Amid an increasingly conservative Canadian
government focused on exploiting the land's resources, the country's indigenous people have risen up through a grassroots
protest movement called Idle No More.
The Idle No More protest movement was born in late 2012,
started by four activists in Saskatchewan who wanted to garner support to rally
against a wide-ranging bill, C-45, that would remove significant tribal
authority over Canadian waterways by overhauling the country's 130-year-old Navigable
Waters Protection Act. But the bill passed just before Christmas. Its passage
has only stoked the movement, which is also galvanizing indigenous
groups not only across Canada but those in the U.S. and South America, as well. Demonstrations linked to the movement have sprung up from California to Wisconsin to Maine.
Environmental justice is one of the major themes being
addressed, and in British Columbia, protests are focused on Northern Gateway, a
proposed pipeline that would run 730 miles, traversing the Rockies and
Coast mountain ranges and hundreds of waterways before its terminus in British
Columbia’s Great Bear Rainforest, one of the largest contiguous tracts of
temperate rainforest left in the world.
While the press in the United States has not covered the
protests a great deal, Idle No More is major news in Canada and the movement
gained significant momentum via Twitter (which you'll see by searching
#idlenomore). Idle No More protests, often taking the form of flash-mob style
drum circles in shopping malls and other public areas, have been attracting
thousands of participants and resulting in civil disobedience arrests.
While the links between Idle No More and the Northern
Gateway protest movement are informal, they're part of a wider reaction among
indigenous Canadians to an increasingly conservative government, says
Chris Darimont, professor at University of Victoria Geography Department and science director for Raincoast Conservation.
Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled that an expansion plan for Homewood Mountain Resort on the shores of Lake Tahoe would not be allowed to move forward without further considering a scaled-back alternative with less environmental impact. The Sierra Club, which joined with a local environmental group and Earthjustice to bring the suit against the resort, is calling the decision a victory. But so is Tahoe's regional planning agency, because, it says, at least the judge did not say the environmental review was flawed.
This is the latest in a decades-long battle over how to best protect the awe-inspiring resources in the Lake Tahoe basin through thoughtful planning and management practices—something that had been absent until a 1987 plan aimed to reverse unchecked development.
On December 12, after years of roadblocks and revisions, a new regional plan framework—focused on bringing more mixed-use development into town centers around the lake and improving the area's transportation system—was approved. The Tahoe Regional Planning Agency (TRPA), a collaborative California-Nevada agency charged with managing and improving the environmental health of the Lake Tahoe basin, is now set to begin implementation of the plan on February 11. But the Tahoe Area Sierra Club is considering erecting one more roadblock: a lawsuit to stop the plan, which it says is focused on tourism dollars rather than the lake's health.
The controversy raises a question pertinent not just to the Tahoe region but to mountain communities everywhere: What does "smart growth" look like in an alpine environment?
Jeremy Jones and Chris Steinkamp, founder and executive director,
respectively, of the snow sports environmental activism organization Protect Out Winters,
have been making annual pilgrimages to Washington, D.C., to ask
legislators to support climate change bills. The ski and snowboard
industries, they've explained, are extremely vulnerable to a warming
"What they told us," says Steinkamp, "Is 'Great, but we can't do
anything until we see the facts. We need some ammo.' The anecdotal
that athletes gave us [wasn't] enough."
The first round of that ammunition was released today, in the form of a report that forecasts significantly depleted snowpacks in many parts of the U.S. by the end of the century and ties these forecasts to business implications for the snow sports industry.
Low-snow years between 1999 and 2010 already led to the loss of around 13,000 jobs and 15 million fewer skier visits to resorts. "The difference between a good snow year and a bad year is between $800 million to $1.9 billion in reduced economic activity in the U.S.," says Matt Magnusson, the report's co-author and an adjunct lecturer for the University of New Hampshire.
With forecasts showing a warming trend of four to 10 degrees Fahrenheit in winter temperatures by the end of the century, with less snowfall and a shorter snow season, the number of jobs lost between a good and a bad snow year could grow to 27,000.
During a call with reporters, Auden Schendler, vice president of sustainability for Aspen Ski Company, didn't mince words. "The ski and snowboard industry has known for years that climate change threatens the existence of the business," he said. "This report puts financial metrics behind that change. The solution should be for ski industry leaders and trade group leaders to get off their asses and move as if this were an existential threat to their business, which is what it is."
It's been a year of important milestones in Marin County,
California. The Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which includes the Marin
Headlands, turned 40. The Golden Gate Bridge hit 75 years. Further north, the
Point Reyes National Seashore is 50. Now, an oyster farm's lease to operate on
National Park Service land inside the National Seashore has expired. Secretary
of the Interior Ken Salazar rejected pleas to extend and renew the lease, ending a highly charged battle between Drakes Oyster Company,
the National Park Service, and environmental groups.
During the 1960s, both the headlands and the beaches along
the Point Reyes Peninsula were under threat by developers who wanted to build
up and subdivide those landscapes, so locals pushed for protection, fought
hard, and won. It's difficult to imagine what Point Reyes would look like today
if it had been developed and a planned major freeway cut through West
Marine—let alone a proposed nuclear power plant.
But recently, the Drakes Oyster Company has been at the
center of a storm over the Drakes Estero, a 2,000-acre, ecologically important
estuary in which it operates. In 1962, Point Reyes National Seashore was added
to the National Park System and sections of it were later deemed to become
wilderness areas. In 1972, the National Park Service bought out the Johnson
Oyster Company and granted it a lease to continue operating for 40 years. When
Kevin Lunny purchased the company in 2004, his lawyers told him they could
likely get the lease extended, according to the Mercury News.
The accusations on both sides have been fierce. In a
polished, 20-minute video on its website,
Drakes Bay Oyster Company accuses the government of looking for environmental
harm where it does not exist and says the National Park Service has hid
information that would have exonerated the company from claims that its
operations hurt the estero and its federally protected harbor seals. In the
video, Corey Goodman, a neuroscientist and biotech entrepreneur
who Drakes Bay called in to fact-check the Park Service's findings, accuses the
NPS of scientific misconduct.
But the Sierra Club, the Marin
Audubon Society, and the Natural Resources Defense Council are among the
groups who applaud Salazar's decision, saying that moving forward with a marine
wilderness designation for the estero—making it the first such area on the
West Coast—is the right thing to do.
Kate Rawles on her Mexico-to-Canada tour. Photo: Chris Loynes
Kate Rawles is an outdoor philosopher. That is a title she
coined herself, and it is accurate in more than one way. She spends her
professional life thinking about, talking about, and being in the outdoors,
activities that culminated in the publication of The Carbon Cycle,
her account of the three-month, 4,553-mile bike ride she undertook to better
understand concepts and perception about climate change in the American West.
The Banff Center named The
Carbon Cycle a finalist in the 2012 Banff Mountain Book Competition. Philip
Connors' Fire Season took the prize,
but the nomination helped bring Rawles' book to an audience outside her base in
the United Kingdom. Adventure Ethics talked to Rawles, a lecturer in Outdoor
Studies at the University of Cumbria, about outdoor philosophy, her ride, and
the resulting book.
What is outdoor
philosophy? I spend a lot of time talking about human-nature relationships,
but I was doing this inside lecture halls, and there were no other species in
the room. The whole thing felt very abstract, so over time I started to take
those classes outside more and more.
Outdoor philosophy means getting outside the classroom. I
often take my classes sea kayaking and they have a very powerful engagement with
a very different landscape. There is a motivation aspect, too. It's not just
exploring the topic academically but encouraging students to act on behalf of
The Carbon Cycle is based on the conversations about climate change
that you had with hundreds of people during the course of your
Mexico-to-Canada bike ride. How did the book come into being? I always loved cycling and mountains and I've done a number
of trips over the years, but wanted to do a bigger trip. I wanted to use it as
a way of communicating about climate change. I wanted to raise awareness rather
than money. And I wanted to connect what is known, academically, about climate
change with what is happening on the ground.
I wanted it to be adventurous enough to get people's
attention. I used the bike ride almost like a Trojan horse, to get to people
who would not necessarily pick up a book about climate change, and get them to
talk about it with me.
The trip was 4,553 miles and I tried to follow the spine of
the Rockies as much as possible, I crossed the Continental Divide about 20