This Isn’t Climate Change

Here’s the scene in Victoria Park today. Look at all that grass and those puddles to splash in. It’s terrific that spring is just around the corner so early in the year! Whee! Best of all, no one can say this abnormal weather proves climate change. You can’t use one unseasonably warm day to prove that something weird and scary with dire consequences for civilization is going on with the climate! That’s un-science! So even though it’s plus-two degrees Celsius — the ninth February day in a row temperatures have gone above zero — don’t worry, everything’s fine!

Oh, and if you’re a parent? there’s no need whatsoever to be concerned about the heatwaves, droughts, extreme storms, unstable economies, food shortages, water crises and mass extinctions in your kids’ futures. Those things won’t happen.

Everything’s fine! Keep voting for pipeline politicians and making fun of environmentalists! La la la la la!

Kingdom

Michel Boutin: Frog (2015) Enamel on canvas
Michel Boutin: Frog (2015) Enamel on canvas

On Saturday June 11, the Dunlop Art Gallery is hosting an artist talk and reception at its Sherwood Village branch location for a four-artist exhibition called Kingdom. As used in the exhibition, the word Kingdom references the taxonomic term that biologists use to describe various categories of life.

Kingdom is the second largest grouping below domain, and scientists are apparently somewhat split on the number of kingdoms of life we have on Earth. The U.S. typically cites six kingdoms, while Europe and other locales stick with five.

Animals and plants are two kingdoms common to both taxonomic systems. And under both systems, people are classed as animals. In this exhibition, four artists with roots in northern Canada explore the relationship between humanity and our fellow members of the animal kingdom.

Curated by Wendy Peart, Kingdom features work by Michel Boutin (Prince Albert), Nicholas Galanin (Sitka, AB), Tim Moore (Round Lake, SK), and Judy McNaughton (Prince Albert). The talk will be at 1 p.m. on Saturday, with the reception to follow.

Carbon Capture Costs You, Again

boundarydamwebDid you catch the communications games your Crown utilities are playing with their rates? The Leader Post’s Bruce Johnstone ably breaks down SaskPower and SaskEnergy’s joint announcement which came out the Friday before the May long weekend. Here’s the thrust of that announcement in short…

• Oh no! SaskPower is increasing their rates by five percent come July 1!
• But that five percent only works out to $6 a month. Small beans!
• And SaskEnergy is lowering your bill by $1.70 a month!
• Put ‘em together and your utility rates are only going up $4.30 a month! Smaller beans!

Then Johnstone throws a bucket of inconvenient nuance on the good news…

• Ooooh… SaskEnergy’s rate reduction doesn’t take effect until November 1. Not July 1, like SaskPower’s rate hike.
• Double oooooh… SaskPower is hiking their rates by another five per cent Jan 1 2017.
• Put together that’s a $10.30 monthly utility hike starting next year.
• $10.30 a month is a lot more than the $4.30 a month the Crowns want you to pay attention to.

It was the old “Don’t look at the big cumulative hike a-coming, focus on the smaller one right in front of us” trick. I find it annoying but at least Johnstone wasn’t fooled.

Continue reading “Carbon Capture Costs You, Again”

Snakes Alive: Snakes of Saskatchewan

Photo credit: Darrol Hofmeister
Photo credit: Darrol Hofmeister

If you happened to read the cover story in our May 12 issue you’ll know that the Royal Saskatchewan Museum is getting ready to unveil a new temporary exhibit. The exhibit is devoted to the nine snake species that are native to Saskatchewan, and will include live specimens from each species.

The exhibit has a grand opening on Friday May 20 from 1:30-4 p.m. that will involve a variety of family-friendly activities. Then on Thursday May 26 the exhibit curator Ray Poulin will be giving a talk on snakes at the RSM at 7 p.m. This is a licensed event, but people 19 and under can attend if accompanied by an adult.

The exhibit will be on until May 2017 so if you like snakes you’ll have plenty of opportunities to commune with them at the Royal Sask. Museum in the months to come.

Exciting Goings On On Scarth St. Mall

20160515_065510In early March, I did a post about the huge pile of pigeon excrement that was accumulating on the canopy of one of the office buildings on Scarth Street Mall. The pigeons were drawn to the ledge above the canopy, I noted, by the banner that had been strung on the building for a couple of years that afforded them a convenient place to shelter behind.

The banner was removed a few weeks ago, and as you can see from the above photo, a crew was out bright and early this morning (6:30 a.m. to be precise) to pressure wash the canopy to remove the baked on pigeon poop. So that’s one less eyesore in downtown Regina.

Release The Bats!

On Thursday May 12 the Saskatchewan Science Centre is hosting an evening event centred around releasing a number of bats that had been hibernating at the centre over the winter.

You can read more on the SSC website,  but doors are at 7:15 p.m., and the actual release of the bats, which should happen around 9:15 p.m., will be preceded by a talk by noted University of Regina bat expert Mark Brigham with input from a grad student named Shelby and a special bat handler at the Science Centre named Sheila.

The event is described as being for all ages, so if you and/or any family members/acquaintances are bat enthusiasts it’s something you might want to check out.

Cry of the Lake Dwellers

Lumen print produced by placing dead fish on photographic paper to create an image using sunlight
Lumen print produced by placing dead fish on photographic paper to create an image using sunlight

At left is an image from an exhibition by artist Vera Saltzman that is on at Slate Gallery until April 9.

If you read this CBC report about the show, you’ll learn that Saltzman grew up in Atlantic Canada, so she has a resonable degree of familiarity with fish and aquatic habitats. When she was walking along the shore of Echo Lake in the lower Qu’Appelle Valley watershed she stumbled across hundreds of dead fish that had been washed up on shore.

The fish kills are not uncommon in Saskatchewan lakes, a biologist notes in the CBC report, and are typically caused by algae blooms that deplete the oxygen supply in shallow areas of the lake and result in large-scale fish die-offs.

The blooms occur naturally during the warmer months, but the frequency and severity of them is magnified when water quality is compromised. That’s certainly the case in the Qu’Appelle system, where factors such agricultural run-off and periodic releases of untreated sewage from Regina, heighten the nutrient content of the water. That leads to larger than normal algae blooms that wreak havoc on native fish populations.

Again, Saltzman’s exhibition Cry of the Lake Dwellers is on at Slate Gallery (2078 Halifax St.) until April 9. You can find out more on the Slate website.

Native Prairie Speakers Series & The Bat Man Of Mexico

The Native Prairie Speakers Series event goes tonight at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum. Guest-speaker is Rebecca Magnus from Nature Saskatchewan. In our March 17 issue we had an interview with her tied to her work in habitat conservation and endangered species. She’ll be elaborating on those issues in this talk, which is formally titled “Stewards of Saskatchewan: Habitat Conservation for Species at Risk”.

The talk is at 7:30 p.m., and admission is free.

As well, there’s a second science/nature event happening in Regina tonight. It goes at the Saskatchewan Science Centre at 7 p.m., and is titled The Bat Man of Mexico. It involves a screening of a BBC documentary about world-renown bat researcher Rodrigo Medellin, along with a Q & A with him afterwards. The event is free, but seating is limited in the Imax Theatre so you’re advised to reserve tickets in advance. Donations will also be accepted at the door.

Here’s a trailer on the BBC documentary

Intersection Of Doom Follow-up

20160304_143613On March 4, I did a blog post on the above-pictured mess that pedestrians encounter when trying to navigate from the north-east corner of Saskatchewan Drive and Albert St. The Facebook group Sidewalks of Regina queried the city via its Facebook page about the situation and below is a transcript of the exchange:

City of Regina: Hi, we understand your frustration. These barriers are there as a temporary measure to protect the signal, and associated equipment, poles and hardware, plus channel traffic into the right turn lane, until re-construction is undertaken.

Sidewalks of Regina: Thanks for getting back to us so quickly. We’re afraid this isn’t at all temporary. Check out this street view from April 2015. Surely a capital city can do better than this. When is reconstruction scheduled?

City of Regina: Our understanding is that this work was not completed due to underground utility work that needed to be done. We have asked our crews to go out and clean up this area by removing the temporary barricades, putting reflective tape on the concrete barriers and realigning the barriers to make the push button accessible. There is an initiation document for budget to undertake a functional study and land use study of the Saskatchewan drive corridor (Lewvan to Winnipeg) to being in 2017 if approved. This will determine the long term vision and plans for this area. If the budget ask does not get approved we will consider a temporary work around at this location.

Sidewalks of Regina: Thanks for deploying city crews to the site, but why did the City of Regina ever think it would be okay to keep this corner in such a state for so long? (i.e.: inaccessible to pedestrians/strollers/wheelchairs). If there’s an application in the works, they’re obviously aware of the situation, so it seems odd that it’s been inaccessible since (at least) April 2015. May we make a suggestion? Let’s make pedestrian access/accessibility part of this city’s long term vision. No more multi-year “temporary” measures, please!

City of Regina: Hi, we will pass along your suggestion to the appropriate department. Thanks for your feedback and have a great day!

Talkin’ About Bees: Diversity & Importance

Last summer, we did a bit of writing on bees and the benefits they provide to us. In May 2015, for instance, we did an article on an exhibition the Royal Saskatchewan Museum put together examining the evolution of pollination and how the co-reliant relationship that flowering plants (angiosperms) and pollinators (mostly insects) developed led to a boon in both types of plant and animal life.

The month before that, we did an article on urban beekeeping in advance of a presentation that a local beekeeper was giving at Central Library.

For a variety of reasons tied to habitat loss, pesticide use, mites and other diseases, bee populations throughout North America are experiencing stress these days. On Monday March 7 at 7 p.m. York University biology professor Laurence Packer will be giving a talk at the Royal Saskatchewan Museum on work he’s done studying bees in the field. Packer is regarded as one of the world’s foremost bee experts, so if you’re into bees, it should be an interesting talk. Admission is free.

Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Pigeons

20160304_083915Memo to whoever owns this building on the Scarth Street Mall. If you want to reduce the amount of pigeon excrement on your canopy you might consider removing the banner that’s been hanging there for a couple of years now.

In colder weather during the day, and year-round at night, pigeons use it as a handy area to shelter behind. If the banner wasn’t there, I suspect it would substantially reduce the amount of time pigeons spent hanging out on the little ledge above the canopy and defending their turf from other pigeons.

Failing that, you might want to step up your maintenance program on the canopy because at present it’s kind of gross.

Council Meeting Warp-Up: Blue Dot Be Praised (And Put On Pause)!! Country’s Greenest Council Creates New Asphalt Nation Of Timhortonistan!!

I live tweeted much of the Jan 25 council meeting while in the same room as my 5-year old (who was playing Minecraft). That was pretty nice. What wasn’t so nice was thinking about having to explain to him how our city council postponed signing onto a declaration saying that a healthy environment is a human right because they needed to get a report from administration about the possible implications from being party to such a declaration. You know how it is, signing on to a non-binding feel-good doc like that isn’t something you leap into recklessly.

“But, kiddo, let me tell how later in the same meeting, they didn’t even hesitate to approve a Tim Horton’s for the city’s northeast that will boast a 69-stall surface parking lot. Can you think of a better use of our green-space than that? Incidentally, the parking required by law for that site would be nine stalls. This new Tim Horton’s will have a parking lot nearly eight times larger than that. Talk about overachievers!”

“But yeah. Council cares about the environment. So no need to get discouraged. Enjoy the planet we’ve bequeathed you, my son. Probably shouldn’t think too hard on the climate. But at least you won’t have trouble finding a place to park while you drink a boiling cup of bitterness.”

You can follow along with my live-twittering next council meeting on my @PDCityHall account. A city hall report will likely appear in next week’s Prairie Dog magazine. And Aidan and I will no doubt discuss it during the the next meeting of the Queen City Improvement Bureau, which is a radio show we do every Thursday at 7 pm on 91.3 CJTR, Regina’s community radio station.

Spot The Wild Animal

20160103_152349I posted in early December on the plethora of migrating Canada geese that had descended on Wascana Centre during the insanely mild spell we had to start the month. Conditions were so comfortable that they decided to settle in for awhile and, in typical goose fashion, poop up a storm

In its coverage a few days later, the Leader-Post spoke to University of Regina biologist Mark Brigham about the environmental impact of a whole shit-load pile of geese crapping themselves silly in the park. If you check the link, you’ll see that he expected the water quality in the lake to be negatively impacted.

At the end of the interview, Brigham threw out the suggestion that with our surplus goose population, we should consider harvesting them and donating them as a source of protein to the food bank.

That’s a blog post for another day. But with the modest drop in temps we’ve experienced lately, most of the geese have departed for warmer climes. But there’s still wildlife in the park. In fact, there’s an animal in the photo I snapped when I was in the park for a walk today. Can you spot it?

Sharpen Those Blades

20160102_150336For several years the city’s been operating a downtown skating rink in Victoria Park. Not only is it a scenic place to go for a skate, the mix of deciduous and evergreen trees even provide a bit of a wind break — at least compared to some areas in the downtown where the tall buildings funnel and sharpen the wind to a knife-edge.

The one down side about putting a rink in the park is that it kills the grass and forces the city to lay down new sod each summer. This year, though, the southwest corner of the park was already ripped up because of work that’s being done to improve drainage and the city wisely decided to put the rink there.

I snapped the above image yesterday afternoon when I was on my way from Central Library to Wascana Centre for a walk along the lake. It was a great day to be out and it was nice to see a bunch of people taking advantage of the rink to get some skating in.

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”