Kate Sherren

Landscapes - People - Global change

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Renewed resistance to wind energy in NS

The Amherst wind farm emerges from a blizzard as my train carriage whips past, April 2022.

Interesting to see new resistance emerging to wind energy in NS, using disappointingly familiar language. For instance, in Inverness County last week, to paraphrase, we’re not opposed to wind energy, of course, but this is the wrong place for it. A few weeks ago I submitted a letter to a process that was underway in the Municipality of Cumberland to review their wind turbine regulations, as a result of conflict over the proposed Higgins Mountain wind project. I drew on research by MES students Ellen Chappell and Mehrnoosh Mohammadi in that letter (it is included as Appendix C, p. 46-47,  in Plan Cumberland’s Public Engagement report of their review).  Ellen’s thesis work showed that wind energy support is quite strong in the Amherst area, even among those who can see wind turbines currently. Mehrnoosh’s work on renewable energy in amenity landscapes like vineyards showed that visitors accept that landscapes are for more than just the reason they are visiting. In fact, if vineyards brag about their energy infrastructure, it is possible that visitors will see it as an asset. Resistance threatens the next phase of Nova Scotia’s energy transition, and is characteristic of climax thinking: erroneously believing that our landscapes are in a final and stable state. A few highlights to my letter to Plan Cumberland follow:

I believe it is important to transition to what is often called a ‘multifunctional’ landscape norm, where we allow for a layering of energy into other land uses. In Canada we have not had to do much of this yet thanks to our large area, but others have. In NS we must learn how to as our population grows and electrification proceeds to reduce carbon emissions. Evidence from some national survey work I have collaborated on (also attached) suggests it is good for us to be exposed to the energy sources on which we depend. This strengthens our support for renewable modes, and may in fact inspire decisions to conserve energy, which I’ll talk more about next. The truth is that energy has a footprint—and deserves a footprint—in our lives. Hiding that footprint only makes us less likely to understand our dependency and its costs. …

… When it came to trying to predict people’s willingness to have wind energy in view of their home the two strongest predictors were agreement to the following two statements:
• Seeing wind turbines from my home reminds me that electricity I use has to be generated somewhere.
• Energy is just a commodity; if we can develop it to sell elsewhere (e.g. New England), then we should.
… those who agreed to both statements have made a shift in their thinking: putting energy alongside other regional commodities as viable for export beyond local needs (as they do in more established energy-producing regions and potentially enabling a more resilient regional grid), while taking responsibility for bearing the costs of their own energy consumption too. …

Survey responses speak to the importance of being willing to tackle new challenges and seize new opportunities rather than hide from them by trying to hold landscapes as they are—particularly those designed for needs other than the ones we face today—or otherwise trying to exclude energy from ideas of what our landscape is ‘for’.

National Observer story on Chignecto Isthmus report

The story features this picture of TransCoastal's dyke realignment project (and signage) at Converse near Aulac on the Chignecto Isthmus joining NS to NB.

The story features this picture of TransCoastal’s dyke realignment project (and signage) at Converse near Aulac on the Chignecto Isthmus joining NS to NB.

CBC’s Moira Donovan has written an article for the National Observer about the new report on the future protection of the Chignecto Isthmus. When it came out there was some consternation in the TransCoastal Adaptations team that nature-based solutions like dyke realignment and tidal wetland restoration weren’t built into the solution. There is at least 15 years of local research on the value of such approaches, and a great time series of dyke realignments to learn more from, but consulting engineers clearly aren’t leveraging it yet. The report options seem designed instead to prioritize agricultural land values and thus ‘hold the line’ with higher and stronger walls. Not even the NS Department of Agriculture that manages the dyke system on this side of the Bay has the ethos that all current dykelands can be maintained in the face of climate change.  NSERC ResNet is looking to understand the tradeoffs involved in these and other dykeland decisions, including complex dynamics such as carbon tradeoffs, salt water intrusion, and cultural implications across a range of constituencies.

March announcements

It is the usual frantic end-of-term time, compounded by COVID uncertainties and some family health issues, but I can’t let March go by without a post. There has been a lot happening worth exclaiming about.

First, ResNet postdoc Lara Cornejo started her fellowship remotely early this month, while she waits for her work permit to be approved. She is starting by working on modelling some of the pollination service delivery in dykelands and tidal wetlands based on fieldwork by Evan and Terrell from SMU.

Second, Brooke McWherter, currently a PhD candidate at Purdue University under the wonderful Dr. Zhao Ma, learned that she won a Mitacs Elevate postdoctoral fellowship to come work with me for two years. Her project will start in August, and will follow the new Advanced Grazing Management farmer peer-mentorship program being launched this year by Canadian Forage and Grassland Association and Farmers for Climate Solutions. Huge thanks to the latter for being the official host of this Mitacs. Brooke will unfortunately soon get to experience the work permit uncertainty that Lara is experiencing now.

Third, IDPhD applicant Robin Willcocks Musselman, already an MES alum, learned she won a Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship to supplement her study on my climax thinking SSHRC this fall. Robin will hopefully be looking longitudinally at experiences of flood displacement along the St. John River, as well as potentially elsewhere, to understand not only place disruption but processes of place adaptation and attachment.

Not bad for a single month. Welcome, Lara, and brava Brooke and Robin!

Two papers in PECS collection

A special article collection in Ecosystems & People on “Ten Years of the Program on Ecosystem Change and Society” (i.e. PECS), features two papers that I have co-authored. The first, led by Elena Bennett, indomitable NSERC ResNet PI, came out back in December: Facing the challenges of using place-based social-ecological research to support ecosystem service governance at multiple scales. This paper uses the ResNet structure of landscape case studies (including our Bay of Fundy dykelands) and integrative themes as an opportunity to explore the challenges of knowledge integration we face, and how we are trying to tackle those. The second paper was led by a close colleague since my time at ANU, Joern Fischer, and just came out this week: Using a leverage points perspective to compare social-ecological systems: a case study on rural landscapes. This one uses the leverage points framework to generalize insights across three large-scale social-ecological studies on which Joern has been a or the lead in Australia, Romania and Ethiopia. I love working with these big-thinking ecologists, especially when the modes of synthesis are as transparent and low tech as demonstrated in these papers, rather than massively complex computer models.

New paper: Extinction of experience

Figure 2 in Jaric et al. (2002) conveying the causes and consequences of societal extinction of species

A new  Opinion paper with my European colleagues Ivan Jaric, Ricardo Correia and others is out today in Trends in Ecology and Evolution on the Societal extinction of species.  It is always fun and intellectually challenging to engage with this team of scholars on questions at the human-environment interface. Thanks to Ivan Jaric for his leadership and good humour in the face of mind-blowing track-changes!

**Update on February 26th to remark on the remarkable coverage this paper has received. One of the co-authors is tracking it and has found pieces in media, podcasts and blogs in English, French, Spanish, German, Vietnamese, Estonian, Portuguese, Italian, Korean, Hebrew, Finnish, Chinese, Polish, Dutch, Romanian, and Lithuanian. Pages of links, far too many to post here. An example is this piece by GrrlScientist in Forbes Magazine. As of today, the paper is #12 of all papers ever in TREE journal based on Altmetrics.

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