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There’s a story doing the rounds about how plastic recycling has always been a scam. Consumers started to get concerned about the ecological consequences of throwing plastic away and — despite knowing it was infeasible and uneconomical to actually recycle — they slapped little logos on everything implying that they can and will be recycled, thus alleviating the consumer concern without doing anything about the problem.

NPR’s Planet Money did a show on whether recycling is worthwhile at all.

In particular, people argue that recycling as a solution suits the corporate agenda by shifting responsibility from the firms creating the problem to individuals, regardless of whether they are at all positioned to make things better. This can be equated to the ‘carbon footprint’ idea and the approach to climate change mitigation based on individual action, helping the fossil fuel industry avoid regulation and responsibility.

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I cannot recall hearing about a warning like this before:

Some UBC courses might cover topics that are censored or considered illegal by non-Canadian government… This may include, but is not limited to, human rights, representative government, defamation, obscenity, gender or sexuality, and historical or current geopolitical controversies… Students should be mindful that when they partake in class discussions or communicate to the members of the class, that for some students living abroad, sensitive material might result in repercussions.

It has been sad to watch the hopeful vision of an unfettered global internet linking together humanity collide with the interests and increasing willingness to intervene of governments. I don’t think it’s plausible, but it would be great if the next-generation satellite internet providers like StarLink would be willing to provide access to everyone underneath their constellation without government censorship and firewalls.

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At 2am on the 31st, we have reached the end of “the summer” and I have loosely defined it academically for many years now (school starts early in September, but never in August in my experience — I moved in at my Oxford college on September 23rd) and I feel better than OK about how the summer devoted to advancing the dissertation went. I had adopted for myself the rough metric that I wanted to have a draft of every chapter ready for Professor Vipond by the end of August. As it stands, he has the first four chapters, I have hand-edited the fifth and am preparing to review the relevant interview reports, and then I need to do the same for chapter 6 and finally do a language edit of the conclusion. The existing draft is already solid. Nobody would know to miss some of the specific empirical details I am pulling back in from the interviews in these drafts, and Professor Vipond already thinks the review of the literature is more than adequate in scope and depth. What I’m mostly doing in this round of edits is spotting everything which would singe the eye of a highly experienced reviewer, as it saves a lot of time across the whole project to anticipate and avoid a correction rather than be informed of the need for one and comply.

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It’s a highly destructive process, and we have masses of the stuff already which mostly goes from sitting underground in a mass of ore to sitting underground in a vault. We could all just agree to stop mining it.

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I have discussed my introductory chapter with my supervisor, received comments, and incorporated them. Tomorrow, we are meeting about my literature review chapter.

At the same time, I am working on reading through blocks of my tag-sorted interview reports corresponding to the four central chapters of the dissertation:

  • Political opportunities — including the history of the fossil fuel divestment movement, the role of 350.org and the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC) as brokers, and the way the movement has developed in Canada
  • Mobilizing structures — how campaigns organized themselves and made decisions, support from brokers and within universities, and the structure of efforts to resist divestment
  • Repertoires — what divestment campaigns actually did, including the enemy naming and story of self strategies, the spectrum from cooperative to contentious tactics, and the split between ‘outside game’ mass mobilization and ‘inside game’ negotiations with the administration. Also, the actions of divestment opponents and non-divestment actions taken by target universities
  • Framing — The worldview underlying fossil fuel divestment activism, particularly the strategic implications of intersectionality

I need to get all these drafts done ASAP so my committee members will have a chance to look at them before ordinary work resumes in September.

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I have mentioned Europa and Enceladus, moons of Jupiter and Saturn, as being among the most intriguing bodies in the solar system, since their liquid oceans create the potential that life could exist or survive there. Now we know that the dwarf planet Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, also has an extensive reservoir of brine beneath the surface.

Any would be a fascinating target for scientific exporation, though with the crucial caveat that it would require better planetary protection techniques to prevent them from being colonized by organisms from Earth which might take over in any habitable niche and which could even exterminate extraterrestrial life. We now believe that despite efforts to sterilize them spacecraft on the moon and Mars likely harbour viable life forms from Earth. That may not pose much of a risk in a hostile environs with a thin or absent atmosphere and merciless radiation, but it must be among the central concerns for any mission which will visit a body with liquid water.

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I find it’s good practice to approach literally anybody, from a municipal worker who I am passing on the sidewalk while they’re performing official duties to clerks in shops with an immediate attempt at a substantive conversation, not just a rote exchange of greetings or well-wishes. By that means the other morning I got the chance to ask why Toronto had removed all the foot-pedals from the municipal garbage and recycling bins (you can see one on the right here), which had been a convenient way to avoid touching the machine and not having to push a spring-loaded cover back with the refuse you’re trying to deposit. The two crewmembers told me it is because people did too much illegal dumping with the footpedal-enabled system, and it let to too much disruption as waste went bad and was gotten into by creatures.

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