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Dispatches

By Bramwell Ryan
Explore environmental issues, innovations and the fascinating. Join host Canadian journalist Bramwell Ryan for a better understanding of the world and the ideas shaping it.

Learn more at www.dispatches.ca
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Politics has failed | Michael McKernan on Lake Winnipeg

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Finding the lake's voice | Laura Lynes on Lake Winnipeg
Today we have another show in the Lake Winnipeg series. I’m speaking with Laura Lynes who works on the front lines of climate change and sustainability. She is the president of the Resilience Institute based in Canmore, Alberta. It helps communities build capacity to adapt to climate change.  Three years ago Lynes was studying for a post graduate law degree at the Centre for Environmental Law and Governance at the University of Strathclyde, in Scotland. The title of her dissertation is intriguing. It’s called:  Climate Change Law and Colonialism: Legal Standing of Three Rivers and a Hypothetical Case of Bison Personhood in Canada. In 22 pages Lynes argues that bison, especially those that remain on the Canadian prairies, should be made persons in the eyes of the law.  After reading the paper I wanted her insight on the concept of the rights of nature, or earth jurisprudence. Tapping her knowledge might make it easier to figure out if granting Lake Winnipeg legal standing could be a way to break through the inertia of decades of good intention but lousy follow through. If the lake was recognized as a person would it do anything to improve the health of the lake?  This is another in a series of full interviews I am posting as part of the Lake Winnipeg series. That’s a collaborative journalism project hosted by Dispatches. The idea is that together we can create a compelling story about how we’ve hurt the lake… and find ways to undo the damage. This is your invitation to listen to what Lynes has to say. Help me identify the key insights needed to build this story and let me know what stands out for you in the comments section on the website. And don't miss the other interviews in this series. Thanks for listening to the Dispatches.
22:09
December 8, 2020
The personhood of the lake | Lorraine Land on Lake Winnipeg
Today is another show in the Lake Winnipeg series. I am speaking with Lorraine Land, an aboriginal lawyer who works with First Nations across Canada. She spends a lot of time on land issues and of course that extends into the practical details of safe guarding nature and what it means to act as an environmental steward.  Because of that she has a lot of front line experience digging into the weeds of what it means to live in harmony with nature rather than in opposition. But she’s also thought about this is the wider sense. Does every resource development or treaty or land protection issue always start and end in the specific. Or are there principals and broader concepts that could make things better, cut through the fog and perhaps even speed up negotiations? There might be. There’s a new development in the environmental law field about a concept called Earth Jurisprudence or the rights of nature. The idea is about granting aspects of nature legal standing or making them ‘persons’ in the legal sense. Now that might seem strange. It’s hard to imagine a tree turning top in court to argue that a logging company shouldn’t cut it down.  But a corporation can go to court to argue that someone broke a contract or used their trademark without permission. Now a corporation can only turn up in court… or have legal standing… because as a society we have granted personhood to corporations. As a result, in many ways a company can act as a person and have real people speak and act on its behalf.  Corporations have been persons long enough that most of us don’t even think about the strangeness of it. But it is an act of the imagination and a collective agreement that allows an inanimate thing to become a person.  So is it any different that some are pushing for aspects of nature to be granted personhood? It’s happened in New Zealand with Whanganui River. More than a decade ago Ecuador and Bolivia legally recognized the rights of Mother Earth. Columbia gave legal personhood to the Atrato River in 2017 and the next year extended that to the Amazon. In one area of the northern United States wild rice has been granted legal standing. In India the Ganges River was declared a “living entity” three years ago.  Here in Canada some are pushing for bison to be declared persons… and we’ll speak with one of those advocates next week.  But in this episode we’re talking with Lorraine Land to help us better understand what earth jurisprudence actually means. How would that change things in this country?  And, of course, since this is part of the Lake Winnipeg series on Dispatches, we’ll be looking at this through the lens of what it might means if the lake was recognized as a person. Would it do anything to improve the health of the lake?  Let’s find out.  This is another in a series of full interviews I am posting as part of the Lake Winnipeg series. That’s a collaborative journalism project hosted by Dispatches. The idea is that together we can create a compelling story about how we’ve hurt the lake… and find ways to undo the damage. This is your invitation to listen to what Land has to say. Help me identify the key insights needed to build this story and let me know what stands out for you. Visit Dispatches to comment on the show.
22:14
November 30, 2020
Back to the future | Hank Venema on Lake Winnipeg
Like a lot of engineers Hank Venema is forceful, loud and outgoing. And on the day we spoke in his office in downtown Winnipeg he was restless too. As a water resources engineer with a doctorate in systems design engineering it’s busy at the environmental consulting firm where he works. His knowledge isn’t limited to small scale projects across the Prairies. He also knows a lot about large bodies of water after his years working at the experimental lakes research project… where so many water specialists cut their teeth. Venema doesn’t mince words about how Lake Winnipeg got in to mess it is in the first place. He says that if we hadn’t done everything we could to get water off the prairie as fast as possible, we might not have the same levels of eutrophication in the lake. But there’s no point in blaming the past. Nothing can be done about what was done. Instead, says Venema, we have to look forward and innovate. And in words you don’t often hear from engineers, he says hugely expensive engineering projects might not be the answer. Instead, what if we put a price on phosphorous and reduced the amount that ends up in the lake. Couple that with ongoing efforts to return the prairie to something like its original condition, and we might have the workings of a solution. Whatever happens, he says there’s no time to waste. Climate change, an overdue multi-year drought and continued bad practices mean that the future looks dark for the lake. This is another in a series of full interviews I am posting as part of the Lake Winnipeg project. That’s a collaborative journalism project hosted by Dispatches. The idea is that together we can create a compelling story about how we’ve hurt the lake… and find ways to undo the damage and restore the lake to health. This is your invitation to listen to what Venema has to say. Help me identify the key insights needed to build this story. Let me know what stands out for you in the comments section on the website and by email at ryan@dispatches.ca . And don't miss other interviews in this series. Thanks for listening to the Dispatches podcast.
31:08
November 23, 2020
Politics has failed | Michael McKernan on Lake Winnipeg
Impassioned, restless, tall, angular and full of energy. Michael McKernan has spent his life mixing scientific rigour, robust field work and an enduring belief that we can do better. He’s retired now but for decades he ran consulting firms that specialized in environmental management projects. He was in the rooms where decisions were made in Manitoba, decisions that we all live with today, for better and worse. McKernan can often be scathing about how slowly things change and especially how easily politicians bow to powerful forces. This episode of Dispatches is another in a series of full interviews, posted as part of the Lake Winnipeg project. That’s a collaborative effort to figure out how we hurt the lake through neglect, ignorance and greed. The idea is to look at ways we can make amends and maybe even restore the health of the lake. McKernan’s interview is long but worth the time. He’s forthright and brings fascinating history and insight to this project. He’s not afraid of the answers to tough questions. Once you’ve heard what he has to say let me know what stands out for you. Email me at ryan@dispatches.ca. Don't miss the other episodes that are a part of this journalistic co-creation. Find engaging conversations with Vicki Burns, Bill Barlow, Hank Venema and others. All are available on Dispatches.  Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts.
50:32
November 17, 2020
Stop pointing fingers | Les McEwan on Lake Winnipeg
Les McEwan lives about an hour south of Winnipeg where he farms. For years he raised hogs but now he’s growing grain. He is chairman of the Deerwood Soil and Water Management Association, which works with farmers and researchers in his area to find innovations and better ways to grow food. He’s also a director of the Lake Winnipeg Foundation, a lobby group that advocates for lake health. McEwan has as deep roots in research as he does in practice. He also has some interesting ideas on ways that agriculture can thrive but also reduce its impact on the land and water. One of the key points he makes is that we have so radically changed the prairie landscape that it’s hardly surprising that Lake Winnipeg is under pressure. This is another full interview I am posting as part of the Lake Winnipeg series. Let me know what stands out for you in what Les has to say so that together we can co-create the larger story about how the lake got in to trouble and how we’re going to fix it.
17:58
November 12, 2020
N or P? | Gordon Goldsborough on Lake Winnipeg
Dr. Gordon Goldsborough studies coastal wetlands, which includes the swampy areas along the southern shores of lakes Manitoba and Winnipeg. In this comprehensive interview he brings us closest to the actual lake, especially in to the troubled waters of Netley-Libau Marsh, the damaged ‘kidneys’ where the Red River finishes its journey. Goldsborough, an associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Manitoba, helps us understand what’s happening in those shallow waters and what it means farther north in the lake itself. He offers insight into his research and ideas as to what can be done to reduce the pressures on the lake. And in a departure from the view among most Lake Winnipeg scientists, he doesn’t agree with the orthodoxy that phosphorus is the primary cause of high algae growth. Goldsborough says that nitrogen is equally important. He cites his research in shallow water rather than in much deeper lakes, typical of the Experimental Lakes Area (the ground zero of many scientists active in issues of lake health) and shows that both N and P are culprits in what’s going on. This is another full interview I am posting as this co-creation continues. Why am I publishing this? I figure that if you listen to what Goldsborough has to say it will help identify key insights needed to build this story about Lake Winnipeg. Let me know what stands out for you. Don’t miss the earlier interviews with Vicki Burns, Bill Barlow, Les McEwan, Hank Venema and David Lobb.
43:32
November 9, 2020
Fixing the kidneys | Steve Strang on Lake Winnipeg
Steve Strang is the former mayor of St. Clements (a rural municipality around the south basin of Lake Winnipeg) and is now the executive director of the Red River Basin Commission. In this informative interview he talks about some of the issues troubling the lake and offers some solutions. He also explains the - at times - complicated geography of the Netley-Libau Marsh, the largest coastal wetlands in North America and the damaged 'kidneys' of Lake Winnipeg.
41:60
November 2, 2020
Not just farming | David Lobb on Lake Winnipeg
Dr. David Lobb has a just-the-facts-jack way of speaking. Forthright, convincing and understandable despite the complexity of the topic. So what does a soil scientist from the University of Manitoba have to say about the state of a lake? Quite a lot, it seems. Many researchers focus on phosphorus in the waters of Lake Winnipeg as a growth accelerant for the algae, including the toxic blue-green variety. The quest for them — and others — is to discover where that P is coming from and then design strategies for how to reduce it. Lobb sources it to agricultural watersheds, but not necessarily just from fertilized and manured cropland. He points a finger at the vegetation and challenges a conventional understanding that the phosphorus in waterways is in a particulate form and associated with sediment from eroded soil. He says that’s not the case on the prairies. After this office interview with Lobb last year he took me out on the land to see the issues he studies first-hand. Sadly the audio recorded in the field did not turn out well so this is what we have. This is the sixth full interview I am posting as this co-creation continues. Why am I publishing this? I figure that if others listen to what Lobb has to say it will help identify key insights needed to build this story about Lake Winnipeg. Let me know what stands out for you. Don’t miss the earlier interviews with Vicki Burns, Bill Barlow, Les McEwan, Hank Venema and Gordon Goldsborough.
12:12
October 29, 2020
Lack of political courage | Bill Barlow on Lake Winnipeg
William (Bill) Barlow was involved in small town politics for decades. He also served on bigger stages and for years was the chair of the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board. That group was tasked by Manitoba’s Minister of Water Stewardship to produce a report about the state of the lake, which was presented in December 2006. It was a hard hitting document with 135 recommendations, all of which were quickly accepted by the provincial government. But not much happened. So, three years later, Barlow’s board wrote a follow-up. If you translated that second report from its careful diplomatic language, what it was saying was: “what the hell…?”. In what passes as strong language from a careful politician like Barlow, he concluded the Message from the Chair of the second report in an unambiguous statement. “It’s time to go further than just thinking about action; the time for implementing action is now. We’ve only just begun to reverse what we have done.” Like a time capsule from the past, here are some of the alarms about Lake Winnipeg from the initial report published 14 years ago. Sadly, most of these cautions are still relevant today. There is an urgency surrounding the recommendations contained in this report. Algal blooms on Lake Winnipeg continue to increase in frequency, duration, and intensity, an ominous sign that the lake is not well. By far, not enough is happening in the watershed that might first initiate a slow-down, and secondly a reduction, of nutrient loading to the lake to restore the health of Lake Winnipeg. Now is the time to accept our collective responsibility, and to support a commitment to action for the benefit of Lake Winnipeg. We cannot wait. The time for action is now! … must not delay the implementation of the plan, since there is enough information and experience at hand to begin the task What we have seen on Lake Winnipeg in recent years demands our immediate attention. We all share responsibility for the future of the lake and as such, must make a commitment to restore its health. There is a sense of urgency in what we must do. We cannot afford to wait. From Reducing Nutrient Loading to Lake Winnipeg and its Watershed Our Collective Responsibility and Commitment to Action Report to the Minister of Water Stewardship by the Lake Winnipeg Stewardship Board, December 2006 This is the second of several full interviews I’ll be posting as this co-creation continues. Why am I putting this out? I figure that if others listen to what Barlow has to say it will help identify the key insights needed to build this story. Let me know what stands out for you.
12:25
October 28, 2020
Wilful ignorance | Vicki Burns on Lake Winnipeg
Vicki Burns is well-known in environmental and animal health circles. For more than 14 years she was the executive director of the Winnipeg Humane Society. Now she is director of the Save Lake Winnipeg Project where she increases public awareness of the crisis facing the Lake Winnipeg Watershed. She is also associated with Hogwatch Manitoba, campaigners for major changes to the hog industry in the province, commonly thought to be a contributor to lake pollution. Burns was my first interview for this project. She offers an overview of some of the problems affecting the lake and proposes ways to make changes that might improve lake health. This is an edited interview which removes some of the non-essential chatter and most of my questions (since I wasn’t mic’d I wasn’t especially audible). Apologies for the background noise; when we started the interview in Marpeck Commons at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg we were largely alone. But the area around us soon filled with boisterous students. This is the first of several full interviews I’ll be posting as this co-creation continues. Why am I putting this out? I figure that if others listen to what Burns has to say it will help identify the key insights needed to build this story. Let me know what stands out for you. Be in touch at bramwellryan@dispatches.ca
17:33
October 26, 2020
Lake Winnipeg Series
The story of Lake Winnipeg needs a better telling. It deserves better than the lackadaisical stewardship it has received. It craves more than the news release-driven reporting which typifies this — and most — environmental stories. Many people want to know how to adjust their lives so that the lake can flourish. We want to know how the lake can once again become more than a managed aquaculture project. Eighteen months ago I started working on this piece about the lake. I wanted to answer three questions: What ’s the state of the lake now? How did it get this way? What’s being done to change things? Those questions still need answers and to find them, I need your help.  Over the weeks ahead Dispatches will be posting the interviews I have conducted with the “usual suspects”.  I am hoping that by putting this all out there as ‘raw’ material then together we can hone a compelling narrative. Call it a co-creation, or collaborative journalism. The lake needs people who can swim together towards a broader understanding of what constitutes health. This body of water cries out for respect for who and what it is, regardless of its ‘services’ to humanity. We benefit because the lake is whole.  A step towards that renewal is to write a new  story. To finish that script I need co-creators. Will you be one of them? Find out more at www.bramwellryan.com/journalism
10:11
October 21, 2020
Welcome to Dispatches
These are strange days. There are more questions than answers. The volume south of the Canadian border is so loud it's often hard to hear ourselves here in this country. Yet we have stories to tell and interesting people to meet. We have intriguing innovations and... dare I say it... even some good news periodically. My hope is that you will join me on Dispatches for reporting from our country with an emphasis on environmental issues, innovations and the fascinating. Hosted by Canadian journalist Bramwell Ryan, Dispatches chases a better understanding of the world and the ideas shaping our culture. Welcome to the exploration. www.bramwellryan.com
03:28
October 14, 2020