New article

Not that I have enough readers who don’t know me on other media to justify including the same link in yet another venue, but:

A mighty controversy: do windfarm opponents have their facts straight?

An article on wind energy by yours truly.

I was, frankly, surprised at how poor the case of windfarm opponents was when I dug into it. The problem is, again, that the high-quality research is locked behind a number of firewalls in academic databases and the like. There has to be a way of protecting intellectual property while allowing access to necessary information by the public.

The finer points of Environmental Assessment in Ontario

Recently, I read on a blog about Toronto Hydro’s proposed anemometer project the following statement: “Here is another fun piece of trivia: How many full environmental assessments have actually been done before wind turbine projects have been built in Ontario? HINT: There have been 17 wind projects. Answer? Are you sure you want it? Here goes: Zero. Who needs an environmental assessment when the project has ‘green’ in the title.”

I won’t provide a link, not because I don’t care about the rules of online discourse, but because the source in this case is not relevant. I’ve read similar claims all over the place, and I’m sure this writer is not the originator of this (false) statistic. I’m also sure that anyone who’s read the blog in question will recognize it immediately.

Every wind energy project over 2 megawatts in size in Ontario is required to have an environmental assessment screening.

And there’s the rub: critics argue that screenings don’t count because they’re not “full assessments.”

A bit about my background: I completed an Environmental Studies degree at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, majoring in Environment and Resource Studies and with a certificate in Environmental Assessment. Since that time, approximately ten years ago, I’ve been involved with hundreds of environmental assessments at the provincial and federal level, many of them joint or “coordinated” projects (a term that indicates cooperation between provincial and federal review authorities and their intention to eliminate duplication of effort by the proponent, but it does not shorten the process–at times, much the contrary), and plenty of them windfarms in Ontario. Ninety-nine per cent of these, at least, were screening-level assessments. The screening-level assessments for a simple culvert repair over a rural drainage ditch alone would be thirty pages long and take at least several months if not a year or more to complete. Those for complex projects, including wind farms, often produced several multi-inch-thick binders of consultant reports and a couple of file folders of correspondence between government agencies and interested stakeholders, and that often doesn’t include emails and other electronic forms of communication (which had a separate filing system where I spent the last several years). Screenings are not EA-lite. They are EA-different. This confusion in terminology is understandable, and I hope to do my bit to clear it up.

From the Ontario Ministry of Environment’s website on Environmental Assessment (the centre links on my computer come up broken, so use the sidebar):

Individual (or “full”) environmental assessments: “Environmental assessment (EA) is both a study and a planning process which evaluates the potential environmental effects and benefits of a project or undertaking on the environment. EAs are typically carried out for large-scale complex undertakings with potential for significant environmental effects and major public interest.”

What does this mean? Uranium mines, other mining projects. Projects, in other words, with the potential to create significant toxic effects for humans or the environment–not nuisance complaints. We’re talking tailings here. Cancer, birth defects, premature deaths, that kind of thing. Black lung disease. Not a decline in property values.

Or, a project can be of a type that is not well understood. Wind farms have been built commercially now for several decades, and they do not fall in this category. The impacts of wind energy projects are known: that is, we already know that wind turbines create noise, have the potential to kill birds, have aesthetic impacts, and so on. A full assessment would be carried out for projects in which the specific nature of likely impacts is not yet known.

Screening-level “class” assessments: “There are currently 10 approved class environmental assessments (class EAs) in Ontario which cover a wide range of projects and activities including: municipal infrastructure, transit, provincial highways, forest management, activities in provincial parks, disposition of Crown resources, nuisance species control, fish stocking, shoreline and stream bank stabilization, access roads, hydro transmission lines, modifications to hydroelectric facilities, as well as flood and erosion control projects.”

What does this mean? Well, for starters, from this list alone you can see that “green” has nothing to do with the likelihood of a project being covered off under a class EA process. Class EAs are carried out when projects are so frequent and routine that doing a full, individual assessment could only be considered a waste of government resources (keep in mind that civil servants need to read and approve the whole thing–do you really want MOE employees reading full, detailed assessments of every road widening project in the province, without any reference to impacts understood from previous projects?)

Streamlined assessments for electricity projects: “Since 2001, both private and public sector electricity projects are equally subject to the requirements of the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) through the Electricity Projects Regulation (O. Reg. 116/01) and the Guide to Environmental Assessment Requirements for Electricity Projects.

“This regulation sets out the environmental assessment (EA) planning process for electricity projects and determines the categories of assessment based on capacity, fuel type and potential for significant environmental effects. [as noted above, all wind energy projects over 2 MW are subject to this process.] It is a proponent-led self-assessment process similar to the class EA process.

“Projects that may have relatively benign environmental effects, such as a small wind turbine project, are not subject to any EA requirements. Projects that may have some environmental effects that can be easily mitigated or managed are required to complete the Environmental Screening Process. Projects that are likely to have significant environmental effects are required to complete the EA process as outlined in Part II of the EAA.

“Proponents following the Environmental Screening Process identify and evaluate the potential environmental effects of their projects, consult with interested persons, and outline possible impact management measures. Proponents then prepare an Screening Report or a more detailed Environmental Review Report.

“These reports are made available for public and government agency review. During the review period, those with outstanding concerns have an opportunity to submit an elevation request, requesting that the project undergo a more rigorous review. If the Director elevates the project, then the proponent must prepare and submit to the ministry a terms of reference and EA for review and a decision. If the project is not elevated, then the proponent can proceed to obtain other approvals as required for the undertaking.”

What does this mean?

It means proponents are required to assess the known impacts of the project they are proposing with regards to their chosen site. For example, in the case of wind energy, they would take the known impact of bird fatalities and assess the likely impact given the site in question: how many birds are likely to die from these turbines at this location? This is a much better use of resources than requiring the proponent to demonstrate that the wind turbine will not create tailings or toxic effluents, as would be the case under an individual EA.

Local stakeholders, including residents, have the opportunity to be involved throughout the process. Yes, it is self-directed; but it is also subject to government review, and believe me, government agencies are not blindly rubber-stamping screening reports. Civil servants can and do direct proponents to fill gaps where they see them, and this can be influenced by stakeholder input. Ho
w do I know? I was such a
civil servant, and I worked with other civil servants, and I’m sure there were times proponents were cursing our names for the umpteenth information request or nitpicky detail or quibble over calclations we sent their way–and yes, that includes wind farms.

This brings me to my last point: elevation requests. Here’s how it works:

1. The proponent applies for their permits, approvals, whatever.
2. They complete their environmental screening in support of that application (aside: such projects frequently require federal approvals, triggering federal environmental assessment processes in addition to provincial ones).
3. The report is made public. At this point, and not before, members of the public who have concerns not addressed in the report can apply for an elevation, meaning that it is “bumped up” to a full or individual screening process. They may be turned down (the decision will be made by the Ministry of Environment) because, believe it or not, sometimes members of the general public have no idea what they’re talking about. No matter how you feel about any project in particular I’m sure you would not be thrilled by the idea of John Smith at 123 Elm Street bumping up every sewer upgrade in your neighbourhood to a full, individual screening process because he’s worried that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are not receiving an adequate oxygen supply.

Complaining that the proponent will not bump up the process in advance of even proposing a project, let alone carrying out the screening review, is way premature.

I hope this information has added some clarity to the debate for any interested persons who wandered through. Mostly, though, I want you to know that wind energy projects in the province of Ontario are subject to environmental assessment. How do I know?

I’ve read them.

The Geography of Hope

The Geography of Hope had an odd genesis: writer Chris Turner, contemplating his daughter’s future in Canada’s oil capital of Calgary, was driven to find some reason to believe that her life would not be defined by climatic cataclysm.

I think I could teach her to face war, poverty, famine–human problems with practicible solutions, however complex. I could explain to her that life, as wonderful as it can be, is sometimes far from carefree. But I can’t even tell her with any confidence that there is a future with sufficient durability to serve as a drawing board for her lifelong dreams. There’s a legitimate possibility that she’ll face calamity on a scale I can’t imagine, on a scale beyond anything humanity’s ever seen. This is a prospect that makes it hard to think, makes my vision blur with angry, impotent tears. It terrifies me.

Me too.

Turner spent the following year touring the planet, finding examples of sustainability and solutions to the climate change crisis in villages in Thailand, cities in India, eco-communes in Scotland, institutes in America, and a dozen other places beside. As he repeats throughout, “anything that exists is possible”: we already have the knowledge, skills and technology to solve climate change. We just need to get off our asses and do it.

(It’s a salty book, by the way, dropping f-bombs with a far greater frequency than I’m used to in scientific texts.)

Consider the tech revolution, he argues; if someone had told you, in 1992, that one day you’d have a phone you could fit in your pocket that could read newspapers and letters from people all over the world, that could play your favourite songs, take photos, even video, and that you could buy one of these phones relatively cheap in any shopping mall in the western world (and, according to a recent story in the Star, that social-rights activists in the States would argue that having such a phone was a fundamental human right conferring access to potentially life-saving services for poor people), you would have told them they were nuts. It only took ten years to go from a world in which computers were relatively bulky and expensive desktop beasts useful for printing out term papers or keeping track of budgets to little lap-sized miracle gadgets that provide access to the world’s entire stored knowledge-base–and what it took to go from A to B was a whole lot of foolhardy investment in technologies and ideas that no one thought would work.

We’ve done it before, we can do it again. That’s his argument. And hey, this time it might save our collective lives, so supposedly there’s an additional incentive in there somewhere. The world can change on a dime.

Another example? Consider this quote, from near the book’s conclusion, about the futility of waiting for meaningful governmental action on climate change:

Who really expects anymore that dramatic, positive change will come into their lives from the current round of trade talks, the next stage of Kyoto negotiations, the coming election cycle or the one after that?

That was published in 2007.

Remember, on Tuesday, how impossible Obama’s victory seemed just one and a half years ago.

you're late

Recently I took myself to the bookstore to scan the magazine racks for potential markets for a pitch that came back to me the week before. (It came back nicely, with regrets and an invitation for more ideas, but I still need to find it a new home.) Three of the most promising magazines I brought home for detailed study, including ONnature (a publication of the Federation of Ontario Naturalists), the Ecologist and onearth (by the National Resources Defense Council). Frances Beinecke, the president of NRDC, opens her address with:

The end of an era has finally arrived. The man responsible for some of the most destructive environmental policies of the past 50 years is finally packing his bags, and a new president is arriving in Washington who wants to strengthen–rather than dismantle–the safeguards that protect our air, water and wilderness.

Everywhere I turn these days it’s the same. The Toronto Star ran an article in the Ideas section on the weekend about American scientists giddily anticipating having real! actual! scientists! in charge of the nation’s scientific institutions after Obama takes office.

I even saw a magazine cover recently decrying hipsterism as “over” and “hope as the new cool.” I can’t remember which magazine that was, but let me tell you, as someone who’s been slaving away in the hope mines all these years while cynicism and defensive irony ruled above with an iron fist, it was the strangest combination of cognitive dissonance and celebration I can remember experiencing.

No one likes being Cassandra, but you get used to the status of derided outcast, to being ignored; and then to be hauled up on to a pedestal (even if only metaphorically) can be discomfiting. Do you have any idea, any idea at all, how every time I go to the bookstore–which is rather a lot–I stare and stare at the rack of new green titles? It’s been there for months. Sure, it’s mostly lifestyle tomes recycling advice about compact fluourescent lightbulbs and turning off the faucet while you brush your teeth, but there’s an entire prominently displayed section on environmentalism that appears to be a permanent fixture of the store.

They say no one is an atheist in a foxhole. It seems, these days, like
the whole world is feeling the bullets of climate change whizzing by
our ears, and remarkably, it’s making believers out of a lot of former
skeptics. Including high-profile ones. In A Passion for This Earth, a collection of essays “inspired by David Suzuki,” Michael Shermer writes of his own 11th-hour conversion in 2006. Long-time prominent climate-change skeptic Gregg Easterbrook (in his book titled A Moment on The Earth
he argued that environmental trends are nowhere near as menacing as the
media portrays and that climate change is not happening) retracted his
position and switched to alarm. More cognitive dissonance, more celebration mixed with panic.

Listen: I was a working environmentalist through the 1990s, and that was no easy gig. So I think I’m entitled to this.

On behalf of those of us who kept slogging away for the past fifteen years on global climate change and acid rain and deforestation and endangered species and smog while the two primary mainstream responses appeared to be an angry denial of any problems or utter apathy, preferably while prostrate on the floor, playing dead; on behalf of those who kept geekily clinging to hope while being accused of planet-defeating pessimism; on behalf of those of us who have been planting trees and buying organic and writing letters and participating in environmental assessments for the past fifteen years, all the while being told that a responsible adult would have given up on these lofty ideals and traded it in for a career in finance long ago, let me say two things:

Welcome. You have no idea how wonderful it is to finally have you along.

And:

What in hell took you so long?

Chickadee-dee-dee

dsc_00120001-21

As it turns out, the friendly suggestion of emailing so-and-so for directions was less of a friendly suggestion and more of a base requirement, which makes me wonder why the directions weren’t just included with the volunteer package. In any case, we got to the right address at what I thought was the right time only to find that we were distinctly not in the right place, and had no idea what to do about it.

Instead of participating in an official bird count, therefore, we walked through the winter woods and counted a few birds on our own. And it was lovely. Cold. Very cold. But lovely. Heaps of pristine white snow crossed by those livid blue shadows you only get in winter. I’ll have to ask all my questions next year, along with the new one: Why on earth would you not include full directions with the volunteer package?

~~~~~

The one bird we heard most was the black-capped chickadee*, that improbably tiny ball of hollow bones and fluff. Chickadees are a species of titmouse, meaning a small bird, and are utterly unprepossessing: grey, black, brown, white. No impressive crests, no fan-shaped tails, no glorious songs. Not as famous as Raven or Coyote in native folklore. One Cherokee legend has it nick-named the Truth Teller for helping a tribe kill Spearfinger, a monster who would in the guise of a grandmother or favourite aunt slay children to eat their livers, but even its stories are not impressive enough to have made a mark on our modern consciousness. Only 12-15 cm (4-6″) from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail.

But it will live outdoors through a Canadian winter.

It’s emblematic of a lot of the less-showy Canadian wildlife. It’s small. It doesn’t look like much; it’s hard to turn it into an award-winning photograph for National Geographic Magazine. It looks fragile enough to be knocked out by a toothpick. But it survives.

For that alone, if nothing else, it would be my favourite bird. I also happen to think it’s adorable.

~~~~~

* Truth-telling, in honour of the chickadee: I am pretty sure that’s what we heard. I’m not an expert on birds by any means, but I think the call was the chickadee-dee-dee for which the bird was named. Finding one for a positive id on the top of a 20-40 ft dense evergreen was too much for Frances’s binoculars, however.

bird-brained

Tomorrow, early enough to drag me out of bed at an ungodly hour for a weekend, I will be standing quietly in temperatures well below zero, in a large urban park, counting birds for a couple of hours.

Don’t ask me for details. I haven’t a clue what it entails, other than–presumably–silence and watchfulness. And layers.

Either disastrously or brilliantly, I will be accompanied by my preschool daughter, who is very excited about bringing her binoculars to see if she can count birds in the big park and help people. Assuming that she hasn’t been bundled up so thoroughly that, like Ralph’s little brother in A Christmas Story, she is incapable of moving her arms and so can’t put her binoculars to her eyes. I thought about hiring a babysitter, and then I thought about my bank balance, educational opportunities, and ways of instilling a love of the non-human in her. I also thought about post-count lunches at favourite restaurants featuring unethically-raised poultry products, but we’ll leave that out for now.

Every January, we cover the Polar Bear Dip–a bunch of people jumping into frozen water for a few minutes, then running inside for hot chocolate and fleece blankets. Every January, a bunch of volunteers stands around outside counting birds to measure the success of local wildlife programs for six hours, and I’ve never heard of it.

How do you count birds? How do you find them, in the first place? How many is a good number? What species do you want to find? Why do people volunteer for this year after year, some of them coming from a hundred kilometres away to do so? Who are they?

~~~~~

I just finished Blessed Unrest, Paul Hawken’s book about the global environment-and-social-justice-movement with no name. It is a profoundly hopeful, if at times equally profoundly distressing, book, positing that in the complexity and the relationships between all of these tens of thousands of small organizations, globally, can be seen something like a new life form, an immune response to unsustainable practices. He offers no guarantee that this immune response will be effective, but makes it clear which way he thinks things will go. In a passage sure to resonate with other parents, he quotes from Michael Chabon:

“Will there really be people then, Dad?” he said. “Yes,” I told him without hesitation, “there will.” I don’t know if that’s true, any more than do Danny Hillis and his colleagues, with the beating clocks of their hopefulness and the orreries of their imaginations. But in having children–in engendering them, in loving them, in teaching them to love and care about the world–parents are betting, whether they know it or not, on the Clock of the Long Now. They are betting on their children, and their children after them, and theirs beyond them, all the way down the line from now to 12,006. If you don’t believe in the Future, unreservedly and dreamingly, if you aren’t willing to bet that somebody will be there to cry when the Clock finally runs down, ten thousand years from now, then I don’t see how you can have children. If you have children, I don’t see how you can fail to do everything in your power to ensure that you win your bet, and that they, and their grandchildren, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren, will inherit a world whose perfection can never be accomplished by creatures whose imaginations for perfecting it is limitless and free.

Chabon’s son was eight when he asked that question. Children of eight have already learned to doubt the future of the human species? That is heartbreaking.

Also, it makes standing in the snow with a five-year-old, still innocent enough to be afraid primarily of the red roses on her bedroom curtains (they might be the eyes of monsters staring at her while she sleeps), for a couple of hours counting birds seem not only possible, but necessary.

I’ve cast my bet on the Clock of the Long Now, too; and I will do everything I can to stack that deck. 

Wind Turbine Noise and Human Health

I have been over-researching an article on wind energy that will supposedly be published soon, though I have yet to hear back on the edits. It’s a problem of mine, this need to make every argument impervious to nuclear attack, as if it is possible to construct an argument that will convince everyone–especially in 1,200 words.

On the plus side, I now have a couple hundred pages worth of research that, for obvious reasons, is not going to make it into the published piece, or very likely any published piece. It’s all background. Lucky you, I thought it might make for interesting blog fodder.

Today: wind turbine noise, human health, access to science and how to dupe the public.

First, some background:

Wind Turbine Noise

Wind turbines make noise. How much noise and how annoying that noise is depends on who you ask. Dr. Nina Pierpont, a pediatrician from New York, will soon self-publish a book called Wind Turbine Syndrome, about the terrible effects that the noise from windfarms can have on human health. Understandably, it’s been snatched up by anti-wind energy groups internationally. She claims it’s peer-reviewed, but it’s not. Peer-review refers to a specific process where an academic journal asks a panel of experts in a particular field to comment on a text and offer suggestions for revision and critical feedback. What Dr. Pierpont refers to as “peer-review” on her website is really testimonial–fan feedback. You don’t get to choose peers in a real peer-review process.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that her information is wrong, although the arguments I’ve read criticizing her work I find at least as convincing as her work itself. It does mean that it lacks credibility. As she herself says on her website, academics publishing in peer-reviewed journals are the gold-standard in unbiased information. Dr. Nina Pierpont is not an academic, her work is not peer-reviewed, and her book does not count as an academic peer-reviewed publication.

A search of an academic database of articles in peer-reviewed journals (PubMed) turned up only two relevant studies, both by the same set of academics (there is a mountain of work on sound from wind turbines, but it is otherwise by acoustic engineers and other techy sorts who work with models and dBa estimates and theories about what should be bothersome, rather than measuring the effects of actual turbines on actual people. That’s not a flaw. We need that research. It’s just not what I was investigating). Here’s one:

The Study

Pederson, Eja & Kerstin Waye, Gotegorg University, Sweden. “Wind-turbine noise,
annoyance and self-reported health and well-being in different living
environments.” Occupational and
Environmental Medicine
, 2007 64 p. 480-486.

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Chances are you can’t read it. The problem with a lot of academic research in those vaunted peer-reviewed journals is that they’re available by subscription only, you can’t buy them at Chapters, and subscriptions are pricey. As a result, generally speaking, only other academics and students have access. Here’s a link to the abstract, and if you choose, you can buy yourself a copy of the individual article from their website.

The sample size is fairly large and the study design is, if anything, likely to overestimate the actual impact on human health. Pederson and Waye surveyed about 750 residents (out of a local population of 3,471) of Sweden living on average 780 metres from a wind turbine, and asked them about noise, annoyance and health impacts.

In other words, it’s based on self-reports. Self-reports are considered potentially less objective because people might not accurately assess what is going on with their own health (consider the number of people who get a cold confused with the flu every year). According to their study, respondents were more likely to be annoyed by wind turbine noise when they could see at least one turbine from a window in their home. The study seems more likely to overestimate the effects of such noise on respondents, then, than underestimate it. (Respondents were also more likely to be annoyed by turbine noise if they had a negative view of wind energy, but as the researchers did not examine whether the attitude came before the noise or vice versa–that is, whether the respondents were predisposed to dislike the noise before the turbines were built, or if they learned to dislike them after being bothered by the noise–it’s impossible to say in what way this information is significant.)

Even so–even though it is likely to overestimate the number of people truly bothered by noise from turbines–the total number of people reporting annoyance was quite low, only 31 out of 754. Think about this: they were only asked for their opinion. No doctor screened their responses. Out of the 31 who reported annoyance, just over a third reported that it disturbed their sleep.

All the usual caveats apply: just one study, needs to be replicated, rather small sample size, and so on. In the meantime, there appears to be little support for halting the construction of new wind turbines on the basis of “Wind Turbine Syndrome.”

Happy New Year

I’m in the middle of Blessed Unrest by Paul Hawken, and I thought the following passage was appropriate for the first day of 2009:

A familiar biological tease argues that a hen is an egg’s way of making a new egg. Likewise, have we evolved plants to create agriculture, or have plants used agriculturalists to evolve themselves? From a coevolutinoary perspective, both propositions are true. What is the difference between a squirrel burying acorns across the forest and humans planting potatoes across the globe? Who is the master, and who is the servant? Is it the acorn’s or potato’s idea to be nutritious, or the creature that buries them? Evolution is not about design or will; it is the outcome of constant endeavors made by organisms that want to survive and better themselves. The collective result is intoxicatingly beautiful, rife with oddities, and surpassingly brilliant, yet no agent is in control. Evolution arises from the bottom up–so, too, does hope. When fire destroys a forest, the species and plants that were lost will reassert themselves over time. Seeds that have lain dormant for decades and that germinate only when subjected to intense heat will come to life, burst into foliage, and bloom in the spring. These plants may have deep taproots that bring up minerals, or broad leaves that create a canopy to help preserve the topsoil from sun and rain. The older the forest, the more resilient its capacity to regenerate. Humanity is older than the oldest forest. Its capacity to adapt and restore is vastly underestimated. Evolution is optimism in action.

Where the "wild" things are


photo credit: Ontario Parks website

According to a story in today’s Globe and Mail, residents near Algonquin Park are fighting the Ontario government’s decision to try to site a wind farm nearby. Why? Because wild areas should be preserved in all their unspoiled glory.

Brent Peterson, a cottager who speaks for 45 families with property on McCauley Lake, says this is not a case of NIMBYism, where people simply don’t want to get too close to the necessary but obtrusive aspects of life. He says it’s not about individuals but about an unspoiled area that is “about to be industrialized.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me to go and tear down a forest to put industry in the name of green,” Mr. Peterson said. “Some areas don’t make sense for the green industry, aesthetics or no aesthetics.”

There’s only one problem here:

There’s no such thing as “wild.” “Unspoiled” vanished approximately 10,000 years ago when the first humans traipsed across the land bridge into North America. This idea that any space without obvious human constructions such as buildings or roads in it is somehow pristine or unaltered is both persistent and completely false.

Human beings are animals. All animals modify their environments. Beavers cut down trees and flood forests with their dams. Insects devour forests. Beech seedlings can’t grow under adult beech trees, and maple seedlings can’t grow under adult maple trees, which is directly responsible for Southern Ontario’s very stable mix of beech and maple trees in its climax ecosystems. The shallow roots and acidic leaves of pine trees choke out the undergrowth. Ants distribute trillium seeds by eating their juicy exteriors. Humans are no exception to this. Whether you can see our activities tangibly on the landscape in something definitely human like a hut or a skyscraper or a wind turbine or a dam is irrelevant; even in the depths of the amazon rainforest, the activities of the local hunter-gatherers have modified the mix of species (in such a way that species edible to humans are far more dominant than they otherwise would be). Layers of pollution coat the antarctic, thanks to air and water currents. And Algonquin Park? Thanks to 10,000 years of human habitation, even before the arrival of the Europeans, Algonquin Park is already not what it would have been without us. By now it is dramatically different. We camp there, hike there, fly over it, fish it, hunt in it, burn coal upwind of it. It is not pristine. It only looks pristine.

There is no wild.

Humans will inevitably modify any environment they live in or nearby. We are animals; we can’t exempt ourselves from natural processes, even with good intentions.

Rather than ask ourselves, “what can we do to keep this place unspoiled?”, which is impossible and puts us in a losing position from the outset, it would be more constructive to ask, “what are the effects of this activity likely to be, and do we want those effects, or not?”

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