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Posts by: "ecgg"

By Ana Carolina Esteves Dias

12th ALTER-Net summer school
August 30 – September 10, 2017

ALTER-Net summer school was a laboratory on what it means to be a scientist – personally and professionally. The summer school is organized every year by ‘A Long-Term Biodiversity, Ecosystem and Awareness Research Network’ (ALTER-Net), a European network. Its 12th edition, “Biodiversity, ecosystem services: Science and its impact on policy and society”, focused on putting science into practice and demystifying myths about academia.

For ten days, students, tutors, and professors came together in discussing the emotions involved in presenting work for an academic audience; sharing knowledge and experiences; singing Swedish songs at the church; dancing to Indian music in the classroom; and practicing Brazilian capoeira in the Alps.

International summer schools are rich cultural events, providing a diversified environment for co-creation and critical thinking regarding the science we are producing. At the 12th ALTER-Net summer school, participants were stimulated to think critically about the research produced in the realm of ecosystem services, its potential to impact policy, and to push for positive change in society. We were exposed to new methods and stimulated to coordinate activities between five working groups to deliver a unified outcome for the “Helios” project ‐ “How to maintain wellbeing and biodiversity in the upper Verdon Valley”.

These activities took place in a small village in the upper Verdon Valley, Southern Alps, France. The village of Peyresq was a target of territorial disputes in Europe, having already been under Italy’s control before 1860. Currently, it is a French village partly managed by the European Association for Culture and for Artistic and Scientific Humanism, a Belgium philanthropic foundation. Peyresq is known as a hotspot for scientific and cultural meetings, where researchers from all over the world get together to meet, discuss, and collaborate on intellectual content and beyond.

As a result of the combination between interesting participants, inspiring place, exquisite cuisine and high level discussions, we seized the learning environment to develop academic skills, constructively criticize the science we are producing, approach ecosystem services from different perspectives, discuss their contributions and areas for improvement, and build meaningful connections with people who share similar interests. I look forward to meeting Peyresq colleagues again on our academic journey and to continuing to develop the skills I learned through this experience.

Resilience 2017, Stockholm, Sweden (August 20-23, 2017)
By Evan Andrews


Before I began my PhD, my Master’s supervisor encouraged me to “find a home” with a community of scholars and practitioners with whom I could share my ideas and engage in discussions. I have heard other scholars mention the importance of their homes, when they say things like, “I am going to this conference because these are my people.” Given that I often work with the concepts of resilience and social-ecological change, I thought to myself, “I am surely going to find a home at the Resilience conference in Stockholm, Sweden.” Considering the myriad calls for resilience research to better address the human dimensions of environmental change, I was positive I was going to hear from scholars who address the real experiences of people and communities, advance novel concepts and methods with social relevance, and provide advice on navigating the social, economic, and political contexts of resilience. I did find a home, but it looked a lot like the one in which I grew up: full of unconditional love and tensions bubbling at the surface.

Some Unconditional Love for Transformations. At Resilience 2017, there was a big emphasis on transformations research. Out of the five thematic tracks for the conference, “Transformations for Social-Ecological Sustainability” was the most popular. The language of transformations and related concepts of policy windows and traps had lots of air time throughout the three days. In the opening plenary, for example, Dr. Katrina Brown (Exeter University) delivered a promising speech that emphasized the need to ground transformations in relation to people’s experiences. Since I am concerned about livelihoods, well-being, and attachments to place, her talk resonated with me. ECGG’s Dr. Jessica Blythe also challenged the language and uptake of transformations, in a presentation titled, “The Dark Side of Transformations.” I found her talk an important reminder that it is easy to get caught up in the novelty of these terms, lose perspective about the politics of language, and forget the real-life stories of people in ‘transforming’ systems. However, there were many well-attended sessions in which there appeared to be room to better ground the concept of transformations in the experiences of people. So, love for ‘transformations’ is perfectly fine as it encourages lots of exploration. But, this love cannot be unconditional because we need to temper this exploration with constructive critique and reflection.

And Some Tensions Bubbling at the Surface. Several opening plenaries argued that to conduct research in turbulent times, we need to consider the governance of communities and to undertake transdisciplinary community-oriented research. There seemed to be great interest in environmental change research about governance and communities. In a session moderated by Dr. Blythe and others, “Beyond Social-Ecological Traps: Fostering Transformations for Sustainability,” several presentations put communities at the forefront. For example, our OceanCanada Partnership colleague, Dr. Natalie Ban (University of Victoria), celebrated the agency of Indigenous peoples in the communities with which she works to transcend social-ecological traps. Presentations like Dr. Ban’s really brought community voices to the forefront. Some well-attended presentations did not consider communities, where discussion about communities seemed relevant, or perhaps did not have enough time to feature community voices in a direct way. This seemed to create some tensions evident after the presentations. For example, I engaged with some audience members who had wished for more attention to community perspectives, and were frustrated that there was not enough time during the question period to foster this sort of discussion. One great way to address some of these tensions, however, was exemplified by Drs. Steven Alexander and Jeremy Pittman who facilitated a debate-style panel amongst adaptive governance scholars in “Big Questions of Adaptive Governance in Social-Ecological Systems”. By adopting a debate format, the facilitators encouraged audience members to reflect on their own case studies and experiences. Audience members seemed to feel safe enough to challenge the ideas of scholars which led to a brilliant integrative discussion about the capacities of communities and governments.

My New Home. There were many other great presentations from outside of Canada that included calls for more community voices in environmental change research. In addition, I recognize that many presenters at Resilience 2017 discussed the importance of global-scale social-ecological research, which often left little time for community perspectives in these presentations. However, like community research, global research has an imperative to put people at the forefront of analyses and use assumptions about human activity that are grounded in people’s experiences. It is this moral imperative that encourages me to believe that in the Resilience research network, I have found a good home suited to my research passions, however messy. As a part of the ECGG and OceanCanada Partnership, we have an opportunity to continue to bring people’s perspectives and stories about change to the forefront of international research networks of which we are a part. I look forward to challenging unconditional love for novel concepts, and critically examining tensions about the human experiences in my own work, and as a part of a larger community of applied scholars and practitioners.

By Irene Brueckner-Irwin and Sondra Eger
Waterloo, ON

On World Oceans Day (June 8, 2017), we met for a 2-day workshop at the University of British Columbia to discuss oceans and fisheries access issues in Canada. Access cluster co-leads – Megan Bailey and Nathan Bennett – organized the workshop in order to launch the OceanCanada Access working group, with the goals of taking stock of access issues in Canada, as well as identifying the linkages between access and the wellbeing of coastal communities. We engaged with transdisciplinary expertise and experience in addressing these goals, and workshop participants included community resource users and representatives, Indigenous rights-holders and representatives, and researchers. Participants actively engaged in thematic sessions relating to access over the course of the workshop, which led to the sharing of diverse perspectives and the emergence of key themes.

The first theme included the broad recognition that coastal communities in Canada are not prioritized when it comes to decision-making about our oceans. These communities are often rural, and have been losing access to ocean space and resources over time at the benefit of provincial and federal economic agendas. For example, small-scale inshore fishers have lost ownership of fisheries licenses to corporate agencies, and access of coastal and marine areas are being prioritized for energy development (e.g., tidal energy in the Bay of Fundy) and resource extraction (e.g., oil and gas). Additionally, international commitments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity have driven a federal mandate prioritizing conservation initiatives (i.e., marine protected areas). Much decision-making about our ocean resources continue to be made with economic and international justification, despite the reality that the social, cultural, and traditional values of access are critical to coastal communities.

Another key theme that emerged from the workshop was that, while access to ocean space and resources are critical for coastal communities, access to decision-making processes about the ocean is also extremely important to ensure participation, ownership, legitimacy, and transparency. At the workshop, we heard about experiences where those with high stakes or rights in accessing ocean space (i.e., coastal and Indigenous communities) were either inadequately consulted, or were excluded from decision-making processes entirely. The need for equitable access to process was identified, as well as the use and respect of different types of knowledge in those processes. The benefits of applying local, academic, and Indigenous knowledge was discussed at length.

Throughout the workshop, it was clear that these themes must be addressed in order to secure the wellbeing of coastal communities in Canada. To that end, the OceanCanada Access working group has identified future research needs and collaborations as a result of the workshop, and we look forward to continued partnership as we strive to create a shared vision for Canada’s oceans.

Photo credit: Sondra Eger

By Irene Brueckner-Irwin

Another doom and gloom story, another reason to disengage. Even the most passionate students around me toil with feelings of apathy and desensitization when we hear about our impending doom as millennials. Sustainability discourse reminds us that we’ve been dealt a rough hand when it comes to the significant environmental threats we will face, and we’re only the first wave of ‘future generations’ who will encounter them. But according to Jennifer Lynes and Sarah Wolfe, “It’s time to rethink our messaging about environmental change.” This leaves me wondering, how could we make the narrative around environmental change less alarmist and more compelling?

Canada hosting World Environment Day is a good opportunity to think about this. The theme this year is “Connecting People to Nature”, and reconnecting with nature may be a healthy strategy to reshape narratives about the environment. All 35 million Canadians connect with nature daily, if by no other means than the air, food, and water upon which we rely. However, being more mindful and intentional about fostering our relationships with nature has the potential to transform perceptions and actions on environmental change. The premise: the better we know nature, the better we’ll take care of it.

Fortunately, there are some promising initiatives coming out of the conservation and parks communities in Canada. At the Canadian Parks Conference in Banff, Alberta from March 8-11, 2017, I learned about some of these initiatives. For example, the Parks for All Strategic Framework (Canadian Parks Council & Canadian Parks and Recreation Association) places high priority on the central role of citizens in parks and protected areas. The framework is currently in its second draft stage, and will eventually receive endorsement from a broad range of actors in the environmental field. Indigenous Guardians are protecting traditional lands and waters, renewing their deep connections to nature while reminding others of their own connections. Toronto Region Conservation is working on restoration of a hydro corridor with community volunteers. The Nature Playbook gives down-to-earth ideas for a new generation of Canadians to interact with nature.

These are examples of initiatives which enable us to develop our relationships with nature, by experiencing the outdoors in unique and meaningful ways. These relationships and experiences will ultimately shape how we choose to care for our planet and because of that, we should not underestimate the power of strengthening human-environment connections on the individual and community levels. In going beyond doom and gloom narratives around environmental change, and instead deliberately embracing and engaging people in our commitments to the environment, we will create more opportunities for action and hopefully transform environmental change narratives for the better.



Many thanks to Dani Lindamood for reviewing this post.

By Dani Lindamood;
Posted on the Faculty of Environment website;

The United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are centered around the ideas of social and environmental justice. Within each goal, the targets seek to address both human and environmental issues – to strike a balance between the needs of our species and the planet that gives us life. Water, to me, is the ultimate expression of interconnectedness in our human and environmental systems. Water is a basic necessity for all life, human activities affect water quality which in turn affect human health, and many people see value in water through the recreational and spiritual experiences it facilitates.

But water is also inherently complex. It doesn’t fit very well into many of our human-made boxes. Water flows across the borders we draw, water resources are distributed unequally across our planet, and water is not easily captured and stored on the large scales needed to sustain many urban populations.

As the world has transformed in the Anthropocene, an age in which humans are the biggest force shaping the planet’s future, the governance and management of water is becoming increasingly important and needed to make water use more sustainable. Goals aimed at addressing water challenges are not contentious, yet historically, we have not been very good at achieving them. SDG 6, universal access to clean water and sanitation, is a leap forward in the way we conceptualize water challenges because of the way it engages with both human and environmental systems. Additionally, the United Nations (UN) has identified that this goal can be linked to the success of all the other sixteen goals. For example, we cannot achieve SDG 5 – gender equality – if women and girls disproportionately bear the burdens of fetching clean water. Similarly, SDG 3 – good health and well-being – will remain unachievable if water issues continue to negatively impact human health and human rights. In this way, if we are talking about the success of all the SDGs, we are really qualifying that by saying SDG 6 must be achieved.

Achieving SDG 6, then, is our task over the next thirteen years. This question of achievability fascinates me and is at the center of my research on water governance in India. In order to understand what drives the achievability of water goals, I lived in Bangalore, India capturing experiences around success and failure in water provisioning and management. This included interacting with people in the highest rungs of government as well as people living humbly in rural villages, enabling my data to cover a wide range of contexts and expertise intimately tied with the decision-making and management surrounding water issues. In particular, I spent time in two different villages talking to villagers and local officials to develop embedded case studies, giving a more specific context to the experiences around success and failure with water provisioning in their communities. By understanding both the big picture of water governance in India as well as the specific nuances that arise in context, I hope to identify broader trends that will tangibly enhance the achievability of SDG 6 in policy and practice.

While I am still in the process of writing my results and analysis, my time in India and the grappling I have done with the complexities of SDG 6 make it clear that collaboration will be a fundamental puzzle piece in achieving SDG 6. Whether taken in broad or specific contexts, complexity pervades the world of water because it interacts so deeply with economic, cultural, religious, political, and ecological systems. These varied settings and complex interactions mean there is a clear value in being able to draw from different expertise, experiences, and traditional knowledge in order to create appropriate and sustainable solutions.

As we move forward, I believe the SDGs present a unique opportunity to understand the complex sustainability challenges facing our planet. Through this understanding, I think we can illuminate pathways to the transformative societal change the SDG agenda seeks to create. I hope my research will translate into lighting that path a little more clearly and ultimately enhancing the achievability of SDG 6 for the benefit of people and planet alike.

By Dani Lindamood;
Posted on the Water Institute website;

Dedicating my life and studies to the world of water is one of the most beautiful accidents that has ever happened to me.

This accidental foray into water began for me in 2014. With a background in global studies, I found myself working as a sustainable development intern in The Gambia with low-tech waste water systems and community-based water solutions. That summer, water began to seep into my life and my worldview. I worked with communities to better understand their water needs and connected with local NGOs to design sustainable water solutions. I was also able to work with the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights to develop their literature around the right to water and sanitation.

As I returned to North America, the world around me began to transform as I experienced my surroundings through a more water-focused lens and when I committed to pursuing a Master’s degree in the sustainability field, I knew it would involve water in one way or another.

“There are not many programs around the world that integrate environmental science and social science together in one sphere, and even fewer who do it in a meaningful way. I have found that the University of Waterloo’s Faculty of Environment, and the Water Institute’s Collaborative Water Program have made my time as a graduate student go from meaningful to life-changing.”
The Collaborative Water Program (CWP) brings together students from diverse academic backgrounds who are all completing research that involves water, including disciplines like hydrology, political science, biology, chemistry, ecology, sociology, economics, architecture, geography, and more. Completing the certificate program not only helped me form a deeper appreciation for the importance of my own expertise, but it also enabled me to broaden my water knowledge, refine my ability to communicate across disciplines, and ultimately understand the dire need for collaborative work on water issues.

While having more knowledge and communication abilities has been helpful, understanding the need for collaboration on water issues has opened my eyes to numerous opportunities. In many ways, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 (SDG 6) – universal access to clean water and sanitation – is a universal validation on the need for collaboration in water issues across human and environmental systems. My research engages with the achievability of SDG 6, especially surrounding the ways we govern water as a resource and human right. During my field work in India, I sought out opportunities to hear more perspectives and develop relationships across different areas of water management and governance. More recently, I participated in Waterlution’s Water Innovation Lab – India where I was able to explore diverse perspectives on water issues in India with a group of 50 people working across all areas of the water world.

“By seeing the value in collaboration and bringing that to my real-world experiences, I have been able to cultivate the most robust, profound, and supportive network of friends and colleagues I have ever known. It has also helped me solidify the knowledge that I want to pursue work in the field of water management and governance for people and planet alike.”
Overall, the lessons the CWP taught me have translated directly into my research, network, and career goals, but it has also made me optimistic about the future of our water resources. Water is inherently complex because of the way it pervades both human and environmental systems. Ultimately, no one person working in a water-related field is going to be able to solve every water issue. By stepping outside of my comfort zone and being willing to explore the value of disciplines and relationships outside my areas of expertise, I now see the immense power in collaborating on solutions to our complex water problems. The journey will undoubtedly be more fruitful and our goals more attainable in working together towards a more sustainable water future.