Working through and thinking beyond the PhD


in Daily updates, PhD thesis, Politics, The environment

Lots on the go — I’ve had a sudden flurry of late year photo bookings, including a three day Canada-UK artificial intelligence conference at the Munk School.

I’m still working on the dissertation of course, continuing with interviews and the literature review while working with my committee to structure the final document.

I’ll be doing less TA work next term to free up time to finish the dissertation.

There’s certainly a lot that’s interesting happening in climate politics. The little-reported but somewhat tactically novel Extinction Rebellion in the UK; UN climate talks in Poland’s coal region; and Alberta getting bitumen sands producers to voluntarily cut back on production to try to raise prices. We’re still nowhere near a politics that integrates the risks arising from unmitigated climate change, or capable of driving emissions reductions fast enough to make something like a 1.5 ˚C or 2 ˚C ceiling remotely possible.

I’m starting to think ahead to work beyond the PhD. During my MPhil I came to understand that climate change is the defining political and civilizational fact of our era. I went to work for the government in hope that I could do some good, but realized that under the leadership of parties like Canada’s Conservatives and Liberals it’s not possible to do the right thing as a civil servant since, for all their platitudes, their policy choices show that they aren’t serious about preventing the worst effects of climate change. I chose to do the PhD because I thought the degree would be useful and that it would provide a freer platform for climate change activism, as it did with the founding of and the organization of the fossil fuel divestment campaign at U of T.

I really don’t know what’s the best place to go next. It’s hard to judge who is really being effective in changing political conditions to make rapid and effective climate change action possible. It’s possible’s focus on 100% renewables and alliances with other progressive movements will be fruitful, but it also seems possible that they are making choices that will limit the political constituency they can appeal to. Many activist organizations seem at risk of over-reaching, choosing approaches which appeal to their staffers who are already personally committed to decarbonization, sometimes choosing tactics based on what’s emotionally satisfying rather than what’s part of a strategic plan leading to success. That said, I am ever mindful of the limits of my understanding and ability to foresee what will work. There’s no sense in dismissing emotions as a factor in political change, since our real problem is lack of sufficient motivation and motivation is ultimately emotionally driven.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Milan January 15, 2019 at 8:02 pm

Stuart Basden, previously the Operations Director and President of, has a new article up on Medium:

Extinction Rebellion isn’t about the Climate

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