APEG-BC and Climate Change

I’m an Environmental Geoscientist. That means I went to school and studied geosciences (in my case, a degree in Physical Geography and one in Earth Sciences), and practice in the area of environmental geology. To call myself a “Geoscientist” in B.C., I need to belong to a professional association, the same one as those who want to go around calling themselves “Engineers”. That organization is APEG-BC. For the most part, I am happy to belong and receive both the scrutiny and the protection of a professional body regulated by a Provincial Law.

However, Engineers and Geoscientists are a diverse group of people. People designing your smart phone (or apps for it), people designing airplane wings and others making sure they don’t fall off, people building roads and others inspecting dams, people exploring for new oil and gas reserves in the province and people working to make a pulp mill work more efficiently or a power grid more robust. A few of them are scientists in the traditional sense of exploring and testing new ideas to expand the world’s body of knowledge, but most are applied scientists doing their best to apply the existing body of knowledge to solve immediate problems. The difference can be subtle to the lay public, but think about the difference between a medical researcher dedicating their life to finding a cure for disease, and a doctor who spends her career helping people feel better.

Nowhere is the difference between research science and applied science as practiced by most engineers and geoscientists better demonstrated than on the topic of Anthropogenic Climate Change. Simply put: the vast majority of scientists working in the relevant fields of climatology, atmospheric sciences, ecology, ocean sciences, Quaternary geoscience, etc. are convinced by the body of evidence that the climate is changing at a rate unprecedented in human history, and that the change is caused by people putting greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at a faster rate than natural systems can remove them. It appears, from both the academic and popular press, that those that apply science for a living are less convinced.

I have no statistical evidence to support this claim, only my totally anecdotal impressions from following the “controversy” in the media (as any good scientist can tell you, the plural of “anecdote” is not “evidence”). I suspect that the majority of engineers and geoscientists are convinced of the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but whenever a group of climate change “skeptics” pops up, the crowd seems to comprise an unrepresentative number of engineers and geoscientists.

The problem became more apparent recently when my professional organization approached the subject of Climate Change. After what I have been told was a lengthy internal discussion, APEG-BC released a policy paper on Climate Change this spring (which you can read by following that link).

I have a problem with the result.

The Position Paper is 1,000 words long, but is more notable in the many words that do not appear: carbon; greenhouse; gas; warming; anthropogenic. It is the softest, most equivocal position paper on the topic I have ever read. It is actually hard to figure out what the “Position” is.

Lucky, our organization has multiple internal communications systems, and the letters to our professional magazine “Innovation” is one of them.

So here is my letter to the Innovation, published in the March-April 2014 edition:

As a professional geoscientist, I was pleased to see APEGBC issue a policy paper on climate change. However, I was disappointed reading the actual document. In stating that “APEGBC recognizes that the climate in British Columbia is changing”, the document appears so equivocal as to be meaningless.

That our local climate is “changing” is not up for debate. The more important issue is that the current global rate of atmospheric and ocean warming caused by anthropogenic activity is unprecedented in human history, and in the history of engineering and geoscience practice. As a profession, we must acknowledge that the unpredictable (and potentially catastrophic) results of this warming are a problem that challenges our ability to protect human health, built infrastructure and the planetary ecosystems that support us. Re-evaluating our assumptions about local weather effects in light of changing climate is useful, but not nearly as important as recognizing that some activities performed by engineering and geoscience professionals may exacerbate the problem.

As our Code of Ethics requires that we “Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public, [and] protection of the environment,” we must go beyond merely evaluating impacts, and we must make the move towards reducing then eliminating the root cause of anthropogenic global warming, through technological innovation and best practices, as part of our regular everyday professional practice.

APEGBC is a public body charged with protecting the public interest. It is our responsibility to recognize risks that may result from our practice, and be clear about the management of those risks. Forthright disclosure based on the best scientific knowledge is the basis of the trust placed upon us by our clients, the general public and our governing legislation. To be equivocal about the cause and potential impacts of anthropogenic global warming is to belie this trust.

I was heartened when the letter published next to two other letters from Professional Engineers in BC saying pretty much the same thing. The letter that followed mine only surprised me in the tepidness of the retort.I think APEG-BC will get it right, this was just a false start.

What’s with abandoned Gas Stations? Part 1

One of the things I do in my professional life is deal with contaminated sites.

In the same way that whenever I tell anyone I am geologist they ask me about when the next earthquake is going to happen (short answer: I have no idea), when people find out I work with contamination, they always ask about old gas stations. Why are there all these old gas station lots with nothing on them but weeds and white pipes? Or more commonly: what is going on with the old gas station at the corner of XXX and YYY?

All of the images in this post are straight screen captures from GoogleMaps.
I spent 5 minutes scrolling around local communities looking for examples of
White Pipe Farms. I presume they are all former gas stations, but I do not actually
 know the history of most of the sites I found just by surfing. Nothing I say below
should be specifically related to the sites I took images of – every site has it’s
own history, and every owner has their own motivations.

It is a long story, and regular readers know how much I love long stories.

In British Columbia, there are two pieces of related legislation – the Environmental Management Act and the Contaminated Sites Regulation – that control how contaminated land in the Province is managed. Municipalities have very limited powers over contaminated lands, unless of course they own the lands. It is the form of the EMA and CSR that cause these valuable urban commercial lots to sit empty for years.

A contaminated site becomes a capital-letter Contaminated Site when the owner of the property applies to the City for one of 5 specific permits named in Section 40 of the EMA: Subdivison, Rezoning, Development, Demolition or Soil Removal. The City is required by the EMA to collect certain information from the owner and send that off to the Ministry of Environment prior to issuing a permit. This makes sense, when you think about it. Those 5 permit types will change the character of the site – evidence of past property uses disappear when one of those 5 permits are issued. The Province wants to take that opportunity to document whether there is any contamination before evidence of that contamination disappears. If the site is contaminated, then the Ministry will most often prevent those permits from being issued until someone deals with the contamination.

So if you have a gas station, and you want to tear it down and put in condos or a In-and-Out Burger, you need to demonstrate to the Ministry that the land is not contaminated before you change the use. If it is contaminated, you need to either clean that contamination up or demonstrate through a rigorous science-based “Risk Assessment” that the contamination is contained, isn’t impacting your neighbours, and will not cause harm to human health or the environment at any time in the future. If the contamination is not stable, or if it could possibly cause harm, then you are not getting your permit, and your condo-building or burger-schlepping dreams will have to wait.

Cleaning it up can mean a lot of things. Sometimes, you just go in there with an excavator and dig out all of the contaminated soil and throw some ORC in the hole to cause hydrocarbon-eating bacteria to bloom in the groundwater. Bob’s yer uncle.

However, if the contamination is a long way down, it can be really expensive to dig it out, especially on an urban lot. Sometimes the contamination has migrated to include the neighbouring property, and the neighbour doesn’t want their building to be excavated. Disposing of this contaminated soil can be expensive. The cost of a complicated excavation can easily exceed the value of the land.

Alternately, in most cases the contamination will not last forever. Gasoline spilled in the ground will migrate downwards until it hits groundwater, then sit on top of the groundwater like Cointreau on top of a B-52. Some of it evaporates and moves back up through the soil, some is dissolved in the groundwater and flows away- diluting with distance. Some simply breaks down chemically in to less harmful compounds, while some gets eaten up by natural hydrocarbon-metabolizing bacteria. All of these degradation processes can be helped along from the surface.

You can stick wells in the ground and blow air down into the hydrocarbons and groundwater (“air sparging”). This breaks up the hydrocarbons so they dissipate, increases the evaporation, and provides fresh oxygen that encourages bacterial decomposition of the gas. You can also stick tubes higher in the ground and suck out the vapours, accelerating the dissipation. You can stick chemicals down the wells that will accelerate the degradation (but this is tightly controlled by the Water Act – you cannot stick the kind of dispersants they used in the Deepwater Horizon spill into a well in BC- things like Milk of Magnesia are typically used to boost oxygen levels).

Regardless, this type of in-situ remediation can take years or even decades, and in the meantime we can end up with a vacant lot, surrounded by a rental fence, with white pipes sticking out of the ground everywhere. Those white pipes are monitoring wells, which are used to keep track of the groundwater conditions, or the air sparging or vapour extraction wells for in-situremediation systems.

Or, of course, the owner can do absolutely nothing. (In reporting, this is what they call “burying the lead”). You see, nothing in the Environmental Management Act or the Contaminated Sites Regulation actually forces the owner of a contaminated site to clean it up.

That’s right. The owner is limited by what (s)he can do with the contaminated land (because they can’t get those municipal permits), but unless they have a compelling business reason to do something about the contamination, there is no law or other requirement saying they need to take any action towards cleaning it up. So the weed-covered empty lot can sit there literally forever.

It is at least theoretically possible for the Director of Waste Management (the senior bureaucrat in the Land Remediation Section of the Ministry) to order an owner to clean up contamination, but that power is very, very rarely exercised. In practice, the Ministry only does this if there is an imminent risk to persons or property caused by the contamination. Not unprecedented, but very unusual. There is no sign the Ministry is interested in increasing this power. And there is nothing a City or neighbouring properties can do to compel the Ministry to take this action.

So why is it (apparently) always abandoned gas stations? Near as I can tell, there are three reasons for this:

First, pretty much every gas station built before 1980 is a contamination nightmare. The old technology of buried single-walled steel tanks almost invariably leaked after a few years in the ground. Since gas was so damn cheap before the 1970’s oil crises, it was of little concern to most station owners if they lost a few gallons a day to leaks, presuming they even noticed. It was cheaper to let it happen than to dig the tanks up and replace them. A few gallons a day can, however, add up to a hell of a lot of hydrocarbon in the ground over several years. Then there was the waste oil and solvent disposal methods from the 60s. At a time when PCBs were used to clean carburettors, let’s just say housekeeping to protect the environment was not standard practice at Cooter’s Garage. This is no longer the case, I hasten to note. Modern gas stations use double-walled vacuum-sealed plastic underground tanks with automatic leak detection systems, and are very careful to recycle their valuable waste oils and solvents, mostly due to tougher laws. The legacy of old practices still haunts us.

A second factor is that there are far fewer gas stations today than there were 40 years ago. The smaller two-pump Mom’n’Pop operations have been replaced with larger multi-bay major company franchises. This means many of the former stations from the Century of the Car have been closed in the last couple of decades, and they all probably have contamination issues.

The third factor is that the closed stations usually belong to large multi-national oil companies. These companies have a lot of assets, and are in no big rush to divest themselves of fiddly little assets like a block of City land. The minuscule cost of paying property tax on an empty lot in New Westminster disappears when these companies are making multi-billion-dollar revenues. Commonly, the cost and hassle of cleaning up the land isn’t offset by the selling price they could get for it. They can sit on it for years, maybe the contamination will get better with gradual degradation and dissipation. Or not.

One thing they do not want to do is sell it without cleaning it up first, and that is, again, because the CSR does not allow for the “persons responsible” for the contamination to sell that liability. Nothing (except for your bank’s loan officer) prevents you from buying a contaminated site, but you cannot legally “buy the contamination”.

This actually makes sense. The last thing we want is for every owner of a contaminated site to sell that liability to some numbered company registered in Belize. That company could buy up 10 contaminated sites then go insolvent and disappear, abandoning the land for the Province to clean up. No-body wants that.

So the person who caused the contamination will always own it, as long as they exist. The big oil companies plan to exist for a long time. If they sell you their contaminated land, they no longer control what you do on that land. You could go back and clean the contamination up, and send the bill to the Oil Company, but if they wanted to spend that money themselves without you being the unaccountable middle-man. You could even conceivably do something that harms yourself or others with that contamination that belongs to the oil company, and the oil company will be responsible for some of that harm. Oil companies hate risk, so they would rather just own the land, put a fence around it, say “no trespassing” and do whatever due diligence is required to keep anyone from messing with their contamination. Just to be on the safe side.

So too often, the most rational business case is to just let that white pipe farm sit there, contributing nothing to the community for perpetuity. And there is nothing the City can do about it.

Some time in the next week or two, I will write Part 2 – about what the Province, Cities and neighbourhoods can do about these sites.

On Offshore Drilling, Mines, and the Cynicism of John Rustad

I found this to be an interesting story, one that probably didn’t get the media exposure it should have.

The Morrison Mine is just northwest of Babine Lake, in the woods east of Smithers. There are already a couple of significant historical mines in the area, including the Granisle and Bell open-pit copper mines that are located on islands within Babine Lake. The Morrison project would have chased a porphyry deposit related to the one that was mined at Granisle. These deposit types are common for copper, and are always mined using open-pit techniques, as they are trace deposits where the concentration of ore is usually much less than 0.5% of the host rock. So large volumes of rock must be dug up, crushed and concentrated to make economic ore. In the case of many copper mines like the Highland Valley mine near Logan Lake in the southern interior, the copper part of the business is often run as a break-even business, and all the profits come from the trace gold, silver, platinum, and other more valuable minerals that are extracted as accessory to the main copper operation (indeed the Morrison deposit reports .2g of gold per tonne, and could have produced up to a million ounces of gold over its life).

Grand Isle and Bell mines, on Babine Lake.

However, the Morrison Mine will not be, at least not as per the current plan. The environmental impacts were deemed too significant by the BC Government, or the proposed mitigation of those impacts was seen as insufficient. The copper is still there, the deposit still economic, so I suspect Pacific Booker will revise and come up with a less-impactful way to extract the deposit, or will sell off the rights to someone who thinks they can make it work.

This is the second copper-porphyry copper deposit that has been denied a Provincial Environmental Review Certificate under the current Liberal Government, after Kemess North was denied in 2007. (Remember, the controversial Prosperity Mine project that was going to nuke Fish Lake received Provincial Approval, but was subsequently rejected by the Federal Government)

I honestly don’t know enough about the Morrison project to know if the rejection was a good thing or not. I give the benefit of the doubt to Terry Lake and presume that if the Government felt the impacts were such that they outweighed the benefits, then the rejection is a good thing. The copper isn’t going anywhere, and it will still be a valuable resource when someone figures out how to exploit it in a less impactful way.

What I do find interesting is how this story relates to my earlier post criticising the meme propagated by a local mining executive that “the NDP will Kill Mining in BC” if elected.

In discussion around that meme, the topic of Tatshenshini Park is always raised, as in the suggestion that it was the Harcourt-led NDP Government turning potential mine site into a park in 1993 put a deep chill on mining exploration that took the Liberal Government to cure. This ignores the impact of historic-low metal prices and the Bre-X scandal on speculative investment on mineral exploration. It also ignores the point that the United States Government was not going to approve the Mine and attached pipeline as suggested (creating a nasty Boundary Waters Treaty dispute), that the acid leachate management plan for the mine would have relied on non-existent technology, or that there were dozens of serious concerns about the mining plan from First Nations, the Canadian and US Salmon fishing industries, Environment Canada, the EPA, and the US National Parks Service.

Click here if you want to read a good run-down of the legal framework around Windy Craggy. The last paragraph is great, as they quote the President of the company that spent all the money planning and proposing the Windy Craggy mine, and the compensation that company received from the BC Government for their lost revenue:

“Geddes Resources president John Smrke stated that the settlement ‘sends out a very strong signal that, indeed, B.C. is open to mining.'”

Does that sound like someone who thinks the BC NDP Government was killing mining in BC?

But back to the present day. If the NDP was killing mining by shutting down 1 potential mine and compensating the exploration company, how are the BCLiberals supporting mining by shutting down two potential mines over the last 5 years?  Maybe that is why the BC Liberals have been pretty quiet about it, including the Babine Lake local MLA.

A story that DID get a little media this week was John Rustad, MLA, tweeting about the idea of opening up the west coast for oil exploration. Now I have poked at John Rustad a bit in the past, but I can’t help but feel his well-timed comments about offshore exploration outside of his riding will serve as a useful distraction.

Indeed, if you look at John Rustad’s webpage, you find no mention of Morrison Copper. Which is funny, as the mine is right smack-dab in the middle of John Rustad’s electoral riding, and John Rustad is a Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, so you figure he would have an opinion on the scupper of a mine in his backyard.

At least as much as he has an opinion on offshore oil exploration, speaking as he is from his land-locked interior riding, 300km from the sea.

Will the NDP kill Mining in BC?

I was prompted to write this post by a Twitter conversation last week. One of the local #NewWest Twitterati opined (not for the first time) that mining and exploration money will abandon British Columbia if the NDP are elected. His opinion seems worthy of consideration: although he is an outspoken supporter of the BCLiberals, he has also built his career in mineral exploration, so maybe this is more about the job than the politics?

Problem is, it contrasted with my (much shorter) personal experience with mineral exploration in BC. A few years after completing my undergrad, I worked a bit of the BC Geological Survey Branch, wandering around mineralized parts of Central BC helping put potential mineral exploration targets on maps. Ms.NWimby had a real job with the BC GSB, conducting geochemistry and drift exploration studies in other parts of the Province, for much the same reason.

At the time, exploration in BC was suffering. There were not that many jobs in BC for just-out-of-school grads in geology. True, the NDP were in office, but I don’t remember anyone talking about that. When talking to small placer miners up the Omineca Mining Access Road, they were talking about one thing only: gold prices. There were sole operators up there who were putting all of their gold into safety deposit boxes, because at under $300/ounce, it wasn’t worth selling.

When Ms.NWimby and I moved to Illinois, we went there to work for the Illinois State Geological Survey, partly because the writing was on the wall for the BC GSB. The message from the incoming Liberal Party was to not expect any investment in the BC GSB: layoffs were coming, and it was time to pull up stakes and find other opportunities if we wanted to do geological science.

So I thought I would look back at how BC governments have impacted exploration spending in BC since Dave Barrett’s rule. Easy. The BC Government produces a list of historical annual exploration expenditures in the Province. Not Government expenditures, mind you, but private sector investments in the future of BC mineral industry. This is the money that disappears quickly when the private sector get scared that the Government of the day is “unfriendly”. It is also a much better measure of “industry confidence” than actual mining revenue, as mines take a long time to set up, and once operating, carry a lot of momentum – so they tend to last through multiuple administration changes.

I plotted the exploration investment data, Millions of Dollars per year, against the years of Social Credit, NDP, and BCLiberal rule, from just before Dave Barrett’s short 1970s government through the longer late-90s NDP and the current BCLiberals. It sure looks like there was less spending during the NDP. Just look at the precipitous drop in 1997:
There was another event that was big news in the 1990s that hurt mineral exploration. The Bre-X scandal was huge news in the Earth Sciences Department at my University, and in the Canadian mining sector. Actually, that is an understatement. It was, after all, the biggest mining scandal in history, and it happened right here in Canada. It pulled the money-carpet out from under every junior mining exploration stock on the Toronto and Vancouver Stock Exchanges. The effect it had on how much all those companies spend on exploration is obvious:

Aside from thsi single event, we need to think about where this exploration money comes from – selling stocks in Junior Mining Firms. When people invest in these companies, they are, of course, thinking about potential return-on-investment. That return is essentially based on two things: the company’s chances of finding a marketable amount of metal, and the price of the metal when they market it (don’t start me on the whole pump-and-dump factory that was the VSE). Read any junior mining prospectus, and those are the two things they talk about at length.

So what happened to metal prices over that same period? (please follow links to find the Government references to all the data I use below, I don’t make this stuff up)

I went to the USGS and looked up their historic mineral stats to find the value of those metals as commodities on the world market. I then compared that to the actual minerals BC produces the most of. According to the Government of BC, 59% of BC’s mineral industry value comes from Copper, 17% from Gold and 11% from Zinc. Essentially, 87% of the money BC makes from mining metals comes from these 3 metals, and their value has changed over the last 40 years:

To combine this into a single graph, I turned all three numbers into price indexes. I divided each year’s price by the 1971 price, so this graph shows the value for the three metals compared to their 1971 value.

Notice gold changed more than other metals, but represents only 17% of BC’s metals wealth. So I multiplied the numbers above by the percentage of their proportion of BC metals wealth, according to the BC Government stats from above (Copper *0.59 + Gold *0.17 + Zinc *0.11). We get a single graph of the change in value of 87% of BC’s mineral wealth over the last 40 years, not due to Provincial Government action, but simply due to the fluctuations in global metals markets:

Then lets project that graph over the original one showing exploration spending:.

Then I ask you, does it look like the government in Victoria has as much effect on the amount of mineral exploration money spent in BC as the global metals markets? Who was more responsible for the jump in the late 1970s- Bill Bennett or the Hunt Brothers? Was Gordon Campbell responsible for the value of gold taking off after 2001? Was the NDP responsible for Bre-X?  

Even the greatest “socialist” insult to mining exploration – the dedication of the Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park, which killed the massive Windy Craggy Mine project – is hardly a blip in the exploration-investment graph (it took place in June, 1993), despite what the Fraser Institute may say. I added that arrow, only to contrast the impact of the Tat announcement with that of the Bre-X fraud. (Funny, the Fraser Institute site returns no searches for “Bre-X”).

So unless Adrian Dix has the power to single-handedly manipulate the world metals markets, I will treat the “NDP will kill mineral exploration” meme as just another case of political hyperbole that doesn’t fit the data.

Signs of Protest

I was driving along Highway 3 this past weekend, along one of my favourite roads. I have driven and cycled this road more than a hundred of times in my life, the 600km from my first Home to my adopted Home. It seems I know every curve, every hill, every summit (can name them off the top of my head, and picture each clearly: Allison, Sunday, Richter, Anarchist, Phoenix, Paulson), every place where the Police hand out tickets.

One of the spectacular stretches for a geologist is west of Richter Pass, as you drop into the wide, flat Similkameen Valley, bounded by the vertical wall of the Catherdal Range of the Okanagan Mountains. The valley floor has a classic underfit meandering river flanked by the shallow drapes of alluvial fans leading up to much steeper scree slopes of colluvium. Traditional ranching and hay fields on the slopes are increasingly being turned over to viniculture, while the orchards of Keremeos continue to pound out unreasonably good cherries, apples, and stone fruit.

Aside from the human uses, these grasslands represent a rare ecosystem in British Columbia: A sagebrush desert. With rapid development up the mountains in the adjacent Okanagan Valley, these ecosystems are under a lot of pressure. To call it a desert makes it sound, well, deserted, but this area has the highest concentration of threatened or endangered species of any similar-sized region in Canada; at least 23 different listed species, from Pacific rattlesnakes to Flammulated owls, and one-third of the red-listed species in the Province. Protection is spotty, development is encroaching, and the ecosystem is threatened.

With this in mind, the (Liberal) Federal Government signed a memorandum of understanding with the (Liberal) Provincial Government in 2003, to do the appropriate feasibility studies towards developing a National Park or National Reserve Lands (the first in the Okanagan). The MOU includes the statement:

“On February 11, 2003, the Government of British Columbia announced in its Speech from the Throne its interest in exploring the potential for establishing a new National Park Reserve in the Okanagan area, and its “Heartlands Economic Strategy” by which economic development plans will open up new opportunities for tourism, resort development and recreation, among other things, in the Province of British Columbia”
Sounds good; a Park plan which will balance out economic growth in an area of intense tourist interest and very unique geography and ecology (currently unprotected by any National Parks), to provide recreation opportunities while limiting impacts. In a region full of seasonal hotels, campsites, fruit stands, and tourists, who could possibly oppose?

People who like to shoot things and burn hydrocarbons for entertainment. That’s who.

A local “No National Park” movement began, led by a small but determined group of hunters and ATV enthusiasts out of Oliver, BC, who were offended that their chosen recreation activities may be even slightly encroached upon in the name of protecting ecological lands or endangered species.

Long story short, after 9 years of consultation, the Province caved. With her characteristic ability to solve problems, bring people together, and provide leadership you can believe in, our Premier was unable to voice support for a Park that had broad local and First Nations support, with backing from a broad range of people and groups across the country. Apparently recreational lead-shooters and gasoline-burners have a lot of voice in one of the last remaining BCLiberal strongholds in the Province. The Federal Conservative Government, citing a lack of interest on the part of the BC Liberals announced this spring that they would no longer explore the Park. Even while they announce a big park up North that will apparently feature spectacular mining expanses.

The fight may be over (or not…), but the signs are still up all through the Similkameen Valley. To me, this entire story has been about a 9-year sign war played out across the Cawston countryside. That small, organized group did a good job plastering Highway 3 with red-on-white signs, stating “No National Park”, confusing the hell out of thousands of RVs from Alberta and Germans in rental cars every year. Really, it does not present the most inviting message to passing drivers: “Wer ist gegen einen Nationalpark?!?”

It has only been the last year or so that a counter-protest sign campaign has started, using much more positive, if derivative, imagery:

And even some more creative approaches:

And now, with the entire thing in limbo, maybe the time was right for the ultimate modern slacktivist movement:

Now there is a protest I can believe in.


Freedom of Crappy Information

The Wikipedia/Reddit/BoingBoing protest today, stemming from the SOPA “Stop On-line Piracy Act” and PIPA “Protect Intellectual Property Act” legislation pending in the Excited States was an interesting event. The issues are huge: freedom of information versus ownership of intellectual property, or at least how it is being cast.

So I am now going to do a long rant, almost as dull as looking at Wiki’s black page today.

I think this is a fight between an existing paradigm for information and the opening of a whole new world. This is nothing less than the first strike in WWW 3.0 with the old media (print, music, motion pictures) finally understanding that their business model is dead, but they will not go down without a fight.

More importantly, this is definitely NOT a battle between the “little guy” every day internet users and file sharers and the “Big Business” people who make movies, run record labels and produce printed materials. The antagonists here are one type of Big Business (record labels, movie studios, TV networks) and another type of Big Business (Google, YouTube, Wikipedia). To one group, the “little guy” is a customer, to the other, he is the product.

The Business Model of the old media was to sell you content. You bought books, you bought movie tickets, you bought records. Pretty simple. The improvement on this was the business model where you get the print or the music or the movie for free, but they sell your attention to a third party advertiser – Newspapers, Radio, Network TV. The internet has completed that transition, as the only real product Google has is your attention. “Free” websites like those taking part in the blackout today make a lot of money selling your attention to advertisers. Wikipedia is amazing, as they get the users to generate the content – as I guess Google does with things like Blogger, the “free” host of this blog. I’m sure they are tracking your use, after all, I can go to Google Analytics and download the stats for my Blog, including stats about the people who visit it.

There is a market for websurfing info. I met a woman a few weeks ago who worked for a marketing research firm, they had 200,000 “volunteers” who shared their surfing habits with her firm, who stats-massaged them, then packaged them into marketing plans for clients. She was reluctant to mention it, but admitted most of the “volunteers” had no idea they were volunteers, because they didn’t read the small print of their terms and conditions of some free “App” they downloaded for their iPhones.

So the SOPA and PIPA Act battle seems to be between old media, who want to make you pay for content, and new media, who want to make it easy for you to share content you may or may not have created, as long as they can track how you do it.

Frankly, I don’t give a damn. Because the internet is, in my opinion, too big to stop. The whole purpose of it is to be distributed, and the Old Media types can whack-a-mole with sites trying to “steal” their intellectual property, but they will never win. I’m not saying it is right, I’m saying it is reality. Old Media would be better served trying to update their business models before they join the buggy whip and quill pen industries in the dustbin of old ideas.

Still, isn’t this about freedom of information, you say? I guess it is, but primarily, it is about the freedom of bad information. If I am going to fight a freedom of information battle, it will be against Elsevier and the Research Works Act. This Act will ensure that the private sector will be rewarded by having the exclusive distribution rights to academic research papers.

For those of you not in science, let me explain. When Patrick Johnstone, researcher, does a bit of science, he tries to publish it in a peer reviewed journal. You do this for several reasons: it provides legitimacy to the research you do, to is the easiest way to share your data and results with other researchers – they an vet it, they can prove it wrong, they can build on it. That is how science works. We also do it because our worth as a researcher is often measured by out ability to publish original work in academic journals. In a sen se, these journals are the currency of science

In the good old days, these journals were produced by academic organizations, say, the Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences is produced by the Geological Association of Canada. If you were a member of the GAC, you got a copy of the CJES every month, and Academic institutions would get copies for their libraries. Students and other researchers would go to the library and (illegally – but that’s the grey area) photocopy papers from the Journal and cite them, learn from them, etc.

However, publishing and producing these journals, distributing them to libraries and – this is more important – creating on-line access to papers and searchable databases of their content – soon became the interest of a few Multi-national Corporations. Elsevier being probably the biggest. This is a Dutch company that also does great business running arms shows, but that’s another story.

As a result, for scientific researchers to share data over this great technology designed originally to allow scientific researchers to share data – the internet – they gotta pay Elsevier or the like. If you search for the paper I wrote in 2006 while doing my Masters, you can find it mentioned in library search engines, but if you try to read it on line you get this. Ingenta Corporation owns it. You can read it for $40. Trust me, I will see none of that money. I have no right to that intellectual property.

Or you can do what this instructor has done, and put it on line illegally. Which I, as the author, might be OK with (no money out of my pocket), but the Research Works Act wants to make sure is very illegal.

I can hear you now – Who cares? A couple of tweedy-sleeved academics can’t own their vanity projects. But the problem isn’t my little paper about some obscure rock outcrops in the Gulf Islands (talk about Crappy Information!), it is about how academic data will be kept more separate from the public at a time when the entire world is shifting towards freer exchange of information.

So when the topic of Anthropogenic Climate Change comes up, a crank like “Lord” Monkton can make a bunch of bald assertions about how CO2 is good for plants, and therefore climate change isn’t a problem, then back it up with an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph and a blog post put out by the Heartland Institute. It’s all bullshit, but it looks legit to the average reader. How is a curious person to know? A well-intentioned scientist could refute the points made by Monkton with a ream of scientific data to the contrary. She could even give you links to 20 or 30 peer reviewed scientific articles that clearly demonstrate the falsehood of Monkton’s statements. But you won’t be able to read them unless you pay $100 or more to get past Elsevier’s paywall.

So the freedom of information question to me is this: What is the fate of our discourse in the WalMart world if bullshit is free, but factual scientific data costs large?

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Review – Part 5. On the topic of B.S.

As previously noted, Dr. Patrick “Sensible Environmentalist” Moore is a big fan of the Alberta Bituminous Sands. I call them that, because as Dr. Moore points out in his book, “Tar Sands” is a misnomer, as they don’t actually contain “tar” in the technical sense of the word. If we follow his footnote reference (I kid you not, Wikipedia is the actual reference he uses), we discover that they don’t contain oil either, in the technical sense of the word, so “Oil Sands” is an equal misnomer. Therefore I will call them what they are: Bituminous Sands, or B.S. for short. 
You see, “tar” is a highly viscous liquid hydrocarbon mixture originally extracted from coal, but more typically now extracted from petroleum. “Oil” is a less viscous liquid hydrocarbon mixture originally extracted from whales, and now more commonly extracted from petroleum. Since we are in a definition mood, bitumen is a naturally-occurring amalgam of numerous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, with high sulfur content and relatively high concentrations of various metals (such as chromium, lead, nickel, mercury) and some non-metals (such as arsenic and selenium), in reduced (and therefore more bioavailable and toxic) states due to the anoxic conditions in the bitumen, but maybe that is too much detail. Dr. Moore’s fandom of B.S. is no secret, but in his book, he really lays out his best argument for B.S. development. Even in a book full of muddled thinking and logical fallacies, this argument may stand above all for it’s sheer absurdity:

“To put things in perspective, consider when a gas station spills oil or gasoline from a leaky underground tank. The site is declared “toxic real estate ” and must be cleaned up, often at the cost of millions of dollars. The oil sands [sic] in Albetra are a massive area of toxic soils, and the companies that operate in the oil sands [sic] are removing oil [sic] from the soil, on a very grand scale, making a profit selling the oil [sic] as a transportation fuel” Page 256

Now, I am no expert. I only took post-graduate courses in sedimentology from SFU and Petroleum Geology from the University of Illinois, and spend a few years working in the remediation of hydrocarbon-impacted soils and groundwater throughout BC, so by all means defer to Dr. Moore’s Ph.D in Ecology when it comes to these matters, but I contend B.S. extraction has almost exactly nothing to do with the remediation of fuels and oils spilled from underground fuel tanks.

The reason we clean up after fuel tanks spill or leak into the ground is because automobile fuels (gasoline and diesel) contain a variety of monocyclic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, along with a variety of halogenated hydrocarbon compounds. Many of these compounds are soluable in water (meaning they enter groundwater and flow towards drinking water sources or fisheries habitat) and/or volatile (meaning they evaporate at common surface temperatures, and can therefore move through the soil into basements, buildings, or confined spaces). These are generally bad things, because many of these substances are either carcinogenic or toxic to people, plants, or animals. They also cause reactions in soil and groundwater than can result in the reduction of metals found in the soil, ruining groundwater quality, or potentially increasing the toxicity of the metals in groundwater. Add to this waste oils and antifreeze, octane boosters, anti-microbial preservatives, fuel system solvents that “keep your engine running clean!”, and your average gas station has a lot of nasty things that can accumulate in the soil and groundwater. 
It is important to note that the gasoline (and, to a lesser extent, diesel) you put in your car is not a natural substance that is extracted from B.S. like one might extract moonshine from a pile of sopping grain mash. Instead, the B.S. is subject to chemical washes, solvents, thermal and/or catalytic cracking and distillation. Various substances are then added to stabilize the resultant fuel, to stop it from freezing, pre-ignition, gelling, separating, or rotting when exposed to oxygen and/or water. Very few of these things would you want collecting as vapor in you basement, or entering your drinking water supply, or corroding the water or gas pipes in your front yard. Therefore, it is often a good idea to “clean up” after a leaky gasoline tank. More than a good idea, if you are in an urban area and/or the leak migrates to your neighbours property, it is the Law.
Even then, Dr. Moore might be interested to learn that, increasingly, the most logical and efficient way to deal with gas station contaminated sites is not to physically clean them up, but to use a “risk-based” approach. Here, all or some of the actual contamination is left in the ground, because the Investigator has determined that the contamination is stable, and there is no practical pathway to human or ecological harm. If (for example) the hydrocarbons are 15 metres down below relatively impermeable soils, are slow moving, and are 2 km from the nearest surface water or drinking water source, then they may not constitute a risk to anyone or anything if left in the ground to naturally decompose. Sometimes systems are installed to pump air down to the contaminants, to hasten that natural decomposition, and in pretty much every case, the person responsible for the contamination has to monitor it to make sure this “no risk” condition doesn’t change. The point is that it is safer to just leave that stuff down there than to dig it up, truck it around, and find a facility to either treat or dispose of it. 
Which brings us to B.S. extraction.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the B.S. is not sitting there on the ground waiting to be scooped up. If it was, then it is unlikely that there would be much to extract, as natural processes such as rainwater dilution and organic and non-organic decomposition would have caused it all to go away over the millions of years since the bitumen migrated into the Mesozoic and Cenozoic sediments in which it is trapped from the Paleozoic rocks which are it’s original source. The reason it is preserved in that younger “host rock” is that there is an overlying “cap” of impermeable sediments covering it. Except for a few small, local “seeps” where the bitumen actually comes to the surface, you either have to dig for it, or process it in the ground with heat or steam, and pump it to the surface. 
Since this impermeable surface cap is generally more than 50m thick, and since there is, therefore, no reasonable pathway to human health impacts or ecological health impacts if the B.S. we’re left where it was, most competent Contaminated Sites Professionals, when presented with an Athabaskan Bituminous Sands type scenario, would recommend leaving the contaminated soils in place, a limited annual monitoring program, and perhaps minor risk-mitigation measures such as burying the “seeps” under impermeable caps, or trap-and-treat at the seeps, and restricting the extraction of impacted groundwater as a drinking water source. It would be the most responsible, cost-effective, and lowest-impact approach.
Compare this to what is happening today at the B.S. This safely-tucked-away bitumen is being either scooped up (after removing and setting aside the protective overlying cap) and then treated with solvents and/or having hot water run through it, and is being sifted and sorted in extremely energy-intensive ways. The sand is then returned to the hole, but it is not “clean”. At a contaminated site, the sand used to fill an excavation must be tested to not itself contain contamination. As the extraction methods used at the B.S. are far from perfect, there is no way the sand byproduct would meet Contmainated Sites Regulations standards. 
The other wastes – mostly water, fine sediments, and residual solvents – are dumped into vast open-air settling ponds, where volatiles evaporate off, heavy metals collect on the sediments, and leakage into the surrounding ecosystem is a certainty. There is currently no long-range plan to manage these ponds.
Alternately, “in-situ” methods are used when the B.S. is too deep to economically dig out – if the protective impermeable cap keeping the B.S. from harming people and the environment is too thick to feasibly strip off. In this case, solvents, steam, hot water or even hot oil are pumped down to liquefy and volatalize the B.S., then pressure used to pump them through the ground to extraction wells. The same settling ponds for waste water and sediments are used, but this adds the bonus of mucking up the groundwater systems for large areas around the extraction zones. 
You can argue B.S. extraction is better or worse than conventional oil extraction, or risky deep sea drilling, but you cannot truthfully argue that it is the same thing as cleaning up a contaminated gas station site. 
I wish this terrible argument was anomaly in this book, but it isn’t. Dr. Moore’s Confession is so chock-full of bad thinking, logical fallacy, post-hoc rationalization, and straight-up bullshit, that it is hard to read without verbally responding to it while reading. My better half has asked me to stop reading it in her presence as my guffaws and invocations disturb our quiet time together. The best feature I have found about this book so far I that it is soft-covered and printed on pulpy paper, so it causes very little damage to anything more valuable than it when tossed in rage across the room.

Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout Review – Part 2

Still not through this book. What can I say, a lot has been happening in my life. There is lots of cool stuff about his campaigning in the 70s, with significant amounts of daring do and hijinks on the high seas, but first I would like to make one more point about Chapter 1.

For a guy with a Ph.D. in science, Dr. Moore has a pretty poor understanding of the scientific process. He seems to gloss over why it took him so long to get his dissertation done, although he alludes to corporate conspiracy. I wonder if he ever took a philosophy of science course? To be fair, he might be a victim of an overzealous editor’s ham-fisted attempt to dumb it down for the masses, but it comes across as a Grade 8 Science class outline of what science is, and how it works.

It starts with describing science as

“the accumulation of knowledge that could be passed down through generations” (p. 25).

Science is not a cumulative body of knowledge; it is a process to evaluate ideas, explore and describe the processes behind observable phenomenon, and make predictions based on a body of observational evidence. Accumulated knowledge is a product of science, but it is not what science is. That may sound like semantics, but it isn’t. Fundamentally, “science” is not a pile of books on a library shelf; it is a method to understand reality.

Then it gets worse:

“[an example of] a hypothesis is ‘If I drop a rock from a height, it will fall to the ground’. After thousands of replications the statement proves true in every case. The hypothesis is proved and soon becomes a theory, and ultimately a law, in this case a law of physics. A law is something that has never been disproven.”[p.25]

This is embarrassingly wrong, built on a meme that is repeatedly dragged out by the very pseudo-scientists he is wont to criticize (Flat-Earthers, Creationists, Wi-fi cancer-link scare mongers, etc.): that of a mythical scientific hierarchy-of-truth made up like this:

Facts < Hypotheses < Theories < Laws.

A better explanation of the relationship between those four terms is: Facts exist and can be determined with careful and systematic measurement of observable phenomenon , hypotheses are simple ideas that can be tested and verified using the measurement of facts, but only upon a framework of existing theories and laws.

A significant point: facts can exist without precision; they do not have to be exactly right to be correct. I love the story of the Richardson Problem. He was the mathematician who described the length of a border or a coastline varying based on the length of the tool used to measure it. As Mandlebrot put it: the length of Britain’s coastline increases to infinity as the ruler shrinks to infinity. But I digress…

A theory is not just a really, really good hypothesis. It is a functional model describing observed phenomena. A theory is something you test hypotheses against. Often theories describe a large number of observed phenomena in a single, elegant model. Plate Tectonics, Evolution through Natural Selection, General and Special Relativity, Germ Theory, Atomic Theory. These are the ideas upon which science is borne. Two things are certain: 1) none of them will ever be “proven”, because no-one will ever seek to prove them. The purpose of them is not to be proven, but to be accepted as useful models, upon which other ideas can be hung; and 2) They do not evolve into “Laws” by being proven. Neither of these points mean they are not “true”, or incredibly useful.

In science, a Law is usually a mathematical construct, an analytical relationship that can be used to measure, characterize, or evaluate phenomenon. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation says that all objects are attracted to all other objects by a force that varies relative to their mass and to the inverse square of the distances between their masses (multiplied by some factor). Laws also do not exist to be “proven” or “disproved”, they exist to allow us to make sense of phenomenon in a numerical sense, and to make predictions, within their acknowledged limits.

Since gravity is relatively non-controversial, and since Dr. Moore started with an example from gravity, let’s see how these terms are used by physical scientists when discussing gravity, starting with his example.

Rocks fall; that is an observable phenomenon. We can develop numerous theories as to why, and we can create and test various hypotheses and test them to see if they fit our theory. There are lots of observable facts: all objects fall at about the same rate regardless of weight; magnets fall at the same rate as insulators; falling objects are constantly accelerating, etc. A good theory to explain these observations (facts) is that of gravitation: that all objects with a mass are attracted to all other objects with a mass through some force. This was the theory developed by Galileo in the early 17th Century. By the end of the 17th Century, Newton had developed the math around it: the Law of Universal Gravitation: F= G *(m1*m2)/(r)^2. Through this he could predict the motions of pendulums before building them, and the motions of planets that had not yet been discovered. This Law is not the Theory “proven”; it is a mathematical formula that allows us to calculate the force described in the theory based on some measured variables.

Universal Gravitation works pretty well if you are building pendulum clocks or lobbing artillery shells, but if you try to really accurately measure the precession of the orbit of Mercury, it doesn’t work: in essence the Law was shown not to have predictive power (note, not disproven) in some special cases by Einstein’s General Relativity.

But that doesn’t mean Newton’s Universal Gravitation isn’t a perfectly valid Law, within its confines, useful for making predictions and describing an aspect of our universe. And (this is a really important part) it doesn’t even matter that neither Galileo, Newton, or Einstein really knew how gravity “worked”. Even lacking that, what would seem a fundamental fact, we could not live in the modern world without the benefit of the theory and the laws built around this force a century before the first direct observation of gravity waves.

Unfortunately, this book is full of either lazy or sloppy science. It would be pedantic to quote them all, but let me pick one paragraph that hits close to home for me, being a geologist. On Page 62, Dr. Moore describes whale evolution:

“They evolved after the great dinosaur extinction, caused by a large meteor that crashed near the Yucatan Peninsula, ending the Jurassic age. Among the dinosaurs exterminated were the large marine plesiosaurs and ichthyosaurs.”

Perhaps an ecologist can be forgiven for not knowing the Jurassic from the Cretaceous (it is only an 80 million year difference), but anyone involved in animal ecology should know the marine reptiles he named were not “dinosaurs”. Oh, and the ichthyosaurs died out at least 25 million years before the Yucatan impact. That is a lot of bad science in two short sentences.

Finally, Dr. Moore leaves the ignominious Page 25 stating that

“Science… has weaknesses. One of these is that you cannot prove a negative” (pg. 25)

To that I say: Bullshit. Science has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Moon is not made of green cheese.


Knowledge Drain

This long weekend is full of little tasks. Besides a little volunteering at the Westcoast Curling Classic, I did a bunch of tasks that are the opposite of Spring Cleaning: harvesting plants, putting compost on the garden, and putting away the potting soil in the deck pots that produced so many tomatoes and peppers this year.

Part of that last task is separating the soil from the drain rock I use at the bottom of the pots. It got me thinking about how our veggie plants are benefiting from our education. More directly that you might expect: my drain rocks are mostly rock samples collected during thesis work by me, or by my better half.

My Master’s thesis was a pretty old-school map-the-geology type thing. I spent probably the most idyllic summer fieldwork season even mapping a bunch of little islands off the east costs of the Saanich Peninsula, and a bit of the Peninsula itself. You can read the abstract here , or even download the entire 260MB bastard in pdf. I would highly recommend against that, unless you find ichnofacies analysis to be compelling, but it does include a lot of pretty diagrams I drew myself!

Three years of my life: zoom to enrage.

During the summer, I collected a lot of rock samples. Some to serve are representative hand samples for future comparison, some to cut into thin sections to do petrology, some because they contained fossils (my not being a palaeontologist, I need to look them up or ask someone smarter than me to identify them); and some just because they looked cool.

The Smart One in the Family had a different type of thesis. She was up in the interior of BC looking at glacial deposits, and trying to decipher patterns in the deposits to figure out which way the ice flowed at what time, and concomitant to that, where gold or other lucrative minerals might be found under the glacial deposits based on evidence smeared out within the surface deposits.

Aspects of her thesis relied on statistics to tease trends out of seemingly random data. To do that, you generally need to start with a lot of very meticulously collected data. One line of evidence she used for ice flow was collecting samples of pebbles from glacial till, and characterising the pebble types to see if there are patterns across space. To have adequate statistical support, she needed to collect 100 samples (using a randomising selection method) from each site. To provide adequate statistical control over these sites, she needed 100 sites. So she collected, and petrologically described, 10,000 pebbles. Compared to my couple of buckets of samples, this was a monumental task, and it was only one aspect of her thesis. It is clear which of us is the geologic stud.

So what to do with 10,000 pebble-sized samples, and thousands of others, once your thesis is done?

A few years after her defence, I took a couple of 20L pails of pebbles and mud samples (used for geochemical analysis) that were kicking around a lab at SFU and dropped them in a persistent pothole puddle on the North Road Trail on Burnaby Mountain – every time I ride my mountain bike around that (to this day, puddle-free) corner, I think about the rocks there, and what an enterprising geologist would make of all these Adams Plateau pebbles on Burnaby Mountain.

Some of my samples were pretty enough that they are around my garden today. Some of her samples were used to make patio tiles by her Mom, as part of a family-themed patio paving project.

However, a combined ~17 years after our thesis defences, we still have a few 20-L buckets of pebbles, samples, off-cuts, and fossil samples kicking about. Averse to throwing things out (much to her chagrin), I am always trying to find uses for them… This is how the drainage rocks in our veggie pots came from the Gulf Islands and the Adams Plateau. I think this makes them cooler than a $4.99 bag of crushed quartzite drainage rock I could buy from Home Depot. Especially when I find a nice polished piece of sandstone with a Sharpie-lettered sample number on it. Memories of that summer in the bottom of my veggie pots.. oh, look, there is good ol’ sample PDJ04-107a. That was a nice spot. 

Old Glory

Last weekend, my Mom had one of those birthdays ending in “0”, bringing the Johnstone Clan together in the Kootenays to do the presents, cake and singing thing that is obligatory for such events.

Born in Castlegar, I don’t get back there very often; home is very much New Westminster now. Any idea I used to entertain of moving back to the Koots is usually pushed aside pretty quickly by thinking about everything I would need to give up: my City Girl wife (whom I am still rather fond of), my job (that I also quite like), my funky little house (that I can almost afford), my curling team (who are just good enough), riding a bike in the winter (without snow tires), and this great New West community into which I have somehow become immersed.

That said, I think the hike up the Plewman trail to Old Glory Mountain is my favourite place on earth.

Old Glory is a 7,800-foot peak in the Rossland Range, part of the Monashee Mountains in the West Kootenay. It is the highest peak in the range, but not as tall as the highest peaks in the Valhalla Range, which is clearly visible from the top. What makes Old Glory so great is it’s 3,400-foot prominence, the fact most of that prominence is above the tree line, making for spectacular sights much of the way up, and the accessibility of the peak by a relatively easy 2-hour hike.

The first time I went up Old Glory, Mt. St Helens was erupting, so it was probably summer 1980. I remember this distinctly, as I thought every cloud passing over head was ash from St. Helens, and when I found out the rocks that make up Old Glory were “volcanic”, I turned that into pre-teen angst that it would erupt when we were there. Of course, Old Glory is made up of Jurassic volcanic rock that erupted in an oceanic island arc something like 180million years ago, long before this part of the world had accreted to the North American continent. So eruption risk was pretty low.
Last time I was up there was a year ago at the Seven Summits Poker Ride. That day it was windy enough at the summit on a cloudy day that hoar frost was forming. I had to provide proof to the Seven Summit organizers that I had made it to the top of Old Glory with my bike in order to get a “Bonus Card” in the Poker run competition, so here is the i-Pod video I used for proof (also providing proof I am not Stephen Speilberg… or even Kevin Smith).

It was damn cold up there for Labour Day, but at least we didn’t get snowed out like the previous year.

This trip, I walked up Old Glory with my brother and two of my nephews, both a couple of years older than I was the first time I climbed this hill, and they soldiered up there like solders (totally resigned to their fate and no doubt cursing the names of their commanders for leading them into certain death and discomfort), and this time the sky was blue and the view was spectacular.

One of the great features of Old Glory is the mini-ghost town on top. This was once the location of Canada’s highest elevation weather station, and a forestry fire protection lookout. The lookout shack is still there, kept up as a hiker’s shelter, but all that remains of the homestead is foundations and scrap metal.

And a very windy outhouse.

But for me, the best thing is the view from the top: the rolling hills of the Rossland Range, all just touching the tree line, with the Valhalla and higher Monashee ranges in the distance, landmarks all around that I can just barely recognize from my growing up climbing mountains, skiing, and riding bikes. This landscape is my favourite place in the world.

Probably made more so by the fact I only get to go out there once in a while to visit. And that’s OK.