The Extinction Rebellion, which is a climate protest movement that began in the UK but which has also organized actions elsewhere including in Canada, has some impressive photos in their daily newsletter and has been holding ground across London.

I recommend signing up for their news updates.

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A worldwide effort by the Event Horizon Telescope has produced the first false-colour image of a black hole.

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The election playing out in Alberta seems to have a lot in common with what has been happening with the federal Liberals, at least for those who see the urgency of decarbonizing to control climate change. There is a semi-progressive government that thinks that it has strong climate credentials because it has a long term plan. At the same time, neither the Alberta NDP nor the federal Liberals properly appreciate the scale and seriousness of climate change, which is why they are willing to keep backing new fossil fuel projects.

One Calgary Herald article today had an interesting comment:

Kenney says that if he takes office after next week’s vote, he’ll abolish the carbon tax and scrap the NDP’s 100 megatonne cap on oilsands emissions.

Federal sources note that the loss of the provincial carbon tax isn’t a big problem to them because Ottawa would simply impose its own tax.

But the emissions cap is a huge deal for the Trudeau Liberals.

They say removal of that cap could take Canada out of compliance with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

This is a reminder for the other perennial Liberal/NDP line on climate change: whatever the faults of our approach, the Conservatives will be worse. There is truth to that, and it provides the second prong of the dilemma for voters in Canada who think rapid decarbonization is urgent and essential.

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Toronto350.org asked me to photograph their action outside the Toronto Dominion (TD) bank shareholder meeting downtown this morning, protesting continuing investment in fossil fuel projects.

The electrical system on my 5D3 flickered and died, despite fresh batteries. This is the first time I’ve ever really had to use the backup body, and my 5D2 rose appropriately to the occasion. I’ll take the 5D3 to a local camera service shop since I bought it used and it’s years outside of warranty.

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Today I was at a conference on “Building a Post-Carbon Future” by 2050. It was certainly not bad, but I felt there was a huge disjoint between the Paris Agreement targets frequently referenced (to keep global warming to less than 1.5–2.0 ˚C above pre-industrial levels) and the scale and ambition of the policies and actions actually proposed to get us there. Say what you like about the people who argue that climate change is fundamentally a symptom of capitalism, and that we need to get rid of the latter to solve the former, but at least they have a plan.

One frequent line of discussion in my one-on-one talks with today’s attendees was about what we need to say to get the general public to act in the right way and solve the problem. I’m very skeptical about this kind of approach. In everyday life, I think presenting selective or misleading information to try to manipulate behaviour is generally a bad plan, primarily because of the overconfidence it demonstrates about what explains a person’s current behaviour and how to alter it. Think of the arrogance of deciding based on the observable behaviours a person has shown you that you understand the deep workings of their mind (workings it would probably take them a considerable effort to think through and explain) so well that you can craft a tailored intervention that will shift that whole cognitive machine onto the track you want. Also, taking this approach throws away the opportunity to use that person’s judgment and knowledge to try to solve your problem: you’re taking it all on yourself because you’re assuming you’re smarter, or you know what ought to be done, or that the other person will never act in the right way based on complete and accurate information.

Anyhow, I am skeptical about political arguments like: “You need to give people hope or they won’t act” or: “If you tell people the true seriousness of climate change they will become apathetic”. We have never solved a problem like this before, so nobody can be really confident about the long-term consequences of any approach.

This evening’s keynote address was by Bill McKibben. To me it was passionate and well spoken and also all quite familiar: summaries of where 350.org came from, their pipeline resistance campaign, and their involvement with divestment. It was certainly well-delivered and got a solid response from the sold-out audience.

After the talk I spoke with McKibben briefly. He recognized the t-shirt I wore from the summer 2011 Keystone XL arrests in Washington D.C. Prompted by my concern about risks in trying the fight against climate change so closely to a collection of other left-progressive causes, I asked him how we can enact climate change policies that can survive changes of government, and how we can get conservatives on board.

He said that in the short term he thinks we can’t get conservatives on board, and that the priority task needs to be breaking the power of the fossil fuel industry. Without that, policies like the Green New Deal can’t succeed. He told me: “This is why we need movements”. He also pointed out that there have been climate policies which have been helpful and which have survived changes of government, like the B.C. carbon tax.

I don’t know how satisfying an answer I find that. The fossil fuel industry certainly hasn’t only sought to influence or bribe the politicians of the right. I feel like the problem is more ideological — related to some of what I discussed in my paper on resource inequality and have discussed in the ‘why is this important’ sections of many justifications of my PhD work. Humanity’s new ability to dramatically affect all life on the planet is a sort of shock that all political philosophies need to incorporate. Those like liberalism and socialism which from the beginning have incorporated some conception of interdependence among people who aren’t kin are perhaps more straightforwardly equipped to start incorporating a species-level or an Earth-level ethic. By contrast, individualistic conservatism founded in a (false) notion that people can somehow go it on their own is profoundly undermined by a problem where the unintended consequences of one person’s actions anywhere in the world are felt by everyone else for centuries. Resolving that contradiction in a genuine way seems to require jettisoning a lot of the emphasis on personal autonomy which is dear to conservatives, which perhaps helps explain why so many have been willing to just deny that the problem exists.

I would love to see a longer account from McKibben about how reducing the power of the fossil fuel industry solves the problem of each new government facing the temptation to scrap unpopular taxes and restrictions meant to protect the climate, or to tap any fossil fuel reserves which we have left unused for the greater good. Likewise, it would be good to see a theory for winning conservative support for climate stabilization policies, over any kind of plausible timescale. There are too many people who hold such views and support such parties for us to reject the need to appeal to them, even if activists are more comfortable dealing with people who they broadly agree with on other issues, and even if they have crafted their movement to be progressive and diverse in the ways they value.

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April

2019-04-01

in Daily updates, PhD thesis

I have one last blast of grading for my current TA contract: then I have dedicated the summer to completing my dissertation, getting chapters to committee members, implementing their proposed changes, and getting it defended as soon as possible.

I’ll be trying to write every day at home, starting with the completion of data analysis.

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2007

2019-04-01

in Photography

This is a great portrait of my friend Antonia.

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Photos by Julie Smitka

It was wonderful to see old friends tonight, including some being awarded their dictionaries for doctorates and law school completion.

I’m so fortunate to have been part of the Massey community. The PhD so far would have been nowhere near as worthwhile and enriching without the fellowship, stimulation, and camaraderie.

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lego dog

2019-03-27

in Photo of the day

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