B.C.’s latest move against the Kinder Morgan pipeline

When it comes to stopping unsustainable fossil fuel development, anything that creates investor uncertainty can be useful. By that metric, the British Columbia government’s announcement of a diluted bitumen shipment expansion moratorium while it studies how a diluted bitumen spill would unfold is a small contribution to shifting Canada to an acceptable development pathway.

Still, I wish governments would look squarely at the real problem: the fundamental contradiction between continued fossil fuel exploitation and the climatic stability objectives that states including Canada asserted in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Paris Agreement, and in their own climate announcements. Making it all about local issues may be politics as usual, but it misses the main ethical issues at play.

PhD update — January 2018

I have created a draft update to my research ethics proposal, based on the comments from the U of T research ethics board. I’ve circulated it to my supervisory committee and am waiting for any comments from them before checking it over again and sending it back to the board.

I have two sets of tutorials this week: Canadian politics tutorials today about NAFTA and U.S. politics tutorials Wednesday and Thursday on the presidency.

The week is peppered with student meetings, with some people asking about/seeking better grades on last term’s exams and papers, and some seeking advice on ongoing essays.

The most time-consuming thing is commenting on and grading a large batch of essay rough drafts. For those submitted on time (about half of what I have received so far), they are meant to be handed back in the U.S. tutorials. Pushing through the set will be my main alternative to thesis work / recreation / relaxation for the next 4-5 days at least.

Holding two TA positions at once has certainly been helpful from a financial perspective. It has been allowing me to slowly rebuild my PhD fund after the expenses of another unfunded summer. It has been a major impediment, however, to making progress on my thesis. Thesis research is a demanding cognitive task not easily undertaken in the gaps between other obligations or when exhausted from hours of commenting on disorganized papers that have never been proofread.

This summer, instead of trying to keep my finances on a level, the plan is to make a concerted effort to undertake the data collection, analysis, and reading which will feed into the completion of my doctoral thesis.

The Fourier transform

Richard Dawkins’ Unweaving the Rainbow includes a great discussion of the scientific uses of the Fourier transform. Most amusingly: “The side-to-side waving of the urine trail on the road was presumably produced by the long [elephant] penis acting as a pendulum (it would be a sine wave if the penis were a perfect, Newtonian pendulum, which it is not) interacting with the more complicated periodicity of the lumbering four-legged gait of the whole animal.” (p. 73)

This video provides an accessible visual explanation of how this mathematical tool breaks down a complicated curve into its constituent sine waves, and some of the useful applications for that transformation:

Canada is still in denial about climate and the bitumen sands

Canada’s bitumen sands continue to be the largest source of growth in Canada’s greenhouse gas pollution, and the biggest barrier to Canada’s fair participation in a global climate change mitigation strategy.

Not only does continued bitumen sands investment perpetuate an industry which undermines Canada’s claim to be serious about Indigenous reconciliation, but giving the industry specially lax environmental treatment would force other sectors to pick up the slack, if that is even possible given the industry’s relentlessly growing pollution.

An article by University of Toronto professor Danny Harvey and Lika Miao now argues that only an oil sands phaseout would allow Canada to meet its (insufficiently ambitious) 2030 emission reduction targets. They see a complete bitumen sands phase out by 2030 as necessary to meet the targets, alongside major action in sectors like energy generation, and emphasize how meeting the more ambitious temperature targets of the Paris Agreement would require much more aggressive action.

All this highlights the chasm between Canadian politics and what would be necessary to curb climate change. Prime Minister Trudeau either doesn’t understand the relationship between fossil fuel use and climatic stability or is choosing to mislead Canadians for political reasons, continuing to assert that Canada’s fossil fuel reserves are usable. That kind of timidity or misdirection serves us all badly, leaving the bulk of Canadians misled into believing that the industry can somehow be compatible with a stable climate.