“We won’t stop using fossil fuels tomorrow”

Sometimes paired with the fallacious argument that only people who use no fossil fuels can legitimately oppose fossil fuel development is the statement: “We won’t stop using fossil fuels tomorrow”.

The logical error associated with using this statement to defend new fossil fuel infrastructure like fracking wells and bitumen sands pipelines (as well as new fossil fuel vehicles or power plants) is so obvious that it may seem unnecessary to state, but the quip is so popular among those trying to delay adequate action on climate change that it requires a quick rebuttal.

It’s true that human society is dependent on fossil fuels, and not only for discretionary activities that people can legitimately be asked to give up. That said, it’s now entirely evident that climate change threatens human civilization if unchecked, to say nothing of the profound damage it’s already doing to non-human nature. Preventing the worst impacts of climate change requires a rapid transition away from fossil fuels, and that is fundamentally incompatible with building new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Under contraction and convergence, it is plausible that some poor places can legitimately build a modest amount of additional fossil fuel infrastructure. This is most defensible in places that have low per capita emissions, low historical emissions, and where new fossil fuel use will address basic human needs instead of luxuries. None of these conditions apply in Canada or the United States, where per capita and historical emissions are both unconscionably high, and where most citizens routinely make heavy use of fossil fuels for trivial purposes.

The line about not giving up fossil fuels tomorrow is rhetorically appealing because it makes the speaker seem like a level-headed pragmatist and suggests that anyone who disagrees is out of touch with reality. In actual fact, our existing dependence on fossil fuels is an argument against new fossil fuel infrastructure, not for it. The media, members of the public, and decision-makers need to accept this.

Now 100001

As a coincidental birthday gift, I finally received my September, October, and November pay today. The first order of business: pay off my frightening credit card balance.

I won’t be able to spare much time for celebrating today, as I am still embroiled in my second big wave of grading for the term. Once this finally wraps up, I will be able to focus on my neglected PhD work.

Climate leaders don’t build pipelines

Reject Kinder Morgan

Tonight Toronto350.org organized a vigil to resist the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, which took place along with 44 others across Canada.

Justin Trudeau is going to find that his promises about indigenous reconciliation and restoring Canada’s environmental reputation require him to stop further bitumen sands extraction and export. If not, he will end up as confounded as the Harper government.

Settler stories of alcohol

Alcohol is not just in our stories — the stories that kiciwamanawak [Cree for white settler Canadians] first told about us that some of us continue to tell and believe. You see, alcohol is also in kiciwamanawak stories, the stories they tell about themselves. However, it is told much differently: they are never “the lazy, drunk, white person” in their own stories about alcohol.

To many kiciwamanawak alcohol is an everyday thing. It’s a glass of wine with supper, or a beer or two while watching the game on television, or a glass of whiskey in the evening. To them, alcohol is natural, normal, and even necessary. In their stories about alcohol, their social position determines the amount they spend on alcohol. The higher they are in their social and class structure, the more expensive the alcohol they must consume.

In their story, if a person does not drink, it is automatically assumed they do not drink because they have a religious reason, or, more often, it’s assumed it’s because they can’t handle it. Only alcoholics in their story do not drink. Healthy, normal people in that story often consume alcohol daily. Every significant event is marked by alcohol: birthdays, marriages, graduations, a sports team winning (or losing), and even death is saluted with a drink, a toast. To not drink in the kiciwamanawak story is to cut oneself off from important parts of the story. Their story and the alcohol story are so entangled that one becomes the other. The kiciwamanawak story becomes the alcohol story and the alcohol story becomes the kiciwamanawak story.

Johnson, Harold R. Firewater: How Alcohol is Killing My People (and Yours). 2016. University of Regina Press; Regina.

Piketty on inequality and Trump

In a piece for The Guardian, Thomas Piketty argues that inequality in the U.S. and the failure of governments to address it are the primary cause of Trump’s victory. He argues that:

The main lesson for Europe and the world is clear: as a matter of urgency, globalization must be fundamentally re-oriented. The main challenges of our times are the rise in inequality and global warming. We must therefore implement international treaties enabling us to respond to these challenges and to promote a model for fair and sustainable development.

Piketty’s claim about inequality seems plausible in part because of how mental distortions seem to be central to the social and political consequences of inequality.

I am increasingly open to the view that the two ideas are related, including through the sense of entitlement that accompanies privilege. The terrifying willingness to impose suffering and death on innocent people around the world and on nature in order to maintain a preferred lifestyle is at the heart of the climate crisis.


Clinton, Trump, and the electoral college

Here’s an irony of the Trump election:

The electoral college was recommended by Alexander Hamilton, who argued in Federalist Paper 68 that: “The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications”.

Of course, if the 2016 election had been conducted based on the winner of the popular vote getting the presidency then candidates, parties, and voters would all have behaved differently. You can’t take the results of a game played with one scoring formula, then project that the results would have been the same under different rules. Among other things, under a popular vote system both Democrats and Republicans would have worked harder to turn out the vote in uncompetitive states, and voters would probably have been more willing to cast a ballot in non-swing states. It’s impossible to say whether Trump would have done better or worse than under the electoral college, making the petition to have the electors choose Hilary Clinton instead misguided, at least insofar as they rely on the popular vote outcome as justification.

The “not in an eminent degree endowed” justification may be stronger, but it’s hard to argue that the members of the electoral college (or signers of the petition) are more capable of judging the question legitimately than voters following the system which the U.S. has in place for electing a president.