anticipating future environments

Anticipating Future Environments with Shana Lee Hirsch

Shana Lee Hirsch investigates the Columbia River Basin of the past, the present and the imaginary in her new book Anticipating Future Environments. In this episode, we discuss emerging tactics of restoration and getting in right relationship with climate change.

Last summer, UW Press published Hirsch’s book: Anticipating Future Environments: Climate Change, Adaptive Restoration, and the Columbia River Basin. Shana is a Research Scientist in the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering at UW. She has an interdisciplinary background in sustainability social science and water management and policy. Her work draws on participatory design methods and theories from science and technology studies. She is also Associate Director of the Pacific Marine Energy Center, where she brings collaborative methods for understanding innovation to power remote communities.

Shana investigates the Columbia River Basin of the past, the present and helps us imagine the future River. We often default into talking about the River with a capital R as singular and one large single channel of water, but what allows it to flow for 1,270 miles is that the Basin is a fractal of hundreds of tributaries and sub-tributaries – systems that are substantial on their own that feed directly into the big “R” River or indirectly into substantial systems of their own. Like Willamette, Snake, Pend Oreille (pond oh-RAY) and Kootenay.

The Basin ecosystem provides for us, and Shana gets into the details about a subset of people who really care about the Basin in return. She provides insights into the everyday of restoration, the tools people use, and the emergent tactics of coping and getting in right relationship with climate change – which in turn changes us and the science itself.

Hirsch both investigates the shocks and awe of climate chaos like Drought. Wildfire. Extreme flooding. As well as the slide of climate disruption like declining snowpack and shifting rainfall and more and more pleasant winter temperatures that slowly affects the ecosystem and the daily of restorationists and the larger complex of folks working on restoration of the River.

Now most restoration on the Columbia River revolves around salmon habitat restoration efforts. In April 1990, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the sockeye as an endangered species. Through the 1990s, one salmon or steelhead population after another was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act as run sizes continued to decline. Eventually, the Columbia River Basin salmon and steelhead listings totaled 12.

Complex outcomes arise from the interactions we have with the river. We remove too many fish, we degrade the streams, we block their passage with dams straight out of science fiction that also makes rivers into reservoirs that seem to stand still, we flood the rivers with non-wild fish to mitigate for the losses I just named, particularly hydropower. Then…throw the changing ocean conditions in there on top of that. Climate disruption is also the multiplier that exacerbates everything. While we go about extincting the salmon and altering other parts of the ecosystem that support us, there is something to be said about adaptation. I am tempted to call the Columbia River ecosystem and the salmon fragile. But, the water continues to flow and the salmon survive and return and persist despite what we throw at them. Extinction is almost here for some species of salmon, but they turn back.

One of the underlying themes in Shana Hirsch’s book is change. She illuminates the curiosity, hopefulness and sociotechnical imaginary that influences the uniquely human style of adaptation in a warming world.

Within the current system people are trying to help. People. Love. Salmon. The strength of the River restoration is really the strength of that relationship with the fish and their connection with everything else. The restoration effort combines that love, the human wherewithal and resilience through adaptation.

Hirsch, S. L., & Long, J. (2020). Adaptive Epistemologies: Conceptualizing Adaptation to Climate Change in Environmental Science. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 0162243919898517.

Hirsch, S. L. (2019). Anticipatory practices: Shifting baselines and environmental imaginaries of ecological restoration in the Columbia River Basin. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space, 3(1), 40-57.

Music on this episode was Freedom Trail Studio and DJ Williams

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