Sci-Fi Writers Discuss Climate Catastrophe: Robert J Sawyer, Author Of Hominids

robert-j-sawyer-author-photo-by-bernard-clark-colorThe big announcement came this weekend that over 190 nations had signed on to an agreement in Paris to move their economies in the general direction of away from fossil fuels. It’s being hailed as historic.

All nations signing on to the Paris Agreement, rich or poor, have committed to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions with the overall goal being to limit global warming to well below 2° Celsius. Included in the document is even an aspirational target of 1.5°C.

Yay, team. But there’s still no popping of corks around the Dechene household. I’ve yet to get over the betrayal of the Kyoto Accord. And while world leaders were forging this climate deal, their trade ministers and business-development minions continue to toil away at a series of trade deals like the TPP and CETA that may make any international program to curb carbon emissions completely moot

As I said in the comments to another post (on a completely different topic), pessimism is my operating system. And that’s especially true where international climate change treaties are concerned. I see no reason to update to the new optimism OS. It’s barely out of beta.

For now, I’m going to wait and see what the Koch Brothers’ countermove is.

Thing is, I really, REALLY hope the world got it right this time. The alternative — runaway global warming — is just too awful to contemplate.

But contemplate we did. For the current Prairie Dog, we contacted three Canadian science fiction writers and asked them what our planet may face if these international deals continue to fail. They had a lot of very sobering things to say on the subject. So much I couldn’t fit everything into the article. So I’m posting longer versions of those interviews here.

This is the third and final interview in the series. It’s with Hugo and Nebula award winning author Robert J Sawyer who’s 23rd novel, Quantum Night, is coming out in March. It’s set largely in Saskatoon, in and around the Canadian Light Source. 


PRAIRIE DOG: What happens to the planet and our society if these climate summits keep failing and we don’t find a way to limit global warming?

ROBERT J SAWYER: My fervent hope is, just like any group of unruly teenagers who have deadlines months in advance for school assignments, they get their homework done at the last possible moment. Of course, there are those who think we’ve passed the last possible moment to contain it to under two degrees. I am hoping that finally all of the time wasting will come to an end.

So I don’t want to be painted as the guy who says, “We’re doomed and here is what it’s like.” 

That said, if we do drop the ball across the globe and we do face two degrees or more celsius of change, it’s going to be a completely different world.

Continue reading “Sci-Fi Writers Discuss Climate Catastrophe: Robert J Sawyer, Author Of Hominids

Exciting Goings On In Wascana Park

20151209_143622I know Wascana Centre Authority’s budget situation is kind of precarious these days. In October, CBC reported that the WCA had asked for an additional $2 million to upgrade core infrastructure such as trails, bathrooms and irrigation systems.

That the park is a valued asset in the city there can be no doubt. During this freakishly mild fall and early winter we’ve experienced so far I’ve been down to the lake numerous times for pleasant walks.

Typically at this time of the year the WCA crews would be doing snow removal to keep the paths clear. That hasn’t been needed so far, which is a welcome cost saving I imagine. Unfortunately, the unseasonable weather has brought an influx of migrating Canada geese to the park, and while they spend most of their time on areas of the lake where there’s open water, they do venture ashore from time to time to eat grass and perform related activities.

Since geese are essentially pooping machines that can produce up to three pounds of excrement a day, it’s making for some unsightly, and potentially unhealthy/dangerous conditions, in select areas of the park. Above is a photo of a path heading down to the lake from the south end of Albert Street bridge.

So if you are heading down there for a walk in the next few days, consider taking a push broom with you and doing your civic duty to help keep the park clean. And to see the goose doots in all their glory you can click the image to enlarge.

Talkin’ ‘Bout Turtles

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Marchand
Photo courtesy of Kelsey Marchand

In the July 23 issue of Prairie Dog we had an article about a research project University of Regina masters science student Kelsey Marchand was conducting to study the western painted turtle population in the area of Wascana Creek and Lake.

At the time of the interview, Marchand and her assistant Alyssa Stulberg had captured and tagged around 50 turtles. Most were just marked with a number for identification, but some were outfitted with small radio transmitters to track their movements, including where they ended up seeking shelter to hibernate over the winter.

It’s a two-year project, so Marchand will be back on the lake and creek next summer. On Thursday, Nov. 12, she’ll be giving a talk on her research at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum at 7 p.m. Admission is by donation, and you can find out more on the RSM website.

The Great Pumpkin

Earth_Eastern_HemisphereWhile many people will be busy getting their costumes together to go trick-or-treating or partying tomorrow, astronomers at observatories around the world, including NASA’s Deep Space Network in Goldstone, CA, will be busy studying an asteroid called TB145 which will pass within 490,000 km of Earth on Saturday.

While hundreds of near-Earth objects have been discovered and their orbits plotted to determine if they might one day pose a threat to Earth, TB145 wasn’t detected until Oct. 10. Egg-shaped, roughly 400 km in diameter, and travelling at 35 km a second, the “Great Pumpkin” as astronomers have dubbed it, would’ve exacted an unimaginable toll on Earth had it been on a collision course.

Fortunately, while the asteroid will pass near us (slightly further than the distance of the Moon, actually) we won’t have to cope with any armageddon scenario — at least, not tomorrow. As for what the future might hold, who’s to say? Over its roughly 4.5 billion year existence, Earth has been impacted countless times by rogue asteroids and comets from space.

Many early impacts were beneficial, delivering water, minerals, and possibly even life, to the planet. But later impacts, most notably at the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago which triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs, caused widespread devastation, and the consequences now would be equally dire.

Efforts are underway, such as the Spacewatch program at the University of Arizona, to search for unknown near-Earth objects and track their orbits into the future to determine if they might one day threaten Earth. If you check out this CBC report, you’ll also learn that scientists and engineers are brainstorming different strategies for one day being able to intercept and alter the path of potential planet-killers so they don’t strike Earth.

We’re still decades away from being able to do anything like that. But the more data we can collect on asteroids and comets, the better able we’ll be to develop technologies to counter the threat they pose to our survival.

Election 2015: Conservative’s Goodyear Brings Misinfo To Science Fight

A hi-tech science gizmo at the Experimental Lakes Area.
A hi-tech science gizmo at the Experimental Lakes Area.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody. Hope I’m not intruding on your happy family weekend with this blog post which, I’m sorry to say, will only provide more fuel for you inner rage monkey. But I’ve just been listening to the all-party science debate that CBC’s Quirks and Quarks put on yesterday. And I have to share.

Holy crapping Darwin finch. The Conservatives can’t even stick close to the facts in a discussion of science when they’re talking to actual scientists.

The panel Quirks host Bob McDonald put together included Lynne Quarmby for the Green Party (who is a professor and Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at Simon Fraser University); Marc Garneau for the Liberal Party (who is a former Canadian astronaut); Megan Leslie for the NDP (who is her party’s environment critic); and, Gary Goodyear for the Conservatives (who has weird ideas about evolution and is also a chiropractor).

It’s actually pretty fascinating to hear how casually Goodyear is able to litter the debate with misinformation. It would take hours to adequately debunk every single Harper-friendly myth he perpetuates over the course of the hour. But as I’m heading out the door soon to gorge myself on turkey in a few minutes and expect to be so doped out by tryptophan later on, I only have time to take on one of Goodyear’s howlers.

Continue reading “Election 2015: Conservative’s Goodyear Brings Misinfo To Science Fight”

Urbanity Open Air

UrbanityIf you happen to be downtown Thursday you might want to stop by this event which is being held from 5:30-9 p.m. It’s being co-presented by the Queen City Hub, Regina Advocates for Design (RAD), OPEN, the Saskatchewan Filmpool Cooperative, and the Regina Downtown Business Improvement District (RDBID) and will take place in the alley running between 18 block Scarth and Cornwall St. between 11th and 12th Ave.

The event is subtitled “Building Safe & Welcoming Spaces”, and the plan is to have a variety of art installations and presentations addressing ideas of public safety in the downtown and how we can create engaging urban spaces for people of all ages and backgrounds.

Above is a photo of one installation that is being planned. It’s called “Orange Crush” — and no, it’s not intended as an endorsement of the NDP in any way. Instead, it’s a portable, immersive space made out of foam noodles. As part of the proceedings, RDBID will also reveal the results of its Imagine Regina survey.

Beating The Bush

Sample work from Dagmara Genda's Beating the Bush
Sample work from Dagmara Genda’s Beating the Bush

Yet another option for recreation and general enlightenment on the long weekend. This takes the form of an artist talk and reception for the exhibition Beating the Bush by artist Dagmara Genda. The exhibition is being presented by the Dunlop Gallery at its Sherwood Village location, and the talk/reception goes Saturday Sept. 5 at 1 p.m.

The inspiration for the show occurred when Genda was doing a Canada Council International Residency in London. While there, she took hundreds of photographs of a laurel hedge in Regent’s Park that had been painstakingly trimmed into a rectangular shape.

Genda photographed the hedge under a variety of light conditions, then manipulated the images and cut them into pieces which she subsequently used to create collages that reference the early 20th century art movements of Constructivism and Suprematism.

Those movements had a degree of utopian thought attached to them, curator Jennifer Matotek notes in a gallery publicity release, that finds an echo in the English practice of shaping/civilizing nature into elaborate gardens.

Genda’s artist talk and reception are at Sherwood Village Gallery on Sept. 5 at 1 p.m. The exhibition runs until Nov. 4.

Happy Belated “I Love Regina Day”

I Love Regina Day IIOn Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. the City of Regina hosted its annual “I Love Regina Day” in beautiful Victoria Park in downtown Regina. Included was a free BBQ, children’s activities, giveaways and other treats.

If you missed it, don’t despair, as of Sunday night at 8:30 p.m., cake was still available at the central Scarth St. entrance to the park (photo above) — although to grab a piece you might have to engage in a squawking match with the seagulls first to shoo them away.

The BBQs had long been put away, unfortunately, but as a second late Sunday evening photo after the jump shows, you could still sort of bask in the general atmosphere of the day if you happened to be passing by the Cenotaph. Continue reading “Happy Belated “I Love Regina Day””

Ness Creek Music Festival

If you feel like a road trip up to Big River, the Ness Creek Music Festival is running July 16-19. It’s the 25th anniversary of the festival, which got its start when a bunch of tree planters who were in the area for the summer decided to celebrate their boreal surroundings with some eco-friendly music.

Because of the distance involved, this is a camping type festival, where people hunker down for the weekend to enjoy some great music and hopefully good company in a wilderness setting.

You can find out more about Ness Creek on the festival website. Headliners this year include Buck 65, Bocephus King Orchestra Familia, Slocan Ramblers, the Moondoggies and Los Texmaniacs.

Last November, Buck 65 was in town to play a Regina Folk Festival gig. I did a pre-show interview with him about his new album Neverlove that essentially chronicled the demise of his marriage. Here’s a tune off that disc called “Love Will Fuck You Up”

Smokin’ Hot Regina

Downtown Regina looking south from Dewdney Ave
Downtown Regina looking south from Dewdney Ave

I’m not sure if the above photo does the smoke from northern forest fires justice, but it’s definitely thick out there this afternoon. (click to enlarge the photo)

According to this CBC report, Environment Canada has issued air quality warnings for most of the province except for the southwest corner.

Pigeons Left Homeless By Closure Of Downtown Landmark?

Travellers BuildingI went for a walk in the downtown last night. When I was on the west side of 18 block Broad St. around 8:15 p.m. I noticed a fair bit of commotion across the street at the pigeon condo a.k.a. the Travellers Building.

Pigeons were flying around and landing, then taking off and landing again, and making that weird warbly sound that they make. I took a closer look and ended up taking the above snap.

If you compare it to a shot of the building I took in April 2014, it does seem that the windows on the second floor that had been open previously are now closed so the pigeons are no longer able to roost there at night as I believe they were in the habit of doing.

Judging by the confusion I observed in the pigeon community, this is a relatively recent development. But I don’t have any other confirmation of that beyond the pigeons. Both photos can be enlarged by clicking on them to see the pigeons in better detail.

Insects, Flowers & Food

RoyalSask (Pollination)Last winter, the Royal Saskatchewan Museum set up a temporary exhibit commemorating the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The exhibit served as a springboard for a broader examination of mass extinctions that have occurred previously in Earth’s distant past, plus also as an opportunity to reflect on the current struggles of many plant and animal species to survive in the face of humanity’s relentless manipulation and destruction of the habitat they need to thrive.

A few weeks ago, the RSM debuted another temporary exhibit focusing on pollination. An article on Insects, Flowers & Food ran in the May 28 issue of Prairie Dog. In it, we spoke with two of the show’s three curators, and talked about pollination in relation to the emergence of gymnosperms and angiosperms 450 million and 150 million years ago, and how the latter’s use of direct insect vectors to spread pollen and reproduce proved more effective than the airborne method gymnosperms had long relied on.

We also spoke about current concerns about the health of pollinator populations, and the vital role they play in the production of food both in a wilderness and agricultural setting.

The exhibit runs throughout the summer, so if you get a chance, check it out.

Not So Exciting Goings On In Victoria Park

VictoriaPark(BBQ Festival)I don’t want to slag anyone involved in the BBQ event that’s been going on since Friday night in City Square Plaza and Victoria Park. But somebody somewhere is dropping the ball here. Whether it’s the festival organizers or the city, when you have a special event on involving food you have to make arrangements to ensure that the residue of said event doesn’t get out of hand.

This photo was taken around 8:30 p.m. on Saturday night, but even in the afternoon the garbage can was overflowing. And as might be expected, with the wind we had yesterday the mess wasn’t confined to this particular spot.

Infill Housing and You

Dr_Seuss_infill
If only all infill housing paid this kind of attention to scale.

If you spend any time taking notice of your surroundings in this city, you’ve probably remarked on all the infill housing that has cropped up in recent years. In theory, infill is a good way to retain density in neighbourhoods by developing housing in areas otherwise occupied by vacant lots. At its best, it’s well designed and affordable. In practice, however (particularly in Regina, it seems), “infill” is too often used as short hand for “ugly and cheap”, and those who call out its objectionable design are frequently (and unfairly) accused of NIMBYism. But why should this be? We’ve built beautiful, well considered, modest housing in the past, and we can do it again, right?

In any case, the City of Regina is holding two public engagement sessions to address the issue of infill housing and how it works within Design Regina’s Official Community Plan.

The first session, an “Infill and Intensification Kick-Off Meeting and Public Workshop” will be held on Monday June 8, (6 – 9pm). The second session, “Introduction to Laneway and Garden Suites Guidelines” will be on Tuesday June 23 (6-9pm). Both sessions will be held at Knox-Metropolitan Church (2340 Victoria Avenue).
Now you know.

 

Queen City Catch Up: Chris Kailing On Engaging With Your City (Podcast)

Recently, Regina Advocates For Design wrapped up their Urbanity 101 discussion series about how people can shape their city.

Urbanity 101 was one of the things I was most annoyed to have missed while away so it was really important to me to get someone from RAD on this podcast. Fortunately, RAD’s Chris Kailing was willing to make the trek over to my place and endure my nerd-boy questions.

Now I’m just hoping RAD will put together an Urbanity 201 series this fall. And maybe even an Urbanity 222: Special Topics In Automobile Mitigation workshop.

Music for this podcast is from Malta’s Lost Voices, a collection of Maltese recordings from the early 1930s. You can get your own copy at filflarecords.com.

In the next episode of Queen City Catch Up, I’ll be speaking with Belle Plaine about what’s been happening in the local music scene. That will go up on Wednesday.

Exciting Goings On In Victoria Park

Victoria ParkHere’s a shot of the north-east quadrant of Victoria Park. Last week, the city announced that it would be doing some work in the park this summer to improve the drainage after years of activity had caused soil in parts of the park to compact and water from snow melt and rain to pool. That was especially noticeable last summer when we had regular rain showers that left standing water in the park all season long.

The city announcement also noted that some trees would be removed and others planted to replace them. After work is done in the NE corner the city will turn its attention to the SW corner. If the weather is favourable work should be done by the end of June so well in advance of the Regina Folk Festival in August.

Queen City Catch Up: Florence Stratton On Military Education And Pipelines In Harbour Landing (Podcast)

So I get back from Malta and I’m thinking, I was gone the better part of a year, how the hell am I going to get back up to speed on Regina? And it hits me that the easiest thing would be to just ask people what I missed.

And then I thought, hey, I could record the conversations and get a podcast series out of them. It’d be like multi-tasking.

Here’s the first of those conversations: I talk with peace and justice activist, Florence Stratton, about housing, military education in high schools and an oil pipeline for Harbour Landing.

Incidentally, I got the music for this podcast from Malta’s Lost Voices, a compilation of Maltese music from the 1930s. Thanks to Filfla Records for giving me permission to use the tracks. (You can check them out at filflarecords.com.)

The next episode of Queen City Catch Up will be available on Thursday. In it, I chat with cycling and alternative-transportation aficionado, John Klein.

In total, I’ll be posting eight interviews over the next several days — one for each month I was away.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that you don’t have to stream the podcast. There’s a download link in the Soundcloud window in the top right corner. It’s the little down arrow.

Introduction To Backyard Beekeeping

There’s been a lot of talk lately about declining bee populations in North America, and the important role bees and other pollinators play in the life cycle of flowers, fruit trees, berries and other plants.

On Thursday May 7 Regina Public Library is hosting a presentation by a local beekeeper on how to raise bees as a hobby. Teens and children are welcome at the presentation, which goes at Central Library (Public Meeting Room 1) from 7-8:30 p.m.

You’re asked to register in advance on the RPL website. And here’s a link to an interview with the beekeeper that appeared in our April 30-May 13 issue.

Breaking News: Alberta Premier Unveils New Pipeline Plan

DRILLING FOR DOLLARS Giant middle finger extended to Earth during press conference
DRILLING FOR DOLLARS Giant middle finger extended to Earth during press conference

Frustrated with roadblocks erected by other provinces, environmental groups, First Nations, and the Obama administration in the U.S., to three existing pipeline proposals to deliver Alberta bitumen to market, Premier Jim Prantice announced today that his government had had enough.

Flanked by industry officials at an outdoor press conference at a science park, Prantice said that Alberta would begin construction soon on a pipeline that would drill straight through the Earth to deliver bitumen from the province direct to China.

“The idea came to me when I was watching a Bugs Bunny cartoon the other day,” Prantice recalled. “Elmer Fudd was hunting Bugs  with his shotgun, and to escape Bugs dug a deep hole. Like he said after, ‘I knew I shoulda taken that left toin at Albuquerque.’ But he didn’t, and he ended up in China instead.

“After I’d finished wiping away the tears from laughing so hard, I thought, ‘Wait a minute, maybe that Wascally Wabbit is on to something.’”

The next morning, Prantice revealed his idea to cabinet. “They all thought it was a no-brainer. So I had Frank [Oberlay, Alberta’s Energy Minister] contact our partners in the oil patch to arrange a meeting.

“Oil’s in the crapper now price-wise,” Prantice admitted. “But boom times will return. And we intend to be ready.”

Alberta has long argued that to maximize its oil wealth it needs access to global markets — especially energy-hungry southeast Asia. But proposed pipelines heading west to the Pacific (Northern Gateway), south to the Gulf of Mexico (Keystone) and east to refineries in Quebec and New Brunswick (Energy East), are all stuck in regulatory limbo. As a result, analysts say, the Alberta government and oil industry are missing out on billions in revenue.

Responding to reporters’ questions about the project, which would require drilling through 12,000 km of solid rock comprising Earth’s crust and mantle, Prantice admitted they were still figuring out the exact angle they’ll need to drill at to reach China. But he insisted the project, which he declined to give a cost estimate on, was doable.

“Remember, we’ll be able to use Earth’s gravity to move bitumen to the core. We’re also examining the feasibility of using the intense heat and pressure there to refine the bitumen into light crude that would be easier to pump the rest of the way to China.”

It would be a huge undertaking, the premier admitted. “But once the oil’s flowing there’s sweet F.A. all the tree-huggers and anti-Alberta types will be able to do about it. As Porky Pig would say, ‘Th-Th-That’s all folks!’”