Music, Birding, and Melting Permafrost

Today a musician, a birder, and an Arctic ecologist take us on a whirlwind tour of three very different branches of environmental work.  We start off in Kitchener with Richard Garvey who tells us about the environmental and social justice inspirations for his music, then on to Penticton where Dick Cannings explains how to get involved with this week’s Great Backyard Bird Count, and we finish up in Austin, Texas where Dr. Craig Tweedie fills us in on the complex feedback between climate change and melting permafrost. All that and more, on today’s Terra Informa.

Download this week’s show.

A young snowy owl. Photo by Floyd Davidson.

Musician Richard Garvey
The world of contemporary folk music defies clear definitions or explanations. From the birth of sub-sub-genres to use of non-traditional instruments, it has exploded into a borderless menagerie of noise and ideas. However, some would argue that you can’t improve on timeless inspiration. Richard Garvey is a born-and-raised Ontarian whose modest discography echoes a generation of youth that longs for environmental justice and social change. You can hear more of Richard’s music here.

Great Backyard Bird Count
Whether you live in the heart of the city, out in the country, or on the Arctic coast, birds bring a little sunshine into the winter months. This week bird watchers are teaming up for one of North America’s largest bird counts, but this isn’t an event that’s limited to professionals. From seasoned experts to novices, Canadians are breaking out the binoculars to help scientists better understand where birds are found and how their distributions change with time. Dick Cannings is one of the organizers of the Great Backyard Bird Count and he fills us in on what’s happening.

The Arctic’s “Carbon Bomb”
Evidence of climate change is mounting from across the globe, but nowhere is it more apparent than at the poles.  Permafrost in the Tundra is an important carbon store, but unfortunately, once it melts it may release that carbon into the atmosphere triggering a positive feedback loop.  Dr. Craig Tweedie from the University of Texas at el Paso, calls this the Arctic’s Carbon Bomb.  He studies changes to Tundra vegetation and the interactions between plants and animals in the Arctic and he spoke to Terra Informa about his findings.

News Headlines
Go West. That’s the message Canada’s population is taking, according to the 2011 census. The figures just released by Statistics Canada from last year’s census show that for the first time since Confederation, more people live west of Ontario than east of it. The economic boom in the prairie provinces has of course been fuelled by natural resource industry growth, especially in oil and gas. That’s helped push up fertility rates and migration to the prairies from other parts of the country. Alberta was the fastest-growing province from 2006. Alberta’s population rose 10.8 percent to over 3.6 million residents. That’s almost double the national average. Calgary’s mayor Naheed Nenshi told Postmedia that the overheated economy has left his city dealing with some big challenges tackling labour shortages and managing so much growth. He said those are challenges other cities would probably kill to have, though.

More on this story: Statistics Canada, Vancouver Sun, Alberta Oil MagazineGlobe and Mail

In Nova Scotia, Millbrook First Nation’s new wind farm is going to be a 21st-century expression of their culture’s values, says band Chief Lawrence Paul. The three-turbine project was just approved as part of Nova Scotia’s renewable power subsidy program. The Community Feed-in Tariff – or COMFIT – program offers higher-than-market rate contracts for power from locally-based renewable energy projects. The Millbrook band’s wind farm is the first COMFIT agreement with a Mik’maq First Nation in the province. When it’s running in 2013 or 14, it will generate 6 MW of power, or enough electricity to power hundreds of homes. The Town of New Glasgow and the Halifax Regional Water Commission also got approval for small wind projects this month. Nova Scotia is aiming to generate 25 percent of its electricity through renewable power by 2015, and 40 percent by 2020.

More on this story: Chronicle Herald, Truro Daily NewsNova Scotia Dept of Energy – Feed in Tariffs

Nestlé Chairman Peter Brabeck spoke at this year’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland about his work to help assess global water issues with the 2030 Water Resources Group. That work is part of the reason the University of Alberta has announced he will receive one of three honourary degrees on March 1st for his efforts in water management. That’s put the university president under a load of criticism, since Nestlé is a major promoter of water privatization, and the world’s largest producer of bottled water. Amy Kaler, a sociology professor at the U of A, is one of the faculty members speaking out against the decision. She pointed out that Nestlé’s reputation is extremely poor in many places in the global South like Laos. NGOs said in 2011 that Nestlé broke World Health Organization rules for marketing breast milk substitutes by advertising its products in Laos to nursing mothers. Many studies have shown that in poorer countries, children fed baby formulas are much more likely to die of malnutrition and infectious diseases because of lack of access to clean water, and poor instructions for preparation. The honourary degree ceremony on March 1st honouring Peter Brabeck will be followed by a panel discussion with the two other recipients being recognized for their work on water issues.

More on this story: Edmonton Journal, University of Alberta News, IRIN News

Researchers from Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute have drilled down to an ancient ice-covered lake in Antarctica. Lake Vostok is believed to have been sealed off from the atmosphere for about 15 million years. Drilling through the ice sheet above Lake Vostok began over 20 years ago. It’s the same ice sheet that gives us the Vostok ice cores, some the most important artifacts of ancient carbon concentrations in the atmosphere. The project was delayed several years in the 2000s by redesigns to make sure the drilling equipment did not contaminate whatever ecosystem might exist in the underground lake. Researchers were not sure they’d reach the water’s surface before they had to fly out of the research station on February 6. With their samples finally in hand, the team hopes to learn whether the cold, high-pressure environment allows any nutrients or life to survive, and what similar oceans on Jupiter’s moon Europa might look like.

More on this story: BBC News, Nature, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsday, Announcement by Russia’s Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute (in Russian)

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