Landscapes - People - Global change

Category: Islands (Page 1 of 4)


A view from my morning commute on Tuesday, along Quinpool Road; a silver hatchback still sits crushed under that tree.

As September comes to a close, the whole Atlantic region is still reeling from the impact of Hurricane/Tropical storm Fiona, which hit last Friday night and Saturday morning. Many remain without power and/or out of their homes and–most horrifyingly–some have lost their homes and/or their lives in the storm. Many beautiful coastal towns and holiday communities lie shattered, and sad, scary stories abound: I even knew the person missing and presumed lost on the NS coast. My home and family were thankfully spared, and we’ve started feeling a bit guilty about this as the recovery ahead looks so long for so many.

There will need to be a time, however, after the first stage of emergency response and before the recovery process begins in earnest, to ask questions about how and where that should happen. I think some people feel like a big storm like this is so rare and unlikely that once it is past, they are safe for a good while. That is not how it works, unfortunately, and certainly not anymore. With climate change these outsize events will become more common, so this storm is a very stern warning to those who live in vulnerable coastal areas. People may think the changes associated with the climate will come slowly and they’ll have time to react and to decide, but storms like this show they likely won’t. Change will be noisy and unpredictable, not gradual. What we have seen is an extreme form of unmanaged retreat. It’s the worst case scenario, but we’ll have more of if we don’t listen to the lessons Fiona offers and be proactive.

There is a policy window now to consider managed retreat in a coordinated way that supports local communities to reimagine what it might look like to thrive coastally. I did a little media for the Toronto Star and Toronto’s News 1010 morning show in the last 24 hours about this. There will be a lot of insurance and emergency response money flowing, sooner or later. I hope that the political pressure to use such funds to rebuild in situ, regardless the risk, can be shifted to a broader conversation about the resilience that comes from leaving more space for the ocean to do its thing. It’s thing is dynamic, and against that dynamism hard infrastructure will always have it’s limits. Getting out of the way won’t. Yes, this might mean sacrifice, for instance new regulations and constraints on land long-held and cherished (such as the setbacks proposed in Nova Scotia’s Coastal Protection Act), or a lower tax base for municipalities. The conversations won’t be easy and the implications will be uneven, falling at times on people who will need more public support than others to accomplish it. But we should tackle it as a shared challenge, a duty not only to current generations but also future ones.

Last week I was doing revisions for a paper and a reviewer pushed back against the estimation of the length of the Nova Scotia coastline that I had included in my paper. I looked around and found others had used mine but also two other dramatically different numbers. In the end I decided not to include a length, because, well, how do you measure a coastline anyhow? But it is always constantly changing, as the recent PEI pre/post imagery shows quite well.  An unavoidable lesson from Fiona is that coastal stability is an illusion. We need to learn to live with that fact.


Falkland leverage points paper

Table 2 from the proof version of our leverage points paper.

Table 2 from the proof version of our leverage points paper.

This week another paper is out in Journal of Rural Studies from my lab, this time a paper led by former postdoc Wes Tourangeau based on my 2016 sabbatical field work in the Falklands. We used the re-emergent Leverage Points framework, originally developed by Donella Meadows, to analyze the management strategies used by Falkland wool producers in the face of a drying climate. Up until the 1980s the landscape was divided into massive properties, run largely ranch-style by locals for overseas owners. With post-war land reforms, properties were broken into largely family-sized units, and here the practices began to diverge. We’ve mapped those various strategies  along the leverage points framework. All the strategies have some leverage, but the Holistic Management practitioners are working much ‘deeper’ with their systems thinking and goal setting. The paper uses many quotes to illustrate how these play out in practice and affect the day-to-day and longer term.

Sample worksheets for holistic planning and monitoring used by one Falkland farm.

Sample worksheets for holistic planning and monitoring used by one Falkland farm.

New Falklands paper on tussac

Falkland farmers Ben Berntsen @ben_benebf and Marilou Delignières (also guide and co-author) among Ben's tussac restoration at Cape Dolphin, Falkland Islands, Nov 2016.

Falkland farmers Ben Berntsen @ben_benebf and Marilou Delignières (also guide and co-author) among Ben’s tussac restoration at Cape Dolphin, Falkland Islands, Nov 2016.

Thanks to Wes Tourangeau, the first paper is now out in People and Nature (open access) from my sabbatical trip to the Falklands back in late 2016. This emerged from my mild obsession with the 2 m high tussac grasses that once fringed the archipelago. Tussac are critical ecologically but are so delicious to stock they only tend to remain on ungrazed outer islands (which are actually called ‘tussac islands’ as a result). I never saw any up close on my first trip in 2015, which stuck quite close to Stanley, but was lucky to get out to camp in 2016 to meet some farmers who were passionate about the plant and its restoration. This paper is an environmental history of tussac in the Falklands, from its first observation by explorers, to its exploitation and its hopeful renewal despite integration in production.

Wes off to SMU

Wes Tourangeau's last day, with a pile of library books to return.

Wes Tourangeau’s last day, with a pile of library books to return.

The HM project is winding up, now in its extension year with SSHRC, and that means staffing is starting to contract. Really sad to see postdoc Wes Tourangeau heading out the door this week after 22 months, but happy that he is starting an important new stage of his career as a limited term appointment at Saint Mary’s University. As he leaves he has one paper out and five papers in first or second review–five of those six he led–across a wide range of topics and methods. That pile of library books includes works on the Falklands and its wool economy, statistics, environmental ethics, environmental history and more. I feel very lucky to have had such a rigorous and adaptable scholar work with me for such a duration. Best of luck, Wes!

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