Today I skipped Judo for the Toronto Women’s March.
For the moment, I will choose to highlight the progressive notion that Trump is the dying last gasp of misogyny, racism, and intolerance within an American population which is ever-more diverse, progressive, and empowered.
Trump is the braggadocious con man trying to sell himself as a sophisticated businessman, which is laughable from top to bottom, and who is trying to turn irritated ignorance into a policy agenda.
The years ahead are going to be rough, and a lot of people who dislike politics will need to think about whether they dislike creeping fascism even more. In the end, this is a matter of the golden rule. Treat others as you would want them to treat you. That means avoiding planetary catastrophe by shutting down fossil fuel production everywhere. It means respecting personal autonomy by providing health care, birth control, and reproductive control based on the idea that every person can make the best choices for their body. It means fighting with the understanding that much of what has been achieved since governments started thinking that people have rights regardless of sex or class or property is at risk in struggles around the world.
The time for fighting has come, and the more you have to lose the more you need to throw yourself into demanding justice, equality, and a world which can sustain life for many thousands of years ahead.
My supervisors have been encouraging me to switch thesis topics. I find myself resisting because the proposed alternative topic has very little to do with the intersection between environmental and indigenous politics, which I judge to be the most important ongoing change in the contemporary politics of the United States and Canada.
At the same time, while I have made a significant effort to come to grips with indigenous politics in the context of climate change politics, I have also often felt contradicted and confused, unable to discern confidently which interpretation may be most robust and useful. It may well be that I just don’t know enough about them to make a PhD research project with that focus feasible to complete over the next two years.
If you look at my initial long proposal and my subsequent shorter proposal, you can see a few of the reasons why I think this intersection is so interesting and important.
I’m still thinking it through.
A paper by Pearce, Brown, Nerlich, Koteyko (“Communicating climate change: conduits, content, and consensus“, 2015) contains some interesting ideas about effective communication about climate change. They cite one “best practice guide” which explains that:
in order for climate science information to be fully absorbed by audiences, it must be actively communicated with appropriate language, metaphor, and analogy; combined with narrative storytelling; made vivid through visual imagery and experiential scenarios; balanced with scientific information; and delivered by trusted messengers in group settings.
It also notes that: “Messages focusing on fear and predictions of adverse events can increase skepticism, perhaps because they disrupt underlying ‘just world’ beliefs and can reduce people’s intentions to perform mitigating actions”.
This kind of research is important. Motivation may be the trickiest part of the climate challenge: getting people to care about the welfare of people impacted all over the world by climate change, and well into future generations. Then making people willing to demand political and economic change to prevent the worst potential impacts of excessive fossil fuel use.
When discussing policy options for countering climate change, ending fossil fuel subsidies is often presented as an obviously desirable option: why should we be providing public money to fossil fuel companies or fossil fuel users when both are damaging the planet so rapidly and profoundly?
Of course, subsidies are always likely to be defended by the people who enjoy them, sometimes on the basis of social justice claims. You see this particularly with arguments that low-income people need to heat their homes, travel to work, etc. I was once on a radio show where the host asked me to justify fossil fuel subsidies and went on to claim that nobody had ever been able to explain to him why they still exist. I told him that I didn’t think it was difficult to explain at all: anything which has a welcome material impact on the lives of politically influential groups ranging from farmers to refinery operators will lead to lobbying and political pressure, just like all the inefficient exemptions in the tax codes of the world which are vigorously championed by those who benefit.
Recent developments in Mexico, reported by The Economist, highlight the political and social risks associated with reducing fossil fuel subsidies:
In Mexico, rioting sparked by the government’s withdrawal of petrol subsidies as part of its liberalisation of the energy industry left at least six people dead. Petrol prices increased by up to 20% at the start of the year, leading to many knock- on price rises in goods and services. Roads have been blocked and shops looted.
So many personal and economic activities have come to be deeply fossil fuel dependent that any change to the regime governing them risks creating huge controversy and governmental unpopularity. In the long run, we need governments to set up the conditions where people essentially have to live low-carbon lives, but achieving the transition will involve many ethical and political challenges.
This slam poem has been acutely and importantly confrontational for ten years or more, and it’s worth re-considering in light of Friday’s inauguration in Washington D.C.:
“Homeland” by Marty McConnell
In the closing days of his administration, President Obama has chosen to commute the 35-year sentence of army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, who will now be released in May.
Late-term commutations are always controversial, and this one is sure to be at least doubly so.
On Tuesday evening, I am starting the intermediate Judo class with the Hart House Judo Club, which will run every Tuesday and Saturday through the winter term.
I found the beginner class very satisfying and have enjoyed the extra classes for all skill levels between terms. Still, I am nervous about the higher level class. I am a very slow learner at this sort of thing (just try to teach me any kind of dance step!) and I have some bad habits which the instructors regularly remind me of. Also, I am a lot less fit than the average person in even the beginner class, where almost everyone else seems to deal with the warmup push-ups, sit-ups, and other exercises a lot more easily than I do.
That said, my motivations are mostly psychological and it’s undeniable that a Judo class produces a better workout than I would create for myself in a two-hour span. I would be perfectly fine in a scenario where I never (or only extremely slowly) progress beyond the yellow belt, hopefully incrementally shedding bad habits along the way.
My family in Vermont sent me Bill McKibben’s 2005 book (updated in 2014) as a Christmas gift. In it, he recounts a meandering trek through the Lake Champlain region of the Adirondacks. It’s part nature writing, partly an account of the history of the region and the ways his neighbours are tying to earn a living, and partly a meditation on the nature of wilderness and how it relates to human life.
McKibben talks about small-scale farmers and winemakers trying to compete against giant agribusiness corporations by securing premium prices for local food; students keen to establish major vegetable gardens at local colleges; debates about what to think and do about invasive species; strategies for social change; park rangers burning down the illegal cabins of hunters; and the ruin and ruckus caused by all-terrain vehicles and Jet Skis.
The book fits into a theme of environmentally-minded people finding ways to undertake major wilderness excursions, which I also saw among friends before leaving Facebook. I can see the plausibility in how time invested this way can help control the adverse emotions which accompany environmental activism in the face of a public wedded to consumerism and corporations and politicians vigorous in their defence of the status quo. At the same time, it’s hard to undertake when I am always behind on PhD requirements and never really financially secure enough for vacations.
In any event, the book is another good demonstration of McKibben’s eloquence and constant focus on the big questions facing humanity. I hope one day I will get to visit some of the landscape he describes.
A five page Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles has been released for the forthcoming Women’s March on Washington.
It takes an inclusive “everything is connected” point of view, of the sort you often see in environmental declarations.
The Current recently ran a segment with Dr. Danielle Martin, talking about ways to improve Canadian healthcare. In particular, she emphasizes the importance of family doctors with a broad overall knowledge of patients’ health histories, and the importance of avoiding costly and damaging unnecessary tests and procedures.
It sounds like her book, Better Now: Six Big Ideas to Improve Health Care for All Canadians, would be well worth reading.