Practice What You Preach: People’s Climate March 2014

As an environment-lover, I am not perfect. None of us are. But when 300,000+ people attend the People’s Climate March in NYC, they shouldn’t do stuff like this:

Like I said, I am not perfect. Montana overall has a horrible recycling program, so I try to reuse what I can, avoid buying beverages in plastic bottles, and avoid take-out containers if at all possible, since they don’t usually biodegrade.

The march was a community of people who believe that the US government and the UN, which is set to have a climate summit in NYC, aren’t taking enough of a strong stance on climate and environmental issues, specifically climate change and renewable energy. Mashable reports what is to be expected from the meeting:

At the summit, the U.S. is expected to announce several new initiatives to help developing countries increase their resilience to climate change and reduce their emissions, as well as tout the progress made domestically in cutting emissions in recent years, according to the White House.

Don’t get me wrong: there were thousands of tweets and photos about how great this is, and I agree (see the tweets here). But this raises the age old question that most critics ask – do environmentalists practice what they preach?

My biggest problem with this photo, as you all know if you have been following my blog, is that bottled water isn’t sustainable or necessary. How many reusable bottles do we all have? How many water fountains are in public areas in NYC? How many businesses and restaurants will fill up said reusable water bottles for free?


I will get off my soapbox now. It is great that this many people all over the country are marching in protest of slow governmental action. That is what grassroots movements are for. Even the Obama administration has enacted new rules to help with US emissions, according to the Natural Resource Defense Counsel. These include changing fuel economy standards by 2025, implementing clean-air standards for fossil-fuel power plants, and phasing-out harmful industrial chemicals present in car air conditioners.

For more info, check out the Climate Action Plan and a couple of blog posts I have done about this very subject.

But the next step is actually implementing these things yourself. It is awesome that some action is being taken by the US government and others around the world. However, if you are going to take part in a grassroots movement, you have to try harder, and lead by example.

Recycle. Drink tap water. And for goodness sakes – don’t throw your trash on the ground.

Outdoor Exploration: Kootenay National Park (Canada)

On the way to and the way back from my Under Western Skies conference, I drove on highway 93, therefore passing through Kootenay National Park.

Kootenay National Park Map

Kootenay National Park Map

Luckily, I missed the snow by a couple hours on the way there, so I was able to take a few short hikes. This one was to Olive Lake: notice how clear the water is!

Olive Lake

Olive Lake

Olive Lake

Olive Lake

Next, I drove through the park taking some pictures while stopping at pull-outs along the side of the road. This park is one of the smallest surround the Banff area, around 500 square miles), the mountain views are GORGEOUS.

Overlook point in Kootenay

Overlook point in Kootenay

Overlook Point along Highway 93

Overlook Point along Highway 93

Columbia Lake Overlook

Columbia Lake Overlook

I stopped by a picnic area to take some photos of the Vermillion River – still stark blue even though it was starting to get foggy.

Vermillion River

Vermillion River

Lastly, I took a short hike to Numa Creek to see this waterfall – at this point I was near the continental divide and the British Columbia/Alberta border, so it was starting to snow. When I continued on to Banff, it was still snowing. Check out that post on Friday.

Numa Creek

Numa Creek

**All photos (except the map) are my own.

Oculus Rift and Acoustic Ecology at Under Western Skies

During the Under Western Skies conference, I attended a presentation by Dr. Garth Paine, interim director and associated professor at the School of Arts Media and Engineering at Arizona State University.

UWS logo

He works on acoustic ecology projects – using Oculus Rift technology to provide visual and auditory ecological experiences to those who can’t make it into the wilderness. This particular project is called the “Listen” project.

“The Listen project will offer creative answers to these questions by utilising innovative surround sound recording techniques, multimodal sensing and data fusion and new Internet streaming technologies that will allow individuals to undertake virtual, immersive sound walks through the remote wilderness of the Southwest deserts of the USA from anywhere in the world.”

An example of the Oculus Rift vision goggles I was using.

I tried it. Unfortunately, I could not wear my glasses while wearing the view finder, so my visual experience was hindered. However, this made the audio even better and more important. When I was wearing the Oculus Rift view finder and the headphones, I could move my head all around and experience different sounds when looking at different areas in the simulation.

For example, when I looked down where my feet should be, sound was muffled. In the grasses, I heard insects. When looking at the river, I heard the water flowing. While looking at the sky, I could hear the wind.

Paine took me through three different landscapes in Arizona throughout his demonstration. He focuses on UNESCO Biosphere Reserves:

“They differ from world heritage sites in that they encourage active community participation and are ideal locations to test and demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainability. The Man and Biosphere program was initiated by the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in the 1970s as a practical tool to deal with some of the most important challenges of our time: “how can we reconcile conservation of biodiversity and biological resources with their sustainable use”.”

He and his team, including Dr. Sabine Feisst whom I also met at the conference, has also worked with the National Parks Service, creating visualizations for Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, the Mojave National Preserve and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. 

With these visualizations, all you need is your computer and some headphones. Check out the Joshua Tree NP experiment here! (Since I love Joshua Tree so much):

Screenshot from the Joshua Tree visualization

Screenshot from the Joshua Tree visualization

Paine hopes that he will be able to make further connections with Google, as Google uses street view for tours of parks. However, Google does not have the audio component yet.

I’m probably not the only one who has never heard of acoustic ecology. According to Wikipedia, it is “is a discipline studying the relationship, mediated through sound, between living beings and their environment.”

Next time you want an outdoor experience form your computer, check out this project!

Under Western Skies (Friday and Wrap-up)

Friday was the last day of the conference!

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My favorite session/talk today was called “Oil Culture” and consisted of panelists going over the advertisement implications and communications angle behind the oil exploration in Canada.

Nancy Holmes of UBC Okanagan showed that advertisements around the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Enbridge Pipeline are focused on the environment and economy with pristine imagery and talk of good paychecks.

Jon Gordon of University of Alberta also talked about advertisements dealing with te oil industry, but also reminded us that the environmental damage is being done by people who live in Fort McMurray and other oil fields. These workers must work hard days for weeks.

Lastly, Patricia Autette-Longo of Concordia University also talked about pipeline politics in terms of literature and language. She traced the Berger Inquiry (see day 1) and how that is interpreted now with the new Northern Gateway/Enbridge pipeline. Some think Berger’s ideas of preservation still resonate today, but others, including media columnists, think that the Inquiry was “studied to death” and that a lot of money, too much, was used in this inquiry.

All in all, Autette-Longo stressed that the media is there to provide services of information, education and sensitized toward community issues in the oil fields.

Now for the wrap-up.

This conference was eye-opening for me, especially coming from at American perspective. Everyone thinks differently in Canada about environmental and oil issues. In the US, I get the gist that we are more belligerent and likely to protest something and perhaps make it violent. In Canada, they are more focused on action and asking people what they are going to do about it.

I also found it helpful to learn way more about the oil and oil sands industry in Canada, especially about the Berger Inquiry and current status of the oil sands in Fort McMurray.

Lastly, I really loved the intersection of technology/media and the environment. Many of the session presenters explained environmental and Indigenous issues in the context of advertisements, new media and social revolutions. Idle No More is using hashtags and social media as a peaceful protest mechanism. Many presenters talked about the imagery, language and context about the oil fields through the internet.

All in all, I’m glad I made the trip up here! Stay tuned for posts about my outdoor adventures, of course!

Under Western Skies (Thursday)

I didn’t make it to the conference on Wednesday because the TransCanada highway was closed for part of the day due to accidents (it was snowing a lot!).

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On Thursday, I attended sessions and the keynote.

The keynote was delivered by Tim Ingold, professor of social anthropology at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. 

I was intrigued with his ideas about the connection between the Earth and the sky. He explained “the ground is where the sky and Earth mingle with each other. It’s a penetrable surface.” Ingold went on to say that we see the Earth and sky as broken up by the surface of the planet, but instead we need to remember that this zone is where photosynthesis occurs, which fuels the world, so this makes this Earth-Sky zone a dynamic environment.


The afternoon session was presented by journalism professors from Mount Royal University. This talk was called “The Alberta Oil Sands, Journalists and their Sources,” and presenters Janice Paskey and Gillian Steward talked about their research study of 20 journalists who have been reporting on oil sands in Alberta.

Their study found that the participants like reporting on this huge issue for Canada, but are disappointed that they cannot find or access sources for other social issues surrounding the oil sands. One surprising bit of information I learned is when journalists call federal agencies in Canada, the response must be vetted/staged by the Prime Minister’s Office. This gives the Canadian government a more unified response but is very frustrating for journalists when reporting oil sands stories.

Other panelists spoke to the history of social dialogues through the eyes of academia, industry, aboriginal voices, environmental groups and the government over the past 40 years. As you could imagine, views have changed overall since the 70’s. Dr. Amanda Williams, researcher and professor at MRU, made some interesting points explaining these changes through her study:

The discussion of oil sands development has changed from national building to being an energy superpower around the world.

Language about the oil quality has changed as well. If people are talking about environmental concerns and risks, the oil is dirty. If people are talking about possibilities for trading partners, the oil is safe and clean.

Williams also explained that in the 70’s, Canada was more enthusiastic towards having the United States as a partner in the oil sands venture, but now the industry is more fond of Asian markets instead.

Dr. Gillian Steward took the stage next to continue the conversation about the study she did with Williams. She continued on to say that most of the articles written about the oil sands by Canadian national papers are in the business section, not the environmental section.

After talking to my Canadian cousins about this, it seems that these women may just live in a media bubble. When my cousin Erin heard all of this, she was a little skeptical. However, it is good to get the views of both media professionals and citizens of this great country.

Under Western Skies (Tuesday, Part 2)

Since Tuesday was almost a 12 hour day for me at UWS, I decided to break it up into two posts (see part 1 here).

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After lunch, the keynote was delivered by Adrian Ivakhiv, professor at the Rubenstein School of Environment at the University of Vermont. He talked about the intersections of culture through the media and the environment.

His first paragraph spoke to me the most. Ivakhiv said that “science and technology will not save the eco-crisis,” but little bits would help. He believes that we need more rhetoric, arguments, images, motivation, models, habits, visions sensibilities and desires instead.

I agree that a more personal experience will help with the environmental crises we are dealing with today, but I think they now get their start from the media. For example, many people aren’t directly affected by the BP Oil Spill or the droughts in California. However, when these issues are brought online and shared through news or environmental organizations, they are brought to light. Therefore, people have a choice on whether to help or not, which often adds to more people thinking about these environmental issues.

During the evening reception, I presented my poster about environmental blogs. When I started the project, I figured that blogs backed by large news organizations like National Geographic, Huffington Post and the New York Times would have more readers. I found the opposite.

My UWS poster

My UWS poster

When cataloging Twitter followers as a way to decide if these websites are popular, I found the activist websites which aggregate real news stories and add to them are more popular.

This conference is the smallest I’ve ever been to, and the poster session was split between two conferences: ours and a citizen science conference. As always, when I talk about blogs, scientists ask me how they can get more page views on their research blog and how they can engage with the public through social media!

I love getting asked these questions because it shows me that scientists really do want to communicate their research and with help of the internet, it has become easier.

Under Western Skies (Tuesday, Part 1)

On Monday, I started my journey up to Canada for my poster presentation at the Under Western Skies conference. My Jeep took me from sunny Missoula to a snowy Calgary, Alberta.

UWS logo


The conference started with a traditional Blackfoot blessing by an elder. He introduced the conference by talking about how we should take every day as a blessing, mentioning that he welcomes the sun every morning despite cloud cover. He also mentioned that we should all look at the Earth as if we are children, so that we can be inquisitive and receptive, as to “learn lessons we have forgotten from the creator.”

The next speaker was Justice Thomas Berger, currently a practicing lawyer in Vancouver, who stopped an Arctic-to-Alberta pipeline 40 years ago by showing the courts evidence of animal migration patterns, mostly. He was appointed in the 70’s to figure out whether a pipeline should be run from the Arctic Circle to the Mackenzie River Valley in the Northwest Territories that would have been the largest ever of it’s time. At the time of this project, Berger was a Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

He shot down the pipeline by citing antelope calving grounds, migratory bird patterns and beluga whale breeding grounds as barriers to development. Other reasons included increased need for infrastructure in the area, discrepancy with Aboriginal/First Nations/Indigenous people’s lands (aka Native Americans, for those of you reading this from the U.S.) and obvious environmental dangers a pipeline would raise, including spills.

Historic photo shown during the conference of Berger defending native land and wildlife through his decision to deny the pipeline.

In the end, Berger told the council/court that the area should stay wilderness forever “because there are some places that should remain in their natural states for future generations. We are stewards, we are not required to use [wilderness] up.” He did propose that a pipeline go in a different area away from animals and water, under the condition that the Canadian government settle all land rights with the Indigenous peoples in this area and create a wildlife refuge to save the animals he saved. They did both of these things.

My reflection on this is as follows: why can’t the United States do this? The Canadian government use his expertise to check out the pipeline destination. Berger traveled all across Canada in every direction talking to activists, Indigenous people, and those otherwise in the way of the proposed pipeline. After taking everything into account, he didn’t only shoot down the pipeline proposal, but added terms for the Canadian government to meet in case they wanted to build a different pipeline. Take that as you will.

After Berger brought down the house, members of the organization “Idle No More” took the stage to do the same. This group is a grassroots movement which has three values: revolutionary education, Indigenous sovereignty and the protection of land and water. “Idle No More” organizes dance mobs all over Canada in support for Indigenous freedom, explaining to the public that the Canadian government is oppressing their land rights.

Idle No More vision from their website

Idle No More vision from their website


Panelists all shared the same values of community, land and environmental issues. Panelists included community activist and education Dr. Alex Wilson (Opaskwayak Cree Nation from Manitoba), professor Sylvia McAdam (Sawsewayhum tribe, direct descendent of signatories of Treaty 6), student and advocate Erica Violet Lee (Cree from Saskatoon) and white settler, teacher and PhD student Sheelah McLean (who grew up in Treaty 6 territory).

Location of Treaty Lands in Canada. Calgary is on Treaty 7 lands.

Location of Treaty Lands in Canada. Calgary is on Treaty 7 lands.

Wilson talked about her educational role in “Idle No More.” She also explained some environmental issues going on her tribal lands in Manitoba, including nuclear waste, logging, mining and river delta damage.

Lee explained how aboriginal youth are gaining mobilization in their communities, as they are very aware of the issues plaguing their people.

McLean talked a little bit about how her experience was growing up on Treaty 6 lands as a “white settler.” Now she is a leader in “Idle No More” events and explained how IDM needs to break down white supremacy and patriarchy in Canada.

McAdam feels she isn’t an activist, but is just defending her homeland. She doesn’t see herself as a Canadian, and instead sees herself as a citizen of Treaty 6 and her tribe. She also believes that Canada and the British Monarchy are taking advantage of her homeland for logging purposes, and that these actions are violating treaty rights. McAdam also talked about the impending water crisis, explaining that many Indigenous nations in Canada and the United States are undergoing these problems. She mentioned that she heard of the freshwater crisis first as a tribal prophesy when she was child, but she can’t believe that she is seeing the issue plaguing communities in her lifetime.

“It’s not a bad thing to hug the trees. But you have to remember who’s lands those trees are on,” McAdams reminded us.

Tune in for part 2 tomorrow, which covers the second half of Tuesday and my poster presentation.