A new review written sources and studies in historical climatology of the tropics and subtropics has come out in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Authors David Nash (University of Brighton) and George Adamson (King’s College London) examine the potential of documentary evidence to extend back temperature, rainfall, El Niño/La Niña, and storm records […]
— Climate History Network
My book Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway (UBC Press, 2014) is now officially available! http://www.ubcpress.ca/search/title_book.asp?BookID=299174231 Negotiating a River: Canada, the US, and the Creation of the St. Lawrence Seaway: Daniel Macfarlane: 9780774826433: Books – Amazon.ca Buy from Amazon
— Daniel Macfarlane - Environmental and Transnational Historian
La prochaine séance de ce séminaire animé par Anna Trespeuch-Berthelot abordera le rôle joué par les passeurs du milieu intellectuel avec une présentation par Quentin Hardy de ses travaux universitaires sur la critique du progrès chez les non-conformistes des années 1930 et un échange avec Claude Fournier, ancienne directrice des éditions Terre vivante. Cette maison d’édition et sa revue Les quatre saisons du jardinage (27 000 abonnés aujourd’hui) ne cessent, depuis 1979, de diffuser des idées et des pratiques promouvant “un mode de vie respectueux de l’environnement et de la santé de l’homme”.
Les séances ont lieu le mercredi de 14h à 16h,
à l’IHTP, en salle 159
59-61 rue Pouchet 75017 Paris ;
M° Brochant ou Guy Môquet.
contact : firstname.lastname@example.org
— Le RUCHE
"The Edges of Environmental History" Published Online
— Rachel Carson Centre LMU - News and Events
It’s book launch month in Toronto and I am very excited to announce the launch event for Urban Explorations: Environmental Histories of the Toronto Region. This is an anthology published by the Wilson Institute for Canadian History and NiCHE that focuses on various aspects of Toronto’s environmental history. I wrote a chapter on the life and place of domestic animals in nineteenth-century Toronto. You can read that chapter here.
I hope you can join us on Friday, March 21 to celebrate all of the hard work that went into publishing this fantastic new book in environmental history.
— Sean Kheraj, Canadian History and Environment
I’m taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) from science studies guru Bruno Latour called “Scientific
Humanities.” As part of an assignment, I wrote about the idea of thermosyphons (including those being deployed at Giant Mine) as a “sociotechnical project.” I thought I’d share the post here:
The Thermosyphon: cold technology, hot issue.
As Prof. Latour tells us, “any object is only a temporary stage extracted from a series of transformations the initial project had to undergo to navigate a range of opponents and supporters…” (paraphrasing a bit here). So it seems to me (pace Lepawsky and Mather), that we need to start *in the middle* and avoid the implicit stability and linearity of the association/substitution diagram (even with its detours), while preserving the essential traceability of these relations and moves.
So, come with me to Northern Canada, to an abandoned mine just outside of Yellowknife, the capital of the Northwest Territories, where we encounter these strange, ranked, tube-like figures on the landscape, clearly not part of the old mine. They are **thermosyphons**, and here in Subarctic Canada (perhaps paradoxically), they are intended to keep the ground *frozen*, so as to protect people and nature. ![Thermosyhpons at Giant Mine]
Thermosyphons are at once a novel and mundane technology–[simple science], according to one news report–now at the centre of an intense controversy about how to properly remediate an abandoned mine and protect the local environment and communities from poisons buried in the mine. But to understand why this is controversial, we need to trace this project back to the point at which it moved from mundane, if somewhat clever technological object (no more fascinating, in some ways, than a straw), and forward to when it moved the centre of a dramatic debate about toxicity, climate change, and the future of human existence on earth.
Like so many ‘inventions,’ thermosyphons are at once simple and ingenious. They are a two-phase convection device that consists of an enclosed tube and a gas/fluid medium (carbon dioxide) that allows heat to be transmitted from one end of the tube to the other, with no artificial power or refrigeration. Their use in cold regions dates to the 1960s, but they really took off in the 1970s as they began to be used to solve problems of construction and ground stabilization in permafrost environments.
See, when people disturb the surface (vegetated or otherwise) of permafrost (areas of ground permanently frozen below a certain level, even in summer), that permafrost ground becomes unstable, which can lead to slumping, heaving, etc. In addition, the surface material in many northern regions isn’t really great construction material for dams and mine tailings facilities–it’s porous, and tends to leak and slump. So in the 1970s, engineers began experimenting with “frozen core” dams, using the natural cold of the environment to provide a solid barrier against water. Applying thermosyphons, they could ensure these dams would remain stable, even in the warmer summer months, by keeping the frozen core cold through the air/gas exchange process.
The same issues apply to the built environment: roads, railways, pipelines, buildings, etc., all tend to degrade permafrost; one way to keep the ground below these installations solid is to install themosyphons, which keep the ground nicely cold year-round. This technology is now widely used in circumpolar regions, including in Yellowknife, where the parking lot of the territorial legislature sports thermosyphons to keep the pavement (relatively) secure. It’s also used for hockey rinks. Very Canadian.
Behind (well, not far behind) this technology is a body of knowledge and suite of actors familiar to many northerners: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, for one, but also many mining and civil engineers, consultants, construction companies, town planners, and (likely) insurers, all with a common interest in keeping the ground cold, even as they transform it. Capital and entrepreneurs, too, play their role: as a recent [Wall Street Journal] article noted, the Alaska company Arctic Foundations now supplies the circumpolar world with thermosyphon technology. Indeed, as the article notes, the company and its technology have an ever-more important role to play as northern regions face a new challenge to their comfortably (?) familiar cold environment: climate change is rapidly altering permafrost regimes in the north and presenting new engineering challenges to industry and infrastructure in the region. Stay tuned: like the deus (diabolus?) ex machina, Klima will return in dramatic fashion to the thermosyphon story.
Thermosyphons to the rescue
The thermosyphon comes centre stage in this story as the proposed solution to the immense and frightening techno-political problem of how to deal with the toxic legacy of a bankrupt and abandoned gold mine in Yellowknife. The Canadian government, inheritors of this dubious legacy, conducted a series of engineering studies in the mid 2000s to find the best solution to the disposal–or securing–of the 237,000 tonnes of toxic arsenic trioxide left behind by mining that the local community feared would ultimately poison the environment. As the government’s [Giant Mine Remediation Project] website is at pains to point out, in seeking a solution, federal authorities sought the advice of expert [technical advisor] and an [Independent Review Panel], consisting of nine recognized experts in the fields of geotechnology, mining, mineral processing and environmental engineering, toxicology, hydrogeology, risk assessment, and public health. The government ultimately proposed the “frozen block method,” essentially proposing to freeze the arsenic in place underground (it’s not frozen now; permafrost has been disturbed) and to maintain that frozen state using thermosyphons “in perpetuity.”
Here’s where those thermosyphons start to look, for many in Yellowknife, less like friendly symbols of stable ground and more like harbingers of an uncertain and scary future. During the environmental assessment process for the proposal, some experts and many members of the general public (including local indigenous communities) challenged the suitability of thermosyphons as a guarantor of future frigidity, citing the need for ongoing maintenance and occasional replacement. Thermosyphons, with their simplicity and lack of need for external power sources, were touted by the government and technical supporters as key to their suitability for the “long term” solution to the problem; but it is the very question of *how long this term is* that opponents seized upon in their criticism. What about seismic events, they asked? What about climate change, occurring more rapidly in Arctic regions than anywhere else on the planet? Could this friendly technology handle the load? Government experts answered yes, but the criticisms registered strongly with the regulators reviewing the project.
Perhaps even more pointedly, some raised the question of the maintenance of this site, “in perpetuity.” How is it possible to ensure the stability and effectiveness of this technology into a long-distant future, much less beyond the political whims of elections cycles and budget priorities? How can we ensure that future generations understand why these skinny sentinels stand at this site, and the nature of the danger that lies beneath, poison to all life?
As a sociotechnical project, the thermosyphons at Giant Mine ramify like few others I’ve encountered (though no doubt, like many others I haven’t given a thought to). The debate over their use at Giant Mine is ongoing, and I’ll be following their transformations in my research, as I try to understand some of the questions they raise about extraction, justice, care, and (yes) technology.
— Abandoned Mines
What people build when they get thirstyWe’re running out of water. Drought is coming, and so are water wars. At least that’s what I just read in the paper. Water is the new oil (and we all know what that means…)
As columnist Gary Mason notes, many parts of the United States are experiencing a “freshwater disaster”: California is now in its worst drought in modern history, and the Ogallala aquifer that supplies the American Great Plains is being sucked dry, as water tables drop in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. The political result, Mason explains, will be increasing pressure to ship water long distances, including across borders, especially from Canada to the United States.
What’s interesting is the claim that this drought is mainly the product of natural scarcity (although accentuated by waste and climate change). The implication is that the water crisis is an unprecedented novelty.
But it’s not. We can go back fifty years, and find cries of alarm over water every bit as ardent as those expressed today. Back in the 1960s American politicians were writing books like The Water Crisis, and The Coming Water Famine. To be considered a serious commentator, one had to agree that water shortages were real, and required an immediate response: ever-bigger dams and canals, to redirect North America’s rivers like they were so much plumbing. The result, as Mark Reisner, Don Worster, and other authors noted, was some of the biggest engineering projects in history, as well as the biggest proposal of all.
Yet as one of the first objective accounts of the issue showed back in 1972, the “inevitable” water shortage of the 1960s simply evaporated once exposed to careful study. What was left was the conclusion that the “whole field of water development, long viewed as the embodiment of man’s mastery over nature for the good of society, [is] largely a story of political manipulation of mind-boggling proportions.” Water, it turns out, doesn’t just run down to the sea, it runs uphill to money.
Perhaps there would be much the same outcome today, if there was a little more dispassionate analysis of the possibility of “water wars,” and a little more awareness of the history of fear-mongering about drought.
— Stephen Bocking - Environment, History, Science
Moving Environments: Affect, Emotion, Ecology, and Film
— Rachel Carson Centre LMU - News and Events
The following was originally published (in slightly edited form) for ActiveHistory.ca 23 January 201. We’re a group of historians interested in thinking about history and its current and future applications.
So, I’m writing a book.
What follows, for your January darn-it’s-cold-and-I’m-ready-for-something-kind-of-fun reading pleasure, is a primer (briefing notes) about the book. Given the growing recognition that Mother Nature remains strong and rather angry about human-induced climate change – kudos to everyone who spent Christmas with no power – I’m writing about human migration.
Drawing lessons from families who pulled up stakes and moved during the Great Trek from one biome (prairie south) to another (boreal north) due to drastic climate and economic problems during the Great Depression and Dirty Thirties, this book is based on history but with an eye to practical suggestions for the future. Imagine me having a conversation with my Grandpa and Grandma: what should I do to be prepared? Some of the following five lessons may or may not apply to your situation. It depends if you have a horse. Lessons may be tongue-in-cheek or serious. I’ll leave it to you to figure out which is which.
The underlying premise of the book is that climate change is happening and is worsening, and that Canada (in particular, Canada’s middle north and north) has been pinpointed as a place to which climate migrants from around the world may flee.
So, let’s get started, shall we?
Leave sooner rather than later. Leave at the first sign of things going drastically wrong. Use this opportunity to go directly to a place where you think you might like to be. North Bay, Ontario? The Pas, Manitoba? Prince George, BC? Excellent choices – fresh water, some farmland, some trees, but with access to hospitals and schools. Edge places, with a lot of variety. You will be much more successful if you move sooner and get established, while you still have some capital and some energy. Waiting, hanging on where you are until the last moment, will cause you trouble in the long run. Takeaway: pull out your map of Canada and pinpoint possibilities. Then do your homework.
Take family with you. And friends. And choose a place where you know a few people already. This is called social capital and you will need it. If things go to ‘hell in a handbasket’, as the old saying goes, you may need to rely on each other, pool resources, work together. This is no time to stand on your own, be stand-offish or independent. Social capital can save you or pull you through when things are tough. This will also help when you get lonesome and homesick for the place that you had to leave. Having your family and friends with you, instead of leaving them behind, will take the edge off your move. Takeaway: start making a plan, involve your friends and family, and make your social capital work for you.
You will probably have to take lots of small jobs that rotate seasonally rather than one job. Yes, you’re right, you will be poorer. But you shouldn’t starve. Losing the single employment that brings in cash can put you in the poorhouse faster than you can say ‘mortgage payment.’ Having lots of small jobs usually means that you have a lot of skills that are portable and have value. You will need to be flexible if you are forced to move because of climate change. You may not find a job in your area of expertise, or you may find one but it may not be full-time. As the economy shifts beneath our feet, you may need to branch out. If you’re already on this path, good for you: you’re one step ahead. Takeaway: the future economy is perilous. The one-job, one-wage norm is changing. Change first, on your own terms. Be ahead of the curve.
Physical labour will probably be required. Some of it will be hard, some of it will be icky. Learn to chop wood, use a chainsaw, haul water, build a fire, cook with wood, grow a garden, pick berries, shoot a gun, catch and gut a fish, learn your plants in the real world instead of the supermarket, and in general get closer to the land. Buy workgloves and work boots and work clothes. Expect your work days to last longer than 7.5 hours. Expect to work outside in all weather, in all seasons. Can you fix things yourself? Brush up on that. If storms and floods and fires and other major catastrophes are increasing, you need to be ready. Takeaway: join Scouts, make friends with an active grandparent who cooks, sews, cans, and has a garden, volunteer at a summer camp, take classes in plumbing, electricity, carpentry, and mechanics, and get fit. Be brave.
Your horse might die of swamp fever. Otherwise known as ‘migration surprise,’ there may be material things (wifi gadgets, electrical gadgets, cars) or animals in your life who will either miss the old landscape so much that they won’t work in the new one (if, by chance, you end up in an off-the-grid cabin in the woods) or they find something in the new one that may kill them. Horses, for example, seem very good at contracting infectious anemia (swamp fever). Transmitted by mosquito bite, and mosquitos are common to nice wet areas, the best line of defense is to learn to make a smudge. Build a fire, then partially smother it with wet straw. Smokes like the dickens. Mosquitos hate it. Word of warning: cars don’t like northern roads, which are notorious when they exist and worse when they don’t. Buy a truck. With a winch. If you can’t afford a truck, and only have a car and a horse, take your chances on the horse. As for your internet fix, that’s harder. See lesson one about choosing your destination. Takeaway: cars vs. horses: horse wins. Cars vs. trucks: take the truck. And address your wifi habit before you go.
Recap: move first, move with friends and family, be flexible, be prepared, and be ready for surprises.
— Merle Massie
Tomorrow, we will be hosting a book launch for Inventing Stanley Park: An Environmental History at Founders College (Room 305) at York University. The festivities begin at 3:30pm and I hope you can make it. All are welcome!
— Sean Kheraj, Canadian History and Environment