Classifying the critters of UBC

Andrew investigates a slimy specimen

An invitation for Fab File readers in the Vancouver area

Who: Andrew MacDonald, Department of Zoology, green college resident
What: A lesson in love and appreciation of biodiversity
When: November 1st 8:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Where: Green College coach house, UBC

We live each day surrounded by birds, insects, plants and invertebrates: but how well do we really know them? In this talk Andrew MacDonald will share what he knows about the identification and natural history of the (non-human!) organisms in and around Green College, UBC.

The talk will involve photos, recordings and specimens of organisms in and around our campus.

(Insider knowledge: Andrew is one of the college’s most enthusiastic story-tellers. He has inspired a sense of wonder in many of our residents, and we’re excited to spread–for instance–some of his beetle-mania!)

Please join us. And stay for dinner if you can!


Do you know where your e-waste goes?

Image from PBS FRONTLINE/World

Hey readers! Do you live in the Vancouver area? If so, I’d like to invite you to attend the following event that I’ve organized for Green College, the UBC residence at which I currently reside. The guest speaker is a friend and former resident who recently graduated from my J-school program at UBC.

If you can’t make it, you can watch the documentary on this blog. I’ve embedded it into an earlier post. Either way, please check it out! It’s 20 minutes extremely well spent.

Event Details:

Jodie Martinson holds her new Emmy. Photo courtesy JM.

Who: Jodie Martinson, former Green College resident and documentary filmmaker
What: Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground — screening, followed by Q&A
When: Nov. 7th, 2010 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Green College coach house


Jodie Martinson, a recent graduate from the UBC School of Journalism, has already earned an Emmy for her documentary film work.

She is among the first group of Canadian students to ever win the prestigious award, having beat out established heavyweights like 60 minutes, 48 Hours and Nightline. Under the leadership of Peter Klein, UBC associate professor and former 60 minutes producer, a ten-student troupe crafted an investigative news documentary called “Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground which aired on the PBS documentary series FRONTLINE/World in 2009.

The documentary follows the trail of discarded computers, or e-waste, to three communities in Ghana, China and India. Along the way, the investigative team uncovers serious threats to the environment, public health, human rights and information security.

On November 7th at 5:00 p.m., Martinson will return to Green College, her former home, and talk about the making of the film as well as the issues that inspired it. Please join us for a screening followed by a Q&A, and stay for dinner if you can!

Eco expert Candis Callison from MIT to lecture at Green College

Candis Callison. Picture from the UBC School of Journalism.

My thesis supervisor is really smart. No, like, really smart.
Not to mention down-to-earth, incisive and articulate.

Her name is Candis Callison and on Oct. 7th she’s going to make Green College a little more green-minded with her  lecture: “Spinning climate change, vernaculars and emergent forms of life.”

About the lecture

When: Thursday, October 7, 2010 5-6:30 pm
Where: Green College Coach House

Abstract: It has often been asserted as a democratic and scientific ideal that the discovery of objective facts and the dissemination of such information will drive action. But the line between what Bruno Latour calls matters of fact and matters of concern is anything but straightforward, and more often than not includes traversing not only the vagaries of media channels for mass communication, but also a diversity of meaning-making, ethics, and morality.

This talk will present research on such processes, providing insight into how Americans in various social and professional groups are translating, transforming, and re-articulating climate change for diverse constituents and wider publics.

About the speaker

Candis is graduate of the Comparative Media Studies Program at the MIT, where she earned her Master of Science. She’s currently working on her Ph.D. in MIT’s Science, Technology, and Society program.

As a journalist, she has worked for a variety of media outlets, including the CBC, CTV, and the APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network).

In addition to her Ph.D. work, Candis lectures at the UBC School of Journalism and is raising two young daughters with her partner in Vancouver.

An invitation!

If you’re in the Vancouver area, and you’re curious about Green College–an interdisciplinary  graduate residence and frequent lecture venue–there’s no better time to visit than for Candis’ upcoming talk. Come for the love of learning and stay for the deliciousness of dinner. UBC students ($15) and members of the general public ($18) can purchase a three-course dinner ticket in advance or pay an extra toonie to simply walk in and join us on the day of the event.

We hope to see you soon!

The Green College dining hall in Graham House

Climate change science more certain than ever

By Anthony L. Westerling
Assistant Professor, UC Merced
POSTED  April 9, 2010 11:39 p.m. in the Turlock Journal
Reprinted with permission of the author


Photo by Flickr user Billie Hara

Numerous polls have shown a decline in U.S. public concern about climate change over the last two years. For example, a Gallup poll released last month found that a large and increasing number of Americans believe that the seriousness of climate change has been exaggerated, that it will not pose a serious threat within their lifetimes, and that it is not caused by humans.

Ironically, this shift in public perceptions comes during a time when the science of climate change is becoming more certain — and its implications more serious — than ever. A recent report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science,” documents how, over the past two years, many uncertainties regarding climate change have been resolved, observed trends in climate have continued unabated, and the basis for attributing them to human causes has only strengthened.

Indeed, according to the Copenhagen Diagnosis, a general pattern has emerged since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released in 2007: “Uncertainties … once resolved, point to a more rapidly changing and sensitive climate than we previously believed.”
Some of the findings of the Copenhagen Diagnosis:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing at rates at or above the worst-case scenarios policy makers use as guides.
  • Global temperatures continue to rise unabated. The rate of increase has accelerated in recent decades, and temperatures over the most recent 10 years on record exceed the preceding 10 years.
  • Ice sheets, glaciers and ice caps are melting at an accelerating rate.
  • Arctic summer sea-ice cover is declining far more rapidly than anticipated.
  • Sea levels are increasing much faster — about 80 percent above previous predictions. Projections for future sea level rise have doubled.
  • Natural factors, such as variations in energy from the sun, would have produced a decrease in temperatures, were it not for the warming caused by human actions. The conclusion that the observed warming can only be explained by human causes has only strengthened with time. Continue reading

Heat, but no light: What to do with incendiary articles?

by Flickr user kate.gardiner

I’ve had this dilemma before.

When someone has a viewpoint very different from my own, I don’t instinctively put up my dukes. For the most part, I want to engage. I want to give them the benefit of the doubt and try to see where they’re coming from.

And it’s not because I want to be on some kind of moral high ground–I’m opinionated and I get pissed off sometimes–but rather, it just doesn’t make much sense for me to waste energy sparring for the sake of sparring.

So here’s an example. In one of my comment threads, I had to make the following statement

“Before I go any further, however, I have to insist that you stop clouding this discussion with

1) Ad hominem attacks, like calling me pathetic.
2) Crude instructions to do things like “check my head”
3) Assumption-based “questions,” like “you don’t care about that, do you?”
4) Arrogant statements like “I’m schooling people on other blogs.”

Anyway, after giving the commenter ample opportunity to engage without the condescension and vitriol, I discontinued the dialogue (if, indeed, that’s what it was).

But that was a personal example, and now I’m embarking on media research that includes points of view that, to me, seem outrageously mean-spirited.

Basically, I’m writing a paper about the meta-conversation on climate change–discussing the discussion, if you will–and if you’ve been following the news on this topic, I’m sure you’ve heard some yelling and name-calling. Continue reading

The Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden Project

A lot of people depend on the garden 52 weeks of the year–because even if we’re not growing anything, they come out to get a piece of nature, see the eagles, listen to the coyotes howl, have lunch, get connected with themselves and go back home–Mary Holmes, Program Coordinator.

I’m currently working on a multi-media package about this half-acre of fertile land at the UBC farm. The project aims to shrink the distance between the garden and the grocery store, placing special emphasis on celebrating aboriginal traditions around food within an urban community.

I thought I’d post up this short overview by Lemongrass media, as I think it does a great (and gorgeous!) job of representing the project.

By the end of the week, Lewis and I will be adding to the conversation with a text story, a slideshow, a video and a special secret menu.

How to think about Climate change: discussing the discussion

It’s no surprise to hear all-encompassing statements about the press, as if it were a monolithic blob of “media.” One such claim is as follows: when it comes to climate change, journalists “aren’t doing anything to / are doing a poor job of” making sense of this contentious conversation.

So, is this true? Are meta-conversations about our very understanding of climate change actually absent or useless? To explore the situation, I’ve been collecting headlines since mid-March. Below, you’ll find recent attempts by many reporters, from publications big and small, to frame the discussion.

An important caveat: I have not read the stories at the bottom of this post, nor I am not actively endorsing all the stories I have read. I’m collecting these stories for a project I’m currently working on, and I just thought it’d be useful to bring a sample to the fore for the rest of you.

As I make my way down this growing list, I’ll try to provide the gist of, or  interesting points from, each media text.

Climate Change in the Headlines

Photo by Flickr user Rusty Stewart

“If the things we report and the way we report them serve only to confuse people or frighten them or anger them, we diminish their understanding of the great issues of the day.”--Michael Enright, CBC journalist

How well have journalists covered climate change? (TVO, The Agenda with Steve Paikin)

Gist: I watched this hour-long panel and I think it does provide a decent enough pan of the landscape.  Its strength is that it brings together academically-anchored as well as practicing journalists, a blogger, a scientist, a foreign policy advisor, etc, so it’s not navel-gazing. Its limitation is that it’s typical of many televised discussions. They are, by format, somewhat stilted and privileging of  breadth over depth. Still, host Steve Paikin does raise some interesting questions, and this is a good starting off point for further conversation.

Nearly half of Americans believe climate change threat is exaggerated (

[article] Excerpt: “He said the scientists who worked on the IPCC report were woefully outmanoeuvred in PR by business groups which have the funds to employ legions of lobbyists and communications experts. “It’s not a fair fight,” he said. “The IPCC is just a tiny secretariat next to this giant denier machine.”

Climate change science more certain than ever (The Turlock Journal)

[Short article] Gist: Anthony L. Westerling, an associate professor of environmental engineering and geography at UC, contrasts the decrease in American concern over climate change with the increase in certainty within the scientific community. The centerpiece of his text is the recently released report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis: Updating the World on the Latest Climate Science.” He concludes with a bulleted list of the report’s findings.

Scientists take another run at climate change (USA Today)

[News brief] Excerpt: “Eight Nobel-prize winning economists and scientists have joined more than 2,000 others in signing a letter today that urges the Senate to take swift action on climate change…”

Political ads: new weapon in US climate change war? (Reuters)

[Article] Excerpt: “Big business is now free to blitz the airwaves to attack politicians who support action against climate change, which could smother messages from environmentalists…”

“Environmental groups used to be able to get free media coverage by pitching stories to reporters. Now many journalists who wrote about those issues are gone, and the space available for coverage of the environment is shrinking…”

What’s the Proper Role of Individuals and Institutions in Addressing Climate (Huffington Post)

[article] Excerpt: “…despite the fact that these decisions are made by firms and individuals, government action is clearly key, because climate change is an externality, and it is rarely, if ever, in the self-interest of firms or individuals to take unilateral actions. That’s why the climate problem exists, in the first place. Voluntary initiatives — no matter how well-intended — will not only be insufficient, but insignificant relative to the magnitude of the problem…Whether conventional standards or market-based instruments are used, meaningful government regulation will be required.”

Continue reading