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Shadiya A. Aidid’s Master of Health Sciences thesis from Lakehead University is the latest major scholarly publication on the campus fossil fuel divestment movement: From divestment to climate justice: perspectives from university fossil fuel divestment campaigns

The thesis examines case studies of “Divest Concordia based at Concordia University, Climate Justice UBC based at the University of British Columbia, and Fossil Free UW based at the University of Waterloo.”

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It is being reported today that a study at Imperial College London “modelled the spread of the disease in 185 countries and territories between December 2020 and December 2021, [and] found that without Covid vaccines 31.4 million people would have died, and that 19.8 million of these deaths were avoided.”

That is a staggering, historical achievement. At the same time, it reminds me of how bad people are at basing their beliefs on evidence. If we could effectively update our beliefs based on empirical information, people around the world would be celebrating this achievement and hosting parades for vaccine scientists. As things are, I have to wonder if with the political lessons taken from this pandemic we would even make such an effort in the future. Quite possibly through political polarization and the linkage of beliefs about medical facts with personal identity and ideology the world at large has become more fragile rather than more resilient through this experience.

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With economic instability, the Ukraine war, and increased fossil fuel prices there is a disturbing trend toward nations deepening their fossil fuel dependence. For instance:

This all brings up a familiar fear: at a time when humanity can only avoid disaster through cooperation, there is a serious risk that increasingly strained circumstances will instead drive a selfish and ultimately hopeless logic of individual self-protection among states. Thus, the hope that a more acute experience of the impacts of climate change will drive a rejection of climate denial and public demand for strong mitigation policy may not be well justified. With all the structural barriers to climate action, our worsening global situation could become inescapably self-reinforcing.

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One of the most bizarre things the Trudeau government has ever said about energy and climate change is that building the Trans Mountain pipeline is necessary for the transition away from fossil fuels because it will raise the money needed to carry it out.

This has always been an absurd proposition. It’s ridiculous on its face that investing billions of tens of billions in fossil fuel export infrastructure which will operate for decades will help Canada do its share to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Now even the financial argument has come under serious criticism. Parliamentary Budget Officer Yves Giroux recently estimated that the cost of the project has grown from $12.6 billion in 2020 to $21.4 billion now and concluded that “Trans Mountain no longer continues to be a profitable undertaking.” At the same time, cancelling the project would yield a $14 billion loss.

Neither the federal nor Alberta government is changing course because of this analysis. Chrystia Freeland’s press secretary has said: “The Trans Mountain Expansion Project is in the national interest and will make Canada and the Canadian economy more sovereign and more resilient.” Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage said: “This project is necessary for Alberta and Canada’s energy sectors.”

All this is a reminder of how the behaviour a government needs to follow to stay in power does not consist of serving the public interest or putting forward a coherent policy agenda, but rather maintaining the support of the key societal actors that the government needs to keep in power.

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