Thursday, 11 June 2015

Post 52: Charlottetown, Climate Change, and the East Coast!

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Climate Change in Culture Conference put on by the fantastic group at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPI). What a phenomenal conference!! And three cheers to Dr. John McIntyre and his co-star Jordan McIntyre -- it was a delight to be greeted in person, by name, at the conference registration table, and while I didn't see John's presentation, I was immensely intrigued by Jordan's, which covered "The 'Scandal' of Climate Science." 

Bit of background (just in case this is new news for some): since September of last year I've been working part time as a research assistant for a climate change and adaptation project led by Dr. Johanna Wolf. Partly for experience, definitely for interest and concern, and partly for helping to keep me in Victoria while I finish up my mountain pine beetle thesis. 

Our project budget allows for sending us to a couple of conferences, and Charlottetown was the first that we went to to present some of our preliminary findings!! SO MUCH FUN! I really loved and appreciated the collaborative building of the presentation with Johanna as we prepared for the conference, even if it had us making edits after 9PM when we should be getting ready for bed after a long day of travel! :) But such is the nature of the work sometimes. 

One thing I did not expect: the challenge of the timezone difference! PEI is 4 hours ahead of BC. So when it's 10 PM in Charlottetown, it's 6PM in Kaslo. And my body was not able to adjust to a reasonable bedtime because my internal clock was not having it! So I had several nights of 2AM because I couldn't fall asleep. I ended up getting a chest cold after the conference that's still clearing up, and between the hours of sitting, perhaps not eating as much or as well as I usually do, and the stress and excitement of the conference, my immune system was down for a bit. Whammo: enter the chest cold! Ah well. It is definitely easier going west with the timezones than it is going east. 

The Parliamentary buildings in Charlottetown!
And for the first time I met an academic that I was super excited to meet -- Dr. Andrew Light! He was one of three keynote speakers. I had read some of his older work, and he was an author in the Novel Ecosystems textbook that I've had my nose in for about 2 years now.  A philosopher by trade, he's on leave to serve as a Senior Adviser to the Special Envoy on Climate Change in the US Department of State. The talk he gave really put into perspective for me what we can expect of the climate negotiations later this year in Paris later this year. I feel slightly less pessimistic about the prospect of countries getting their act together to address climate change (both mitigation and adaptation) in light of the heavy-weight institutional infrastructures that need moving in order to get that action going, before we're really committed to serious warming beyond 2 degrees Celsius. 

So much love for the colourful houses in PEI
The presentations were fantastic, the topics wide-ranging and interesting, and I definitely feel like my brain got stretch in a really pleasant way. What really struck me after listening to presentations for several days, was how different the presentation formats were. I'm not saying one was necessarily better than the other, but I was surprised by how many people read out their papers, as opposed to focused on standing-up-with-a-slideshow-and-presenting-their-material-that-way that I've come to expect. While all the presentations were quite good, I found the read-aloud presentations were more difficult to engage with, and lacked slides for some of the basic things such as the names of the people they were talking about. I suppose that is feedback that I'd give some of the presenters, especially because this was a multi-disciplinary conference, and as some with social science training, I found this to be a barrier to fully enjoying and maximizing my understanding and engagement with some of the presentations outside of my discipline. As well, I feel it would only be fair to acknowledge that I am a visual learner, too, and so am definitely someone who benefits from both seeing content and hearing it. 

Conference Field Trip!! 

We had one, and it was fantastic, and it really brought home for me how different climate change is affecting both the east and west coasts of Canada, and how much warmer the Atlantic ocean is than the Pacific. 

PEI is an island made mostly of softer materials: sand and limestone. It's already experience a fairly significant amount of shoreline erosion; one local and well-known story that Erin Taylor ( Department of Environment, Labour and Justice, Government of PEI) mentioned during her talk (fantastic panel on Climate Change, Land Use, and Planning on PEI) was of a resident who still pays about a dollar a year in property tax on the 99% flooded lot that he still owns, which has been in his family for a while. But it is gone! It's underwater! Only a corner of it remains. 

PEI and Charlottetown apparently had a significant scare with Hurricane Sandy a few years ago; early projections for the path of the hurricane had it set right for the middle of PEI, and the storm surges would have been massive! Hope Parnham (Dv8 Consulting), another presenter, shared that this is when the city really woke up to realizing how under-prepared it was to deal with some of the extreme events that Charlottetown can expect in a climate changed world. [[Sidenote: It's not that the numbers of hurricanes are increasing, but that their paths of travel are changing: they're heading further poleward, as seen with Sandy, and their intensity is increasing (thanks for the science brief PCIC!!). Sandy fortunately changed it's trajectory a bit, and was downscaled to a tropical storm by the time it hit Charlottetown.]] It was fortunate that Hope was able to pull together some of the recent work she and other had been doing to get some really quick progress done with the municipalities and government to think about and through what it meant to prepare for climate change. 

So with all of that in mind, we headed for a beach walk, led by the local climatologist Dr. Adam Fenech. We boarded the bus to Greenwich, and half an hour later, ended up at the North Shore of PEI! The beach looked like this, and it was spectacular: 

Warm winds, talks of bees and farmers with a fellow conference-goer on this red-sand beach; deee-lightful! 

The winds were warm, the company was excellent, and I really fell in love with the Island. I bumped into Dr. Roger Wheate from the University of Northern British Columbia who I'd met at the Thinking Mountains Conference in Jasper only 3 weeks earlier (so heartwarming! Many hugs!). I also bonded with Dr. Laurie Brinklow during that walk as well,  who kindly shared her book of poetry with me (I'm currently reading and enjoying it!). Hers was the first story I'd heard of someone from out west and in British Columbia that went east, stepped onto PEI, and said "This is home." I'm used to hearing stories happen the other way around! 

Charlottetown is a wonderful small city. I stayed in a hotel right on the harbour-front, could walk up the downtown main streets that there were, and in retrospect I'm amazed that it's a city of about 35,000! It didn't feel like it at all. And everyone was friendly and kind and helpful when I needed a hand with directions. The buildings are similar to what they are on the UVic campus: few tower about tree height, so everything feels nicely on an engaging human scale. 

The Charlottetown waterfront, though my view was slightly different, and sans the cruise ships. 
I definitely wish I'd had more time to explore and take in the city. Many thanks for the meals shared, conversations talked, and thoughtful engagement with a number of others at the conference. I almost got to meet everyone, and it was very, very rewarding to do so.

Short note: unfortunately my phone battery died, and as it was my main source of photo-taking, I will need to post some of the few photos I snapped later when I get the new battery mailed to me. The photos I used on this page are sourced thanks to the Internet! 

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