The fall speaker series for the MacEachen Institute for Public Policy and Governance has been announced, and I’m excited to be sharing the stage with some great minds on Oct 15th to talk about climate change adaptation policy in Atlantic Canada. Additional to a bio I was asked to provide an answer to “why does policy matter?”. I gave the shortest answer: “because empathy is failing us”.
1:30 am again so might as well reflect on another solid day at ISSRM. A late start for me today thanks to that insomnia. First I had a fun mentoring session over lunch with two up-and-coming female scholars, one finishing her PhD and one pre-tenure. I love participating in the mentoring program each year at ISSRM and appreciate folks like Paige Fischer organizing it.
Next I headed to an energy transitions panel (above) which was a bit of a follow-on from one I organized last year. This time Tom Measham (CSIRO) organized and chaired, and I served on the panel with Rich Stedman, Jeffrey Jacquet and keynote Neil Adger . It was a great turnout, and resulted in a really rich discussion about myths, subjectivity, governance and equity in the context of energy transitions. Lots of food for thought. We five started consuming that intellectual nourishment in barley form later at the ‘Pipes of Scotland’ bar which four of us closed down at midnight.
Immediately after the panel it was off to the field trips, mine to Norrbyskär, a fascinating island community that was designed around lumber production in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Ruled on principles of temperance, paternalism, and clear social hierarchies, the island was entirely engineered: saw and planing mill joined by raised railways, and lumber drying structures everywhere not taken over by regimented housing and other buildings. Today the houses are occupied by seasonal residents, but the island hosts a great museum and cafe with a delightful scale model (left), and a miniature set of buildings for kids to play in. They had skilled and knowledgeable tour guides, and offered a diverse dinner of traditional swedish fare.
A wonderfully quirky addition was an end-of-year art exhibit by Umea Academy of Fine Arts students in an adjoining room. It was not obvious that the art show was open because of a downed banner at the entry. Turned out that was one of the art pieces: Josefine Ostlund’s We’re Building Natural Habitat (material description: “Banner from construction site”). Students visited in May and describe that they felt ‘watched’ by the empty houses, so reflect on the place in terms of “power, architecture and dreams”. It was wonderfully uncommercial work. Neil Adger’s favourite was Suffering is optional, by Linnea Johnels, material description “Beds, gun holes”, which she describes as “working with the frustration and worry that forces itself on you at night”. I can relate. Godnatt.
Yesterday I was invited to participate in a four-person panel discussing “the impact of climate change on sustainable food production; minimizing on-farm climate related risks“, at the Canadian Society for Bioengineering meeting currently being held in Halifax. As a social scientist (certainly the only one on the panel, possibly in the room) I really enjoyed the opportunity to engage with individuals tackling the technical solutions to climate change mitigation (e.g. bioenergy) and adaptation (e.g. water management) about social license and political will. Contributions covered some challenges and solutions, including meeting the increasing unpredictability of agricultural inputs with a resilience approach, re-engineering landscapes for ecosystem function and diversity. I also discussed the importance of understanding farmer perceptions and uptake of new techniques and technologies, increasingly challenging given the dearth of spatial and social science data infrastructure (e.g. farmer databases for surveys, commodity and soils maps) and given the poor state of agricultural extension in this country. Tradition is a powerful thing in agricultural settings, and what it means to be a ‘good farmer’ will take time to shift, for farmers and policy-makers. We have a limited set of policy instruments: information (education), persuasion (moral appeals), assistance (incentives) and regulation, but perhaps the most important of all is to look first – before making new policy – to see if there are any perverse policies in place that discourage useful action. Perverse incentives that encourage the delaying of adaptation, like event-based insurance, serve as buffers that will not prepare farming well for new climate futures.