Coatless Canadians in Ketchican

Our last Alaska stop was Ketchican and it was only a short 4 hour stopover, so we just roamed the town centre, which had a funner spirit about it than the previous two stops. A playfulness overlying the need to make the most of the tourist season to carry over.

Back at the Skeptic Conference, we were treated to interactive lectures by Don Prothero who blogged here about the conference.

It’s important to note the the melting of glaciers and ice sheets is significant not only for increased sea levels, which means less land, but also the loss of ice sheets means that the global tectonic plates are responsible for earthquakes as the weight of the ice sheets stops pressing down on the plates, the plates rise back to their pre-ice sheet positions, causing earthquakes, such as the August, 2011 on the east coast of the US and Canada.

We were also treated to a lecture about Emergency Preparedness, which is a passion of mine, by  Randall Duncan, Director of Emergency Management in Sedgwick County (Wichita), Kansas, and instructor for FEMA and Park University in Missouri. His lecture was very layperson friendly and clear – the cost of doing nothing to prepare is too high, and it comes down to three simple choices:

There’s two obstacles to the adapt and mitigate strategies: Lack of political will and religion.

Politicians are about securing enough benefits to their constituents so that they will be re-elected – this being the case, politicians do not take a long view or make the hard decisions – they are driven by what is popular so they get re-elected.

It is difficult to convince people to prepared for potential negatives, despite the cycle of famine or feast, because when we are feasting, we forget about the famine days.

When financial resources are scarce, people are more likely to hold onto the money or deal with what’s necessary in the short term, rather than spend money to mitigate future disasters, which may or may not occur.

This is where the religious obstacle comes into play – people who beleive that disasters are god’s punishment for human behaviours (usually the things they don’t like or approve of, such as the fact of there being gays and lesbians, abortion, women’s rights and so on) – they are not prepared to mitigate against their god.

Moreover, people who beleive in the rapture are also not going to be willing to have the government mitigate against god’s wrath and don’t see a need to, since after the wrath, god will restore the earth to it’s original factory settings for the believers.

People who throw their hands in the air and say the universe and the earth is too complex for humans and resort to god as if that explains anything are saying that understanding science is too hard, so they won’t listen.

They don’t want to understand climate science or even that climate scientists are all in agreement that human activities – transportation, industry, commerce, resource extraction, conversion of natural habitat to farmland or urban sprawl are all contributing more pollutants and gases that contribute to warming than the earth can store.

Sure, a lot of the warming is natural – volcanic ash, coal seam fire – but natural processes have natural offsets – it’s human activity that is unchecked and unbalanced – especially since we are no longer subjected to natural limitations on infant mortality rates. Modern medicine means more people live and modern dentistry enhances the lifespan of people.

More people living means more infrastructure, more livestock, more carbon and more more more.

Humans are outbreeding the earth’s ability to balance our polluting output. Fortunately, there are some check and balances occurring on this front too – most countries are not breeding at replacement levels. Some even point to pollution as a link with the drop in sperm counts in the industrialized nations.

Mr. Duncan put it plainly – we have to plan for future contingencies or we will cease to survive. Adapt or die – and it’s the adaptivity that’s the meaning of Darwinian fitness.

Coatless Canadians in Juneau

Our first port of call was Juneau, Alaska. I hadn’t realized that it was the capitol of the state, nor that this whole section of Alaska should really have been part of Canada.

Alaska Pan Handle, Canada's beachfront

I was most struck by Juneau because the first look was like you’d expect a tourist district to look like in the Wild West days.

Cowboy tourism against a Cruise backsplash

The first fun surprise was seeing:

And the second was this:

yes, you are really seeing it

This store front was surprising on a few levels – it was the first shop front that wasn’t a shop – this was for a soup kitchen/shelter – and the store front was a bit run down compared to the stores that were clearly for tourists. So this ending the row of tourist shops was a shock, combined with the name, was a pretty big cognitive shift and as I was struggling to wrap my mind around how people name things with names that mean something sexual without any awareness of it, like the tea baggers, was beyond comprehension.

Just at the moment, we had decided to move on and the giddiness of taking the photo of the sign was over, a young woman and an older man got into a screaming fight at the doorway about who was in who’s way and who was more known in the community to have clout to assert their right of way; when a middle aged man in a bright pink dress stepped out of the Glory Hole to defend the young woman.

While we and 40 or so other tourists stood in a wide circle, each appearing to debate the ethics of taking a rather unique photo of the young man in the bright pink dress push the older man down, with open hands against his chest, in front of the Glory Hole vs just standing and gaping at the unexpected street theatre that is life, the fight unfolded quickly and the participants became aware of being in the centre of tourists from three cruiseships.

The participants scurried away, back to their lives and the tourists continued to meander all over town to buy souvenirs or go on tours to see wildlife, but each of us sharing a rather unique encounter of strange but true; and the streets returned to normal

We did pick up some additional clothing and I thought this bright pink hoodie would serve well enough in Alaska’s summer and the lower mainland of British Columbia’s spring and fall. Many store fronts had stuffed bears for tourist posing, but I felt a distinctively Canadian vibe was missing:

Moose Mounties!

Tourist Bears

Juneau’s main street wasn’t entirely tourist driven, it’s also a working fishing wharf, which I discovered when I breezed past the – Warning Forklift Area – sign and took this photo of the dock workers and had a forklift’s container of gutted fish bump into me.

By the gangway to the cruise ship, there were fish milling about, as if seeking sanctuary:

We were going to take the tram to the mountain top, but a fog rolled in and it seemed to us that wouldn’t make for a great view….so, back to the cruise ship and a last look at Juneau:

The cruise ship lines provide coupon books to tourists who can then get deals or free gifts from the merchants. I went into one store, which offered a 1 karat black Alaska diamond for free and found it difficult to request the item on offer. Somehow asking directly for something on offer and advertised as free was difficult for my Canadian brain – and it’s true, there’s no such thing as a free lunch, because the cost of free is a lot of pressure to pay for an upgrade to the free gem in a silver ring, necklace or brooch setting.

Which, to my mind, undermines the entire jewelry industry if the alleged valuable part – the stone – can be free with just the cost of the setting to cover costs and turn a profit.