Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie

Yesterday, I was part of a panel discussion and film screening at Hart House. They showed Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie, which I found to be ambitious and engaging. It combines footage from Suzuki’s 75th birthday lecture with a biography of his life, including his family’s internment by the British Columbia authorities during world war two, his work at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, his biological research at the University of British Columbia, as well as his activism and personal life.

The film involved a great deal of travel and one-on-one time with Suzuki, as they visited most of the important places in his life. It was also skilfully mixed with archival footage, though a bit of it may have been misleading (notably, the cut from the Hiroshima atomic explosion to footage of the totally unrelated Castle Bravo thermonuclear test, and the footage of the K-25 gaseous diffusion plant at Oak Ridge, which had nothing to do with Suzuki’s biological research at Oak Ridge).

All told, I definitely recommend seeing the film if you get the chance. It says very little about precisely what should be done to address the world’s environmental problems, but rather a great deal about why we ought to be making the effort.

From Delbanco’s The Abolitionist Imagination

Much of this seems applicable to the movement to keep climate change under control by shifting away from fossil fuels:

Any serious answer, to borrow the well-known phrase from William Faulkner that then-Senator Obama used in his remarkable speech on race during his 2008 campaign for the presidency, must begin with the recognition that “the past is not dead. In fact, it is not even past.” On that view, abolition may be regarded not as a passing episode but as a movement that crystallized – or, as we might say today, channeled – an energy that has been at work in our culture since the beginning and is likely to express itself again in variant forms in the future. If, in fact, there is such a current in American life, surely we want to know why it is sometimes active and sometimes dormant, and why – improbable as it seems to us today – some people of good will and liberal sentiments have resisted it. To ask these sorts of questions is, I think, to broaden our inquiry beyond the kind of documentary texts on which I have so far relied and to include works generally assigned to the category of literature. It is to construe abolitionism not only as a historically specific movement but as an ahistorical category of human will and sentiment – of what we might even dare to call human nature. It is to suggest that we have not seen the last of it, and probably never will.

In this broader view, an abolitionist is not a member of this or that party but is someone who identifies a heinous evil and wants to eradicate it – not tomorrow, not next year, but now. Prince Hamlet of Denmark, who sees “time… out of joint” and believes himself “born to set it right” is an abolitionist – albeit a reluctant one. Don Quixote, who tells Sancho Panza that he was “born in this age of iron” with a duty to restore “the age of gold”, is an abolitionist. Karilov in Dostoevsky’s novel The Possessed (also translated as The Devils), who is prepared to commit suicide to usher in the millennium, is an abolitionist. Indeed every millenarian dreamer who has ever longed for the fire in which sin and sinners are consumed is an abolitionist – and sometimes the purification will include his own self-immolation. (Andrew Delbanco, p. 22-23 hardcover)

Perhaps it is not true that “sacred rage” may have been a hindrance to abolitionism after a while. Nothing gets started without the rebels. They are the ones who light the way for others through the illumination of their transcendent feelings. What courage was needed to oppose a system sanctioned by the Bible and seemingly confirmed by history as being permanent. That is why abolitionists, black and white, will continue to speak down through the ages, in some place like China, which badly needs another revolution and the example of the abolitionists. Maybe somewhere a young Chinese person, a twenty-first century leader, is encountering the story of Frederick Douglass. Good news, chariot’s coming, old blacks used to say. (Darryl Pinckney, p. 132-3)

The problem is perhaps accentuated by the fact that the abolitionist style, by definition, tends to emphasize overarching legal and structural change rather than a highly particular and gradual process of cultural amelioration. Its chief focus was on abolition of the institution of slavery and all its legal and moral supports, not the manumission and uplift of individual slaves, let alone their economic or social empowerment. This approach to reform has the advantage of being bold and comprehensive, buoyed by a sense of crystalline moral clarity. It has the deficiency of being abstract and narrow, tending toward formalism, most concerned with the category of victimhood than the conditions of actual victims, deaf to the thousand complexities of actual human circumstances, and susceptible to the prophetic urge to say, in the accents of Max Weber’s ethic of ultimate ends: “Let justice be done, though the heavens fall!” It is, to use the jargon of moral philosophy, apodictic and deontic rather than empirical and consequentialist. (Wilfred M. McClay p. 141-2)

Delbanco, Andrew. The Abolitionist Imagination. Harvard University Press. 2012.

Related: Daniel Carpenter and Andrew Delbanco on abolitionism

This week

  • Monday: Trudeau scholarship application
  • Assigned reading for environmental politics
  • Environmental politics seminar
  • Come up with three questions for discussion in Tuesday’s public policy seminar
  • Tuesday: Assigned reading for public policy
  • Public policy seminar
  • Toronto350.org meeting (likely to be skipped)
  • Wednesday: Meeting with the professor of the course where I am a TA
  • Assigned reading for Canadian politics core seminar
  • Canadian politics seminar
  • Appearing as part of a ‘conscious activism’ panel at Hart House (my last legacy 350 commitment from when I was president)
  • Thursday: Assigned reading for my tutorials
  • Teach three tutorials
  • Friday: Massey lecture
  • Saturday: (hopefully) Moving the last of my boxes into Massey College
  • Monday: Take-home exam for environmental politics due
  • Assigned reading for environmental politics
  • Come up with three questions for discussion in Tuesday’s public policy seminar
  • Tuesday: Essay due for public policy, on “Policy process II – feedback effects”
  • Presentation for public policy, same topic
  • Assigned readings for public policy

It’s understandable – though unfortunate – that I won’t be able to participate in this year’s Massey College zombie game.

Canada not on track to meet its (inadequate) climate targets

In the news today:

Canada won’t come close to meeting emissions target: Environment Canada

The latest internal government report confirms Canada is not close to being on track to meet its promised target for emissions cuts by the year 2020.

In fact, the Environment Canada analysis released Thursday indicates the country slipped backward in 2012 in terms of achieving the government’s greenhouse gas emissions target under the Copenhagen Accord.

Under that international agreement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper committed in 2009 to cutting Canada’s emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2020.

Even with long-overdue government regulations on the oil and gas sector, which have not yet been announced, Environment Canada doesn’t foresee a scenario where the 2020 target will be met.

Previously: Can Canada meet the Conservative GHG targets?

New carbon infrastructure in B.C.

British Columbia has a carbon tax, but it doesn’t seem to be taking to heart the need to stop building new infrastructure for the carbon economy:

B.C.’s north is in a frenzy of planning. There are applications for port expansions, coal and mineral mines, oil terminals, pipelines, synthetic fuel plants, liquefied natural gas facilities and hundreds of new drill rigs for shale gas extraction. Pinned on a map, the proposals create a porcupine of industrial intentions.

Hopefully, growing awareness about how wasteful and destructive it would be to build these things will keep it from actually happening.

Closed for business

Between school and my much-reduced role with Toronto350.org, I am absurdly over-stretched and will be at least until I have dealt with my re-comp in December.

As such, from now on I will be declining all social invitations and skipping all non-critical academic and environmental events.

If I can make it through the re-comp, as well as my public policy core course and the comp for that, I should be able to revise my priorities.

Toronto350.org “Do the Math” screenings tomorrow

There are still tickets available for both of tomorrow’s screenings of the climate change documentary “Do the Math” at the Bloor Cinema in Toronto.

Along with the film, there will be a panel discussion featuring Green Party leader Elizabeth May and Adria Vasil.

If you know anyone in Toronto who is environmentally inclined or concerned about climate change, please let them know about the event.