Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

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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.

Convenient untruths in Alberta

Last week brought fascinating insight around energy transitions in rural Alberta, which feel worth discussing the day after President Trump pulled the USA out of the Paris Accord. The last day of my field trip there with colleague John Parkins and a few students we spent investigating the context of a wind energy proposal. We visited a local councillor/reeve for the municipal district, the host landowners and some opponents in our mini case study. It produced much food for thought. This post is name and hyperlink-free to avoid identifying the specific proposal, or the generous folks who gave their time to talk to us.

Some interesting issues arose in those discussions that are not commonly part of the discourse elsewhere, such as the lack of regulation around wind infrastructure, including end-of-life remediation and responsibility. This was raised by the eloquent reeve, as well as one of the opponents. It was a good reminder that just because regulation generally comes as a result of mistakes or accidents, we should not wait until that happens to develop strong expectations and governance. It would be unlikely, but awful, if turbines were orphaned in the way that so many oil and gas wells are in Alberta.

Even more compelling, however, was the way that industrial history, social dynamics and politics drove discourse among opponents. Most of the farmers in this area host oil and gas wells or compressor stations on their properties, and earn good money doing so. Some of these make noise, and some smell, and sometimes there are spills. But such risk and/or disbenefit has been normalized: this is the way that it has been for a long time. Similarly very large farming infrastructure like grain bins and elevators are accepted in the landscape as “the way we make our living”. This is the same way the landowners hoping to host the wind farm see it: just another way to make money off their land. They are ready to bear any disbenefits from hosting, but they largely dismiss such concerns. They see the opposition as a response in part to their cultural difference, which sets them apart from the local community, and the annoyance of others at the success of their livelihood model.

Despite this highly utilitarian landscape, and sparse population, a few of their neighbours asserted that wind presented more risks, e.g. to nearby grandchildren, than the oil and gas exploration or climate change itself.  Every possible reason for wind opposition was touched upon, but without clear evidence, apparently in part fed by the online echo chamber. We heard strong  denial of human-caused climate change.  Renewables were seen as useful only for when oil and gas ran out. Otherwise we heard that renewables were unnecessary because of new ‘clean’ (and conveniently distant) coal and gas thermal plants. These voices did not differentiate between visible particulate pollution and invisible greenhouse gas emissions. The key opponent was a longstanding member of the community with many relationships to leverage; it will be interesting to see if the social implications prevail.

2017 spring convocation

MES graduand Yan Chen and her parents with me.

MES graduand Yan Chen and her parents with me.

Congratulations to our Spring 2017 graduands who convocated yesterday. Despite playing hooky from the ceremony itself, I was really pleased to see some of the students I worked with and their families. Yan Chen’s parents had come all the way from China to see her cross the stage (above) to receive her MES based on work on Instagram in my lab. Caitlin Cunningham’s parents were visiting from St. Catharines to see her receive her MES on mapping pollination services and potential, based on work led by Peter Tyedmers that I enjoyed helping with. Finally, I got to give a hug to Mhari Lamarque, graduating MREM, who did her internship with DUC and is now working for DUC and I both.  Such events are one of the more satisfying parts of being a professor.

Rural Alberta field visits

Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.

Don Ruzicka, the sage, explains what he does and why to colleague John Parkins and U of A grad students.

Great to be here in Alberta and finally getting boots on the ground at some Canadian farms using Holistic Management or its variants. Tuesday we met farmers Steve and Amber Kenyon at Greener Pastures near Busby, at their custom grazing operation, as well as their farming friends from Athabasca, Rusty and Agnes. Steve calls what he does ‘sustainable grazing’ and combines ideas from a range of thinkers including Allan Savory, as well as running his own training. Later that day we met former HM trainer Noel McNaughton, and the next day one of his star students, Don Ruzicka at Sunrise Farms, over near Wainwright. The weather is apocalyptic, but there is nothing like getting into the field, talking to people and looking at landscape to help you shape research so it really matters.

Announcing BioLOG 3.0

The masthead of BioLOG 3.0

The masthead of BioLOG 3.0

Announcing the third version of our farm extension website, BioLOG (Biodiversity Landowners’ Guide), a reboot funded by the ECCC SARPAL funding to the NSFA for the new Wood Turtle Strides (WTS) program. Nova Scotia DNR originally funded this project to supplement their Agricultural Biodiversity Conservation program after our evaluation of it. Thanks to WTS program manager Simon Greenland-Smith for shepherding the process.

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