugle-Observer, “Good News for future of Forest City Dam – maybe” (sadly paywalled). Anything dam-related catches my eye, so I grabbed it to read at the cottage, which has no TV or internet access. The future of the small dam that holds back the enormous East Grand Lake on the border between Maine and New Brunswick at Forest City is at question, motivating owners of the 2,000 cottages around its perimeter to organize to keep the water levels up. Under the fold was another story related to dams, also written by Doug Dickinson.  A fellow named “Hoot” was being inducted into the Atlantic Salmon Hall of Fame, and he “still names his favourite fishing spot as the long-gone Hartland pool” on the Becaguimec Stream that drained into the St. John:

That all changed after dams were constructed on the St. John River. Smith said the salmon fishing was still good after the Tobique Dam was built, but declined after the Beechwood Dam was finished. The Mactaquac Dam put an end to the Hartland Salmon Pool.

One of my new research interests is the use of digital archives to understand cultural change in regions that have faced infrastructure change like hydroelectric dams and related inundation.  Newspaper archives is one of those I’d like to explore in this way, so we can look back and understand how host communities are affected over time, and how they adjust. This newspaper would make for an interesting case: 50 years later dams are still front page news. What else hasn’t changed? The third front-page article: Meet Miss New Brunswick 2017″.

Energy Impacts Symposium

The cover slide of my Energy Impacts presentation, a synthesis of work on several fronts.

The cover slide of my Energy Impacts presentation, a synthesis of landscape work on several fronts.

The last two days I spent at the gigantic Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio (it has it’s own traffic radio station), in a gaggle of energy impacts social scientists. The Energy Impacts Symposium was a product of a US NSF Research Coordination grant co-held by Jeffrey Jacquet (OSU) and Julia Haggerty (MSU). The event brought together some great keynotes on energy issues, including Benjamin Sovacool on energy justice, Monica Ehrman on energy realism, and Janet Stephenson on long-term shifts in energy cultures. Despite the heavy and understandable focus on the US shale experience, given what Stephenson described as the American “state of siege” by that fuel, the commonwealth made a strong showing. In addition to Stephenson, from New Zealand (and Ehrman, a Canadian living in the US), there was a strong contingent of Australian, UK and Canadian academics across all stages. It was a great opportunity to catch up with friends like Tom Measham and expand networks in those of us working under Westminster settings, that (thankfully) results in very different outcomes in governance and on the ground.

The engagement with scholars across career levels was very strong thanks in part to a competitive ‘Symposium Fellow’ program. A number of ‘Fellows’ were Commonwealth: Bec Colvin (ANU, my alma mater), who gave a fantastic talk on social rifts as a result of wind energy consultation in King Island, Nichole Dusyk, working across hydro and pipelines in postdoctoral work at SFU, and Eryn Fitzgerald (UVic) who as a Masters student among PhD and postdocs won second on the poster award for her work on indigenous hydro in BC. Leah Stokes (originally Canadian, now UCSB) gave a great talk on the degree of public backlash from wind projects. This is not to slight the Americans, of course. I saw a great presentation by Weston Eaton (Penn State) on biomass crops, and Julia Haggerty on ‘social license to exit’, as well as super posters by scholars such as Kristin Smith (MSU), Chris Podeski (Bloomsburg U of Penn), Meryl Gardner (Delaware) and the talented Anne Junod (OSU). Such riches of relevant research solidifies for me the value of prioritizing the attendance of problem-based, rather than disciplinary, meetings.

I was honored to receive a travel award to attend this event on the strength of my submitted abstract, Toward a non-equilibrium model of change in cultural landscapes. I was also grateful that the funding gave me a hard deadline for doing this planned synthesis around landscape emerging from SSHRC-funded work on energy (hydro and dam removal, renewable transitions) and agricultural dykelands. This presentation will now be converted to a chapter for a collected volume being co-edited by the conference steering committee this fall.

Everything Now!

A balm to my sketchy mood on this unsettled Friday is Arcade Fire’s new anthem of consumerism, Everything Now. Besides its irresistible groove, the video is a showcase of energy landscapes and other used up utilitarian infrastructure, and the lyrics skewer the attitudes that propagate our footprint:

Every inch of sky’s got a star
Every inch of skin’s got a scar
I guess that you’ve got everything now

The only way it could be more perfect for my research program would be if there were some livestock trundling through that rangeland. Happy weekend, everyone.

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