This Canadian news article about political opposition to carbon taxes does a good job of summarizing the barriers to stronger greenhouse gas mitigation policy that people like Doug McAdam and Stephen Gardiner have articulated:

“Certainly there are abundant grounds to doubt the political wisdom of the Liberal plan. A tax, or anything that resembles it, would be a hard enough sell on its own. But a tax in aid of a vast international plan to save the earth from a scourge that remains imperceptible to most voters, to which Canada has contributed little and against which Canada can have little impact, while countries whose actions would be decisive remain inert? Good luck”

To me it seems like a nice demonstration about Gardiner’s 4th proposition, about the “problematic paradigm” in climate change politics:

“In the environmental discourse, the presence of the perfect moral storm is obscured by the dominance and pervasiveness of an alternative, narrower analysis. According to this account, climate change is a paradigmatically global problem best understood as a prisoner’s dilemma or tragedy of the commons played out between nation states who adequately represent the interests of their citizens in perpetuity. However, such models assume away many of the main issues, and especially the intergenerational aspect of the climate problem. Hence, they are inadequate in this case, and perhaps many others. This point has theoretical as well as practical implications.”

This is the logic of Andrew Coyne’s newspaper article, that citizens in democratic states will use the inaction of others around the world to justify their own limited efforts to reduce domestic fossil fuel consumption, fuel production, and exports. As long as someone else is behaving unethically, we have license to do so too. As George Monbiot and others have explained eloquently, that logic is a suicide pact in the case of climate change. We need to establish an international order where continued fossil fuel dependence is discouraged and even punished, and the emergence of that order likely depends on some good faith first steps from the rich countries like Canada who now say their dirty path to prosperity can’t be followed by the rest of the world. It’s actually true that rising living standards in places including India and China can’t be fossil-fuel-driven as they have been in North America, Japan, and Europe for the most part. Convincing developing countries to take the less tested path of development based on carbon safe energy depends on countries that have already quite counterproductively invested enormously in fossil fuel energy to show that they too will move away from it for the sake of all the human generations that will follow us, and all the species whose welfare depends on how much climate change we cause.


As reported in The Guardian, no major countries actually have commitments compatible with the 1.5 – 2.0 ˚C maximum target in the Paris Agreement: “When taken as benchmark by other countries, the NDCs of India, the EU, the USA and China lead to 2.6 °C, 3.2 °C, 4 °C and over 5.1 °C warmings, respectively.” Canada is among the very worst: “We find that the NDCs of Canada, China and Russia are less ambitious than their CBDR-RC hybrid allocations even under the least ambitious global emissions scenario available, with 5.1 °C of warming in 2100”.

From the beginning people have been skeptical about how serious countries are about the warming targets in the Paris Agreement, with the most optimistic believing that the agreement would be a first step toward gradually adopting compatible targets.

The Nature Communications paper is also quite interesting in its discussion of global equity and climate change, arguing that: “While not all countries use indicators that favour their equity argument in their communication, a common definition of equity is unlikely to be adopted since countries generally tend to support interpretations of distributive justice that best serve their self-interest and justify their negotiating positions”.


I find reading about and studying catastrophic accidents to the extremely calming.

First, I love the precision of the investigations into them and the determination to get as confident as possible an understanding of what failed. In the case of well-functioning regulatory systems, like the global commercial aviation industry, those findings are immediately applied to other vehicles that could be at risk of the same faults. In malfunctioning regulatory systems, as seen in the Space Shuttle program with the losses of Challenger and Columbia, the convenient but sloppy behaviour that led to unaddressed past faults persists (justifying itself misleadingly in the minds of managers because it doesn’t fail catastrophically on every mission – the “normalization of deviance” Mullane discusses) and leads to an eroded safety culture that costs lives. The meticulousness, cautiousness, and attention to detail of accident investigation reports and those who express their conclusions in the same guarded “here are the facts” style are why I love one lecture about the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Second, every specific catastrophe in the past can be emotionally distanced by anyone who is alive right now. Those of us with normally functioning cognitive capacities can mentally distinguish between events which have already happened, those that are happening now, and those that may happen in the future. By virtue of having a “past” tag mentally applied, reading about nightmares like WWI or the eastern front in WWII can be cathartic in a way that would have been inapplicable to the people actually living through it. This provides an unshakeable safety about anything you can learn about a discrete incident in the past. The incident has a bearing on what things are prudent to do today and on how to do them, which is part of what makes them interesting and worthwhile to research, but all the immediate suffering and tragedy of it is now over, though the consequences of that suffering doubtless endure among those who experienced catastrophic events in the past, and then all those whose lives were influenced by exposure to those people.

Researching my Space Shuttle screenplay, about the STS-27 and STS-107 missions and generally about the legacy of the shuttle program, can be a good way to relax in times of stress, though it almost by definition serves no productive purpose. It’s at least a meditative enterprise, and a reminder about the seriousness of consequences. It has occurred to me that there’s a similarity between the path of a blast of subatomic particles generated inside a particle accelerator, a Space Shuttle disaster, and a human life. In each one, a collection of items (atoms) move through the universe, following the laws of physics.

You can imagine each like a multidimensional plume of particles over time — perhaps staying closely grouped together, perhaps exchanging matter with the space around them, perhaps widely dispersed — with each unit of matter having a location and a particle type. Any of these events can be imagined as a an animation of frames, each depicting particle positions an hour or a minute of a nanosecond before. Each is fundamentally a one-way walk: we might seem like we get the chance to make choices all the time, but we can never really reverse a past choice now. We can make a new choice now to try to counteract the old one, but that’s not the same as having made the other choice in the first place. The past is irrevocable: a trail behind us, as well as the basis for our literal physical beings. In the case of catastrophes that happen on a fairly short timescale, like days or weeks, there is an especial emotional distance that I find accompanies them. Concerned as I might be for the fates of people aboard a burning oil platform in 1988 or the crew of a WWII submarine, I know that I can’t possibly alter their fates in any way, unless maybe there are some veterans still around to help out.

Anyhow, just some thoughts with no specific credential-chasing or financial motivations. Just checking in with my fellow sentient beings!


There’s a lot of cumulative stuff that’s stressing me out right now, from the burdens of grading to stress about my dissertation to the constant intrusive noise from the renovations beside where I work. A lot of life lately has been about dealing with stuff that’s unpleasant and which I don’t want to do, without much sense of moving forward on things which I think will have long-term value.

As reported in The Guardian, the International Energy Agency is warning the world that there is no place for new fossil fuel power stations, vehicles, and industrial facilities if the world is going to stay below the 2 ˚C upper limit in the Paris Agreement:

In total, the IEA calculated that existing infrastructure would “lock in” 550 gigatonnes of of carbon dioxide over the next 22 years. That leaves only 40 gigatonnes, or around a year’s worth of emissions, of wriggle room if temperatures are not to overshoot the 2C threshold.

This underlines why Canada should not be building more fossil fuel production or export capacity.

Canada may be a comparatively small part of the world’s population and energy use, but the scale on which we produce and export fossil fuels gives us an outsized impact on the rest of the world. Certainly we need to achieve emissions reduction by constraining demand, but we also need to avoid new investments in production. Once projects are built and actual jobs depend on them governments are rarely willing to let them shut down, regardless of the magnitude of the global harm and suffering they are causing.


This happened yesterday: 50,000 people march in Montreal to demand more climate action

I hadn’t heard about it in advance and I don’t know the people behind it or what will result of it. Still, the level of media attention and my experience of the March for Jobs, Justice, and the Climate in Toronto make this case seem compatible with the view that people now take climate marches for granted and they don’t usefully put pressure on government to decarbonize.




Life at the moment is mostly grading for political science and school of the environment courses, with work on my dissertation slipped into the schedule where there are free blocks.

It’s hard to draw much comfort from the US midterm election results. It wasn’t the theoretically worst possible outcome, with a retained Republican majority in the House of Representatives which Trump could describe as an unexpected triumph, but it seems likely that the constitutional crisis arising from this president’s disregard for the rule of law will accelerate and sharpen as a Democratic House tries to investigate him while a Republican Senate tries to stop them (and blocks any plausible chance of impeachment). Already, Trump is moving to undermine the Robert Mueller investigation. If their work so far gets buried it will deepen partisan animosity as Democrats take it as further indirect evidence of corruption and Republicans choose to see it as a vindication.

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